Ozan Yerlikaya is a visionary. And his sights are ones of incredibly detailed clarity.
When Ozzy looks at the future of travel, this is what he sees. The CEO of a major organization, with headquarters in the bustling center of New York, enjoying an incredibly splendid South African wine that is remarkably similar to another vintage he once enjoyed in Napa Valley. The man is seated on a non-descript pillow on a rocky outcropping next to the sea while the African sun sets spectacularly into two oceans next to Cape Town.
From a distance the visionary man looks like any resident of the Mother City, winding down with close friends and nature.
Setting up this everyday experience takes Ozzy six months to orchestrate. The sunset is only one the many complex cogs that Ozzy puts together. Each of his itineraries are as individual as DNA and designed around the personality of his travelers. The forfeit? Missing out on the rote itinerary Cape Town ‘must-see/ must-do’ that millions before and after them have paraded through like sheep.
Because when a true connoisseur is in charge, you may find yourself eating on a street corner rather than at the latest, greatest fine dining experience or spending two hours debating politics with international award-winning cartoonist Zapiro whilst being served world class coffee from Ozzy’s ‘Just in Case’. (The bespoke wooden suitcase that carries all his coffee making paraphernalia and fits on the back of his Land Rover Defender, so it goes wherever he goes.)
Why is Ozzy so driven to introducing strangers, in the most perfect, intelligent and crazily inspired ways to the city that stole his heart?
The tale might begin, as all our personal stories really do, with growing up in a Turkish town very close to the Iranian border. Maybe it is a flight of fancy to infer his natural diplomacy from this Persian influence, but the inbred Turkish hospitality is undeniably part and parcel of his make-up.
After school Ozzy went on to study Economics but soon found himself lured away by the secrets of the oceans. Becoming a professional scuba diving instructor in Turkey while he was still at University his travels through the world began under water. It took him to Asia and eight years later he was living on an island in Malaysia when he was offered a job in South Africa.
He accepted because the thought of a Safari intrigued him. Johannesburg was an understandable shock to the system, so Ozzy jumped on a Baz bus and travelled through Swaziland to Mozambique where he dived with whale sharks before he started to make his way south, down the coast. By the time he arrived into the Transkei he was beginning to fall in love with Africa. And when he set eyes on Cape Town it was game over for Ozzy.
He wasn’t looking to lose his heart to a city.
The plan was to keep moving and diving with the seasons… but Ozzy would not be the first person to fall hard for the Mother City.
So, Ozzy went to University again. This time it was in the form of a travel agency who catered to big groups of people. It is an important part of the travel world but over time Ozzy realised that it did not particularly gel with his personality. There were parts of the experience that he increasingly had trouble reconciling himself with, as his own vision of a different style of travel developed. Ozzy was dreaming of a world were the same package would not be on offer to everyone. Where food was always savoured and everything was a matter of finesse.
Within five years Ozzy was ready to set out on his own.
He could see this gap in Cape Town’s travel scene. People were travelling from all over the world. They were spending lots of money on crazy itineraries while staying at the five-star hotels, hitting all the tired highlights over and over again
When he started talking about his ideas people in the industry said ‘Dude. This is what the backpackers do. Your ideas are crazy.’
But he was not for turning and his niche idea took off. As it turns out the CEO really wanted to sit on a rock with a great wine and watch the sun set.
Travel Designer is a one-man operation and Ozzy does not dream of it becoming too big for its boots.
He works with a couple of extremely selective companies (of which Rothschild Safaris is one) and his actual concept can also be very selective.
For instance: not everyone can sustain a two-hour meeting with one of the legends he represents. And so, there is an element of screening involved. He may receive itineraries of his travelers six months in advance and have skype conversations that allow him to learn enough about them to start crafting an utterly bespoke experience in an almost scientific manner. Every single detail for every single event considered and matched.
That bottle of South African wine the CEO was drinking?
There was one offhand comment four months before the travelers landed in Cape Town.
Ozzy noted it down.
Then he passed the name of the winery in Napa and the specific wine on to his exclusive sommelier.
The vintage was carefully matched to a South African winery and a decision was finally made.
He is a big fan of incredible food and he knows that the standard of food in Cape Town is very, very good right now. It is possible to offer an authentic experience without compromising on quality. And, of course, Ozzy is forever hunting for the outliers, the greatest new adventures the Mother City offers her tribe.
And then there is the coffee.
Ozzy is not fond of traditional Turkish coffee. Contemporary coffee drinking culture in Turkey is only about a decade old. While he slowly brews you a cup from selected beans he will go back centuries and tell you how our affair with coffee started in the 9th century when a goat herder in Ethiopia wanted to share in the obvious side-effects his goats were enjoying from eating the plant’s beans.
We can only imagine this man was a visionary and everyone said; ‘Dude, this is what the goats do!’
But he was not for turning and soon his experiments were popular through the Arab world before spreading to Asia, Italy, Europe and the Americas. And one day… to the very tip of Africa.
If you visit Africa and your safari takes you to Cape Town, do try to be selected for one of Ozzy’s luxury days out.
His coffee will change your day.
And his ideas may change your views about hospitality and how we should travel.
Imagery via ert Shunev, Karl Fredrickson, Connor Vercueil, Cassidy Mills , Michael Hardy