Our History

The Defining Event

In 1997 Martin and Gabriele Bach moved from Germany to South Africa with their four children. Both of the Bachs had been serving as ministers in a village near Cologne when Gabi was offered a position as minister of a Lutheran church in a town called Hermannsburg in KwaZulu-Natal.

The Idea

While touring South Africa a year later with some friends from Germany, Tobias Garstka and Martin Bach came up with the idea of establishing a small travel agency for Germans interested in travelling to South Africa. Tobias had gone through confirmation at the church where Martin was minister in Germany and had provided valuable assistance with youth work.

Church in Hermannsburg/South Africa

The Founding of the Company

Six months later a company named Umfulana – individuelles Reisen CC (Umfulana Personalised Tours) was founded. The name Umfulana is a diminutive of the Zulu word for river and thus means “little river” or “stream”, a literal translation of Martin Bach’s last name (“Bach” is the German word for stream).

The Component System

Based on a simple concept, brief descriptions of lodges and landscapes that were composed in a garage in South Africa were linked together to form tours. Itineraries were produced by Tobias in a spare room in Kürten, Germany, a small town near Cologne, with the help of his brother Dennis, who also created the company’s first website.

First Umfulana office in South Africa

The First Customers

Umfulana’s first customers were friends of the owners. The client base slowly expanded as the young company’s work processes and marketing methods improved. In the beginning every booking, even the reservation of a rental car, was celebrated as a huge success.

The Staff

By 2000 Umfulana had grown to the point where additional help was needed. Two secretaries were hired, one who put together itineraries in Germany and one who carried out the bookings in South Africa. At the same time the German office was moved from the spare room in Kürten to a rented building. In South Africa a second garage was acquired.

First Umfulana office in South Africa

Europe

In 2002 Martin Bach returned to Germany. Despite the stunning beauty of the South African landscapes, Martin had become homesick for “Old Europe” with its historical cities, its gothic cathedrals, its cultural heritage and even its forests. The next obvious step was to add such European destinations to the programme as France, Italy and England. In 2004 the new product was launched with Sicily being the first tour to take place.

Construction of a new office building

The rented office space in Germany had gradually become too small, so the move to a newly constructed office building in 2011 came as a great relief to everybody. The wooden structure in Kürten, Germany, is extremely energy efficient and bright. It was designed to give visitors the same sense of hospitality that is conveyed by our inns. The heart of the building is a large kitchen, where everyone gets together for lunch.

Core Business

The core business of Umfulana, which is now a private limited company with offices on two continents and a staff of 25, has shifted. No longer a small provider of tours to South Africa, the company now arranges tailor-made itineraries for travellers to a great variety of destinations worldwide. As a tour operator with our head-office based in Germany we have decided to focus on Europe as destination for our international clients.

Yet certain things have not changed:
  • Every client is assigned to a regional specialist who oversees the planning of the tour from beginning to end.
  • Our staff members regularly visit the destinations they sell.
  • We offer unique lodgings ranging from African bush lodges to Sicilian olive mills.
  • Every tour is tailored to the client’s specifications.
The Umfulana-House in Kürten (Germany)