Know-how-tourism

This note presents an idea for an App that matches tacit-know-how-carriers with business that need them, even better for those businesses based in top tourist destinations...like Cape Town. If you’re not interested in the theory, or how my taste buds motivated the idea, skip the first & second part and jump to The Idea.

I’ve hashed this out as the idea came to me, one 2am jetlagged moment, so please feel free to rubbish, tell me it already exists, or steal it.

The Theory

The Idea might seem frivolous, but it could be a part of a bigger economic growth path.

There’s a theory* in economic development which says that economic growth and development comes from diversifying our products and services into more complex product and service spaces, and that we do this by combining different sets of know how, along with the usual fundamentals of production.

One of the things that countries/city-regions that have done well on economic diversification have done is to not be afraid to import know-how. To recognise that not all know how is transferable via reading a manual, or business plan, but exists within individuals or across groups of individuals. To do deals with those who have all the tacit knowledge on one product/service space, and bring them into proximity with locals who have the know how on adjacent product/service spaces, and let them expand, with mutual benefits, into new areas. This is not the same as simply “attracting investment”. It is investment that is facilitated, directed, with a particular economic growth path (pathway through product and service spaces) that will meet the particular local development needs. It is combined with considerations of spatial planning, ownership models, inclusion… even, informality.

That’s a terribly ineffective way of explaining the concept, Harvard economist Ricardo Hausmann does it infinitely better in his writings and lectures, luckily those who are really interested can access his work, like here’s just the first YouTube that comes up:

A case in point

Skip ahead to The Idea if you’re just really not interested in my where’s-my-vegan-cheesey-burrito-at-rant, cos, lisen, there are A LOT of sectors in a lot of places that are lacking a key bit of know how to take things to the next level. I’ve come to The Idea because Capetonians just don’t know how to cater for vegans, but The Idea is by no means exclusive to solving that specific know how gap. Look, many people have a weird reaction to any use of the term “vegan”. If it turns you off, please do not stop reading here .

Really, I just want someone from No-Bones Beach Bar to come spend 3 months in Cape Town showing someone (anyone!) how its done. Seattle’s winters are shit, Cape Town’s summers are great. Its a win-win.

Every time I travel to a new city I am reminded how utterly shit Cape Town is at vegan restaurant experiences. Sure, I have my handful of regular go-to’s, but let’s be honest, its far too often that I’m left saying something along the lines of “this shitty overpriced unimaginative salad is ok cos I didn’t come here for the food, I came here to see you dear (friend/family)”.

Apart from our own above average ratio of hippies-to-normal-folk, I’d have thought (hoped?) that being a top tourist city would have changed this by now. I mean, aren’t we making all these movies and half of Hollywood are vegan, yet top trending restaurants and wine farms can’t offer more than a salad-minus-the-bacon or what even is this? is this porridge with a mushroom on top? what? ? I just don’t get it.

Those who’ve followed my Seattle adventures will know that food is a big theme. Here’s the 3 big differences I’ve noticed:

  1. There are lots, and lots, of vegan restaurants and cafes. Like on every corner lots. The thing is, most don’t even advertise very visibly that they’re vegan. The theme of the establishment is not “vegan”. Its “beach bar”, or “Mexican” (or Vietnamese, or Italian …), or “local bakery”, or “OMG DONUTS”, or “absolutely unhealthy and oversized portions of junk diner food”. Sure, there are some that have “vegan” in the name, and there are some that are all about that health food, but there’s also this whole other world that treats vegan as normal, and builds on that with additional character and specialty.
  2. Even if a restaurant is not fully vegan, it has multiple, marked, options on the menu that are not in anyway substandard to the rest of the menu. There’s an awareness, we’ve been thought of, we’re a market.
  3. There is a far greater supply and range/competition of vegan products in the supermarket. I don’t see this as necessary to 1 & 2 above, but it does help.
There can’t possibly be enough vegans in Seattle to support all of this single-handedly. Non-vegans are eating this food because its as good as the rest, and the vibe at restaurant is as good as the rest.

The Idea

Ok, so this idea really started out as “how do I get this know how about good vegan restauranting to my favourite city?” but it can be applied to a whole range of sectors, products and services.

Its not really a new idea, but a combination of existing ones:

  1. Visiting posts or business-to-business exchanges - we see academics doing it all the time, and I know of a few hairdressers and tattoo parlors, and yes even restaurants, that have hosted their favourite inspirational trend-setter for a few weeks or months
  2. Tinder, AirBnB, Uber… etc (Apps that match supply & demand?)
  3. Traditional tourism and voluntourism service models

1 + 2 + 3 = Introducing: a service that matches businesses-to-businesses, or businesses-to-individuals, for visitor posts/exchanges that target a specific know-how gap.

The actual model could be:

a) a simple “matching” service, with details (who pays for what, accommodation, flights, Visas left to the individual parties)

b) something more comprehensive that deals with all of that (probably then starting small in a specific location and sector, by an existing business or volunteer tourism agent)

c) a hybrid that matches you not only to a visitor post, but also to service providers that can then put the whole package together based on the case-by-case needs.

Though not a matching service, something sort-of similar exists for location-independent workers — check out Unsettled, which sorts out accommodation, co-working space, and tourist activities for freelance/freerange workers in top tourist cities, including Cape Town.

Now, the success of these Apps is often in a certain critical mass or density of users on both sides — we want something where users will find what they are looking for relatively quickly (lots of options in your destination city on AirBnB if you’re the traveller, lots of guests if you’re the host; your Uber must be less than 5minutes away if you’re the passenger, you don’t want to sit more than 20mins to get a client if you’re the driver; and everyone want matches within our first few swipes on Tinder…). That is, we need a certain critical mass of individuals or groups of individuals with tact know how; and cities/businesses that are attractive to visit, and require that know how transfer.

(It doesn’t necessarily have to be the “know how carrier” who travels — the business , individual or group that requires the know how can also go on a placement… cos, let’s be honest, when weed is finally legalised in South Africa, apart from big Pharma, its not gonna be those okes dabling in illegal grow operations in the Eastern Cape who make the big bucks, its going to be the guys who’ve given up everything to go learn the nitty-gritty ins and outs of the industry where its working, even if that meant initially taking a shitty job as a trimmer in a warehouse on the outskirts of Cali…it can be better than that).

To achieve this, I can see two options:

  1. Partner with an existing App that has a big user base and powerful marketing (AirBnB have already expanded into “experiences”, Uber expanded into “UberEats”). Like, they could pretty much just run with this already?
  2. Start with a specific sector and know-how gap, and possibly even “twin cities” (like getting all the Seattle vegan chefs to Cape Town for summer. Just saying. I want those donuts.) This option would probably need partnership of an economic development/investment promotion/tourism body as well as business association(s).

I’m on sabbatical, with no intention of making this my business. Use/don’t use. And I really, really, hope I’ll see some Seattle chefs and restauranteers in Cape Town this summer.

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