Backpackers forced to pack up

Wish U Were Here in Woodstock will be closing.

Wish U Were Here backpackers lodge in Woodstock will be closing because of Covid-19 lockdown restrictions.

In April 2014, the owners rented out the top floor of the old Bridge Mansions building and started renovations. They opened in December that year, but now, just shy of their sixth birthday, they have to say farewell.

General manager Lourens Botha said they ran a tight ship with a small staff including an afternoon supervisor, two cleaners and a weekend supervisor.

“A small lodge with 22 rooms, catering from the single traveller in a dorm room with shared bathroom to the more affluent traveller looking for a private deluxe double en-suite room. Over the years we had such a diverse group of guests from all over the world – UK, Europe, the US, Australia and New Zealand and even Russia. Not to forget our own local travellers that yearly came to visit for leisure or do the Two Oceans Marathon or partake in exhibitions at the Cape Town International Convention Centre.”

Mr Botha said they had been operating until lockdown had started on Thursday March 26.

“We were looking forward to celebrating our 6th year. We survived the water crisis and the power crisises just to be culled by the lockdown.”

Mr Botha said that at the start of lockdown – which was initially three weeks – they had thought “three weeks, we can do this”, but they had been wrong.

“As a small lodge we were only on level 4 of BBBEE compliance as we only had a partnership. There was no government assistance coming in and UIF-TERS was not paying out.”

The lodge decided to continue paying its staff despite not making any income during this time. Over the months, they had to reduce the scale of payments to stretch it out as far as possible.

Mr Botha said the costly set up and operational costs for only selected “essential guests” made it impractical to open up. So the owners had decided to rather use the last of the funds to assist the staff till the end and do any refunds still owed to guests that had postponed their April bookings.

“Unfortunately it has now all come to an end as our funds have dried up and it is time to hand back the keys to the building owner. It is devastating for all of us. A whole industry sector is being decimated by this lockdown. It feels like my baby has just died. I was there from the day we opened, and now I have to wrap up and put her to bed for the last time. We as a collective family is shattered,” said Mr Botha.

Responding to news of the lodge’s closure on their Facebook page, Thando Phakathi said: “So sad. One of my favourites.”

Heather Rene wrote: “Oh no. I love Wish U Were Here, and was looking forward to that dreamy floating boat in the clouds bed for my next return to Cape Town.

“Sending lots of love and gratitude for the wonderful hospitality we received and thankful for the memories of an amazing experience. You will be missed dearly. Much love from the USA.”