Back in 2006, Rushdi Harper landed a job as a driver for the five-star Table Bay Hotel in Cape Town. For about a year, he drove guests to and from the airport.

Today he is the founder and owner of Wow Cape Town Tours, an owner-run tour operator offering day tours in Cape Town and packages including a combination of the Western Cape and Kruger. It’s been a decade-long journey, and still Harper says he’s only at the beginning. “We’re still small,” he says, but adds that he is optimistic about growth prospects in the future.

Harper qualified as a guide in 2007 and in December that year started his business. “I bought a van and off I went and I thought, well, now I am in business,” says Harper.

Back then, most of his work came from hotels. He soon realised this wasn’t enough to sustain his business and he developed a website to market his tours. But still, large volumes weren’t forthcoming.

Harper’s big break came in 2013, when he was a finalist for Eteya, a national award that recognises emerging entrepreneurs. He says while he didn’t win the award, doors kept opening for him, thanks to the exposure he attained.

Harper now manages a fleet of four vehicles, occasionally hiring additional vehicles to accommodate larger groups. He is a member of Satsa and the Southern African Association for the Conference Industry (Saaci).

He has attended some of the bigger international shows, securing business from them. In 2015, he attended IMEX in Las Vegas, USA, as part of the tourism incentive programme. Attending this show, he picked up a big contract for 2016, where he handled the ground arrangements for some 750 conference delegates. He explains that one contact can make a trip like this worthwhile.

While a lot of emphasis is placed on ‘new entrants’, Harper points out that even after a decade in business, many small enterprises are still struggling to establish themselves in the sector. He says relationships take time to build.

This article is part of a series where Tourism Update highlights small, medium and micro-sized enterprises in the tourism sector. This series is brought to you courtesy of South African Tourism.