Backpackers in Green Point

The Backpackers in Green Point (or “B.I.G” for short) is one of the new style of backpacker hostels that are more comfortable and stylish than old-school hostels. Guests staying at the B.I.G still have the adventurous spirit (and smaller budget) you expect in a backpacker, but they also appreciate the special touches they find at B.I.G. In addition to dorms, there also are double rooms, triple rooms and family rooms – and importantly all rooms are en suite. Guests are also treated to a complimentary continental breakfast.

Indoors B.I.G has communal kitchens, games room and a library. Outdoors, there’s a swimming pool and a braai area. Similarly to many backpacker hostels in Cape Town, B.I.G’s operation is spread across several buildings – and in this case that means four buildings over two properties.

BIG hosts a wide range of guests – from Gappers to young families to well-heeled Baby boomers. The B.I.G team set out to create a stylish and comfortable ‘home away from home’ in which to host them all, and has certainly succeeded in doing so. 

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The Journey

  • Overview of the Backpackers in Green Point

    03, June, 2016

    Big backpackers, responsible tourismThe property
    Suburban, some vegetation, no lawn 

    Big backpackers, responsible tourismAccommodation
    19 rooms
    Sleeps up to 57 guests

    BIG Backpackers, responsible tourismSwimming pool

    Big backpackers, responsible tourismMeals
    Breakfast included
    Three communal kitchens for self-catering

     Big backpackers, responsible tourismLaundry
    Outsourced, except for towels that are washed by the business on the premises

    Big backpackers, responsible tourism

    16 employees

  • History of the business

    03, June, 2016

    The B.I.G owner, Amy, has travelled the world, staying in some of the best (and worst) accommodation along the way. In 2011, she opened the B.I.G. with one goal: “I want to bring home the best from my travels”. She’s a born and bred South African who knows all of Cape Town’s hidden gems and is always eager to give recommendations on the latest and greatest happenings around the city.  Since opening with 11 rooms in 2011,  Amy has bought and renovated a building on an adjacent erf, bringing the total capacity to 19 rooms.  She installed solar geysers in the additional building in the hope that Cape Town’s generous sun would help contain the property’s electricity bill. 

  • Meet the B.I.G team

    28, June, 2016


    Amy gets a big hand in running the business from her friend and manager, Milou, and husband, Tal. Together all three keep a handle on things and each has his or her thoughts on how the business can be made to operate better and more sustainably. In addition to management expertise, Milou has an eye for design and is responsible for many of the decorative touches at B.I.G. Tal oversees maintenance and has good ideas about how B.I.G can invest in energy and water saving. 


  • B.I.G's hopes from the project

    28, June, 2016

    Amy, Milou and Tal are already quite aware that many of today’s travellers expect the places they stay at to do their bit for the environment.  And the signs dotted around the property show that B.I.G encourages guests to help in that effort. However, the team feels that both them and the rest of the staff could do more and they’re hoping to learn what more can be done and also hoping to acquire tools to help them and the staff make responsible behaviour routine.

  • Baseline scorecard

    08, July, 2016

    At the start of the project, we went on a site visit to B.I.G Backpackers and had a long list of questions about the business’s practices. We used the information provided to draw up this scorecard that acts as a baseline – a picture of what the business is doing at the start of the project. We use this baseline to draft a responsible tourism action plan for the business, basically a plan of what more the business can do to operate responsibly. We will also use the baseline to compare the success of the action plan as time progresses.

    Here is a summary of the responsible practices that the Backpackers in Green Point were involved at the start of the challenge. 

    backpackers in green point, responsible tourismSaving water

    • The business has monthly municipal bills on file, and managers have an intuitive sense of how much water is used.
    • There are no bathtubs in guest bathrooms.
    • Toilets are fitted with flow / volume restricting technology.
    • There are mostly pot plants and a small patch of lawn that is only watered when needed and almost never in winter. The garden is watered only before 10:00 and after 16:oo Each area is watered for less than 20 minutes. 
    • The planting of waterwise plants in the garden is prioritised.
    • Water leaks and drips are reported immediately for repair.

    backpackers in green point, responsible tourism Using energy efficiently

    • The business has monthly municipal bills on file, and managers have an intuitive sense of how energy use varies with changes in occupancy levels.
    • Apart from spotlights, all lighting is energy efficient.
    • There are extra blankets in guest rooms for guests to use in colder months.
    • Security lights have either day/night sensors or motion sensors.
    • Solar jars and solar fairy lights are used for ambient lighting.
    • Management does routine checks to ensure appliances and lights are turned off when not used.
    • During induction, new staff are trained to turn off guest-room appliances when not in use.
    • As much as possible, towels that are washed on the premises are air-dried.
    • Shopping trips and chores are planned so that the number of trips taken is reduced.

    Reducing_managing_wasteReducing and managing waste

    • Recyclable waste is separated by the business and collected by a waste collector.
    • When requests are made, waste that can be reused by others is kept aside for collection.
    • The business has found ways to reduce food waste when breakfast is served. Among others, condiments are provided in bulk instead of as single servings.
    • Much of the décor and the furniture in communal areas is either upcycled waste or is a second-hand item that has been refurbished.

    backpackers in green point, responsible tourismBuilding communities

    • Guests are asked to leave unwanted clothes and toiletries behind. This is distributed to people in the area who are in need.

    backpackers in green point, responsible tourismDeveloping skills

    • All new staff are given induction training.
    • Additional training is given on an ad hoc basis, or when a member of staff requests it.
    • The business has supported several staff members to get a driving licence.

