A taste of Africa
Meet Cherae Robinson, the award-winning tourism entrepreneur who is revolutionising how people will experience travel in Africa. When Robinson founded her pan-African tourism company, Rare Customs, her goal was to change the way in which people outside of the continent perceived Africa. Robinson’s dream has manifested.
She spent a decade working with international non-profit organisations in Africa like CARE – the humanitarian organisation that aims to fight poverty and provide disaster relief – as well as US musician Alicia Keys’ HIV initiative Keep A Child Alive.
“When I was in Africa I’d spend a lot of time speaking to farmers in rural areas and to people from the city. I felt I didn’t need anyone to guide me, I really just wanted to wander around and meet people,” say Robinson.
“The result was that I just kept meeting remarkable people. I met some amazing DJs in Johannesburg, musicians in Durban – where I was taken along to this incredible advertising party. Wherever I went in Africa I was fortunate in that I met artists and creatives who often became friends,” she says.
“There are 10m millennials who are already travelling to Africa, so I thought it would be enough of a market for me to build a viable and sustainable product.” Together with her close contacts in the US and in Africa, Robinson has forged a multi-pronged business that’s already winning awards. In September, Robinson was awarded a $10 000 grant from She Leads Africa, an award that ensures female entrepreneurs are part of the continent’s success story.
The first leg of Robinson’s specialised tourism company is called Tastemakers Africa. This is a multiplatform tool where would-be travellers can f ind and buy hip experiences in major cities across the world’s secondbiggest and most populous continent. From rooftop parties in downtown Jozi, to quaffing cocktails at an exclusive club in Lagos, Nigeria, to rubbing shoulders with fashionistas in Accra, Ghana, Tastemakers Africa is about Afropolitan experiences off the beaten track. This software application is due to be launched early in 2015, on iOS
(iPhone) and Android.
“These are carefully curated experiences, and because this is a hand-picked niche, we’re launching the mobile app for this service with 20 top cities in Africa,” says Robinson, adding that the cities that make it into the app are those with the highest number of tourism arrivals and the highest smartphone penetration.
“It is all about getting away from the tourist traps and taking people to the well-kept local secrets. Whether it’s eating with renowned local chefs, to sand dune surfing in Namibia, or shopping in exclusive places in Cape Town, there are a large range of activities that can be booked à la carte using the Tastemakers Africa App. Travellers can book for one person, for two or a crew of four or more. It has been a very labourintensive process, but together with our partners in Africa we’ve built a list of the kind of experiences we want to promote, and then we take a 10% commission off the top of each booking,” Robinson explains.
“Because we’ve got a f irst-mover advantage in the market we’re beginning to build advertising partnerships, which will add to our revenues,” she says. In addition to the Tastemakers Africa App, Rare Customs organises quarterly tours to Africa, and in December the destination will be Ghana.
“These trips are very customised so that we don’t even go near hotels,” she says. “In Ghana we’re renting out a luxury beach house some 40 minutes outside of the city. We’re doing this on purpose because we don’t want our brand to be in any way associated with other big tour brands. That’s not what we’re about,” Robinson adds.
Her company a l so works with governments i n Africa and l ocal businesses to market destinations to the US and beyond; it’s involved with promoting foreign direct investment to the continent and manages large-scale events in Africa.
A global operation, Robinson says that her partners are spread between
“RESEARCH YOUR BUSINESS MODEL, RESEARCH YOUR PARTNERSHIPS, RESEARCH YOUR MARKET AND STAY ON TOP OF NEW THINKING.”
two continents. She’s in New York City, her co-founder is based in Johannesburg, her lead developer is based in Mombasa, Kenya, and the business’s social media lead lives in Lagos, Nigeria.
“Our experience is that there are a lot of gatekeepers in the tourism industry and what we’re trying to do is to democratise the industry as well as to build capacity by creating a brand that grows with other brands. What this means is that we push money back to the markets and brands we feature and the cities we feature because we’re hiring people from those cities,” Robinson adds.
The business has been going for a year, and Robinson says she’s already had too many learnings to count. “I’ve learnt that no one knows your business quite like you do, and you do need to know every part of your business inside out. Even the parts you might f ind tedious, like accounting.
“This doesn’t mean you have to do everything yourself, but it does mean that you have to bring a certain level of awareness to every part of your business if you want your business to be taken seriously. Another lesson that’s important is to use research and data when it comes to making decisions,” Robinson states, addings that decisions should be made using facts rather than guesswork.
“Research your business model, research your partnerships, research your market and stay on top of new thinking. Lastly, I’ve learned that it’s not enough to have people who are willing to help you, you have to take ownership of letting people know how they can help you,” she says.
When it comes to Africa, Robinson advises: “From a business perspective, don’t discount the intellectual capacity on the continent. The professionals on the continent – regardless of their field – really have something to prove. “Perhaps this is because the world has rendered them invisible for so long. But people in Africa have their hearts set on being twice as good as anyone else.”
The National Mosque in Abuja, Nigeria