    Big backpackers, responsible tourismSupporting enterprise development

    • Beadwork key rings and chains that are sold at reception are sourced from local crafters.
  • Responsible tourism strengths at the start of the Challenge

    19, July, 2016

    Guests ask: “Where can we recycle?”

    Most tourism business owners in Cape Town have some level of awareness of the need to operate sustainably. The City of Cape Town sends regular messages encouraging residents and businesses to save water and electricity, and also provides information on how they can do this. The upshot of this is that many tourism businesses have the easy wins in place – most accommodation establishments are at least partially fitted with energy efficient lighting and are starting to think of resource efficiency when appliances need replacing.

    However, there’s less of an awareness of the need to reduce and manage waste so that as little as possible waste goes to landfill. In some areas of Cape Town, recyclable waste put into separate bags is collected by the City, but this doesn’t happen in Green Point. Milou, the B.I.G manager, tells us how guests used to ask her what they could do with their recyclable waste. Seems like “throw it in the bin” was the wrong answer, so B.I.G to put out colourful bins for different types of waste, and recyclables are collected by a collector.

    Guests played an important part in the decision to separate waste. The truth is that international guests, particularly those from North America and Europe, have a far better awareness of the problems of waste than South Africans, and are very likely already separating waste at home. TUI Travel, the largest leisure, travel and tourism company in the world, did a survey to find out what tourists felt about sustainable holidays. 

    The research found that a whopping 92% of respondents are already separating their waste for recycling at home and they will most likely not be shocked, horrified or find it unreasonable if accommodation establishments ask them to separate their waste. 

    Composting to turn kitchen waste into soil

    Already well on the road of sending less waste to landfill, B.I.G’s next challenge is to begin composting food scraps and organic waste. The backpackers serves breakfast and also has communal kitchens for guest to prepare their own meals. Currently, wet waste from the kitchen is thrown in the garbage with the rest of the non-recyclable waste that is collected by the community, but Tal, the manager who looks after the garden, is interested in composting . There are ways of composting and we will help him find the best solution for the business.

    Sending less waste to landfill by upcycling

    Thus far in the Challenge, B.I.G are our waste champions, and it’s not only because they are separating waste for recycling. Looking around the hostel, B.I.G has a distinctive personality that is very difficult to replicate in large accommodation establishments. The atmosphere certainly reflects the B.I.G team’s personalities – particularly in the personal treatment guests receive, the team spirit among the staff and the lively décor. The décor caught our eye, and we loved that so much of the décor and furniture were either upcycled waste or refurbished. Upcycling is when waste and unwanted items are transformed into something of either a better quality or a new use. This means that very little new raw materials are used, less resources are needed since a new item is not being produced and, of course, less waste lands up in a landfill. And a great advantage is that the upcycled and refurbished items give B.I.G its distinctive ambience.

    The frames in the middle has been painted in bright colours and the two on the side have been upcycled from waste timber. These pictures are on the wall above the refurbished chairs, and all together make for very pretty decor.
    The frames in the middle have been painted in bright colours and the two on the side have been upcycled from waste timber. These pictures are on the wall above the refurbished chairs, and together make for very pretty decor.
    BIG backpackers, responsible tourism
    The chairs in the picture are old but have been given a new lick of life with a fresh layer of paint and new upholstery. The coffee table and the frame between the chairs are both made of recycled scrap timber.

    BIG backpackers, responsible tourism
    An outdoor table and benches were also made from recycled scrap timber – very rustic chic!
    BIG backpackers, responsible tourism
    An old shoe makes a charming holder for a Hawthornia – a succulent plant indigenous to South Africa.

    BIG backpackers, responsible tourism
    Old tyres that have been painted and stacked up made a decorative putdoor table.
    An old kitchen cabinet painted in some fresh colours brightens up the kitchen/dining area.
    An old kitchen cabinet painted in fresh colours brightens up the kitchen/dining area.

    Supporting local crafts

    B.I.G are already on a responsible tourism journey and the management team are always looking for ways to make the business’s operations more sustainable. Many tourism businesses think that responsible tourism is mostly about minimising its environmental impact and forget about a business’s role in the local economy and community. B.I.G are making contributions even though they may not realise that it improves their responsible tourism credentials. Locally-made crafts are sold at reception and clothes and toiletries left by guests are donated to homeless people in the area, improving relationships with the area’s street people and reducing risk for the business.

    Where to from here?

    We recorded existing responsible practices at the Backpackers in Green Point during the first site visit. This helped us establish a baseline which we then used to draft a responsible tourism action plan for the business, basically ideas of what more the business can do to operate responsibly. The baseline will also help us assess the success of the action plan.  

    However, here are other pictures of the good work B.I.G is doing.  

    big backpackers, responsible tourism
    Towels are air-dried when possible to avoid the use of the tumble dryer.
    big backpackers, responsible tourism
    Succulent plants have been planted because they need less water.


    big backpackers, responsible tourism
    Juices and yoghurt is bought in bulk instead of in single servings and small quantities. This reduces packaging waste.
    big backpackers, responsible tourism
    Solar jars are used for ambient lighting at night. They are left in a sunny spot during the day to get recharged.
    big backpackers, responsible tourism
    Corks from wine bottles have been upcycled into a pinboard.
    big backpackers, responsible tourism
    Crafts bought from local crafters are sold at reception.
    big backpackers, responsible tourism
    Guests are asked for feedback that will inform changes that need to be made.
    big backpackers, responsible tourism
    Condiments are not provided in single servings. This reduces packaging waste and saves costs.
    big backpackers, responsible tourism
    Signage asks guests to turn off appliances when not in use to save electricity.
    big backpackers, responsible tourism
    Blankets in the TV room for use on cold nights means less electricity is needed to heat the space.