As more and more folks participate in African tourism, wouldn’t it be better that they book experiences from small, local companies and tour guides than flocking to top tourist attractions?
This is the thinking of 25-year-old Tapiwa Ndlovu, an alum of Drexel University who in the year and a half since graduating has built a team of technologists, marketers and salespeople to achieve the goal of promoting local tourism through his travel startup, Kumba Africa.
The Zimbabwe native launched the company in 2018 with the goal of getting tourists beyond those only visiting local landmarks in countries across his home continent. He met cofounder Ayyoob Abrahams in South Africa while working on another venture, and the pair launched the tourism business with Ndlovu as CEO and Abrahams as CTO.
Since then, the pair have grown the company to 12 employees, with bases in Philadelphia at the incubator in Drexel’s Baiada Institute for Entrepreneurship and across Africa and elsewhere.
Currently, Kumba Africa offers local experiences in 14 countries including Botswana, Egypt, Ethiopia, Gambia and Ghana. The web-based platform hosts the experience marketplace where travelers can search for various activities, experiences or accommodations. Newer updates to the site also include booking travel and event planning services, travel insurance and international cell phone rental.
“Airbnb Experiences and other businesses like that just aren’t targeting Africa,” Ndlovu said.
The concept for the business came out of a trip to South Africa Ndlovu took where he was struggling to find resources that would give him access to local tour companies and experiences.
“I wanted to find someone who would show me a day of exploring Cape Town or teach me to cook a really authentic meal,” he said.
Now, he and his team accept applications to be “hosts” in cities across the continent. Some offer 90-minute experiences such as a sunset boat tour in Cape Town or a three-day trip in Maasai Mara National Park in Nairobi, Kenya.
The hosts must provide government documentation and certifications that are vetted by the team and MIE, a background screening company. Hosts can range from small touring companies, individual local tour leaders and small businesses offering local experiences.
The company takes a commission for each booking made on its platform, and looked at competition like Trip Advisor and others to see where they were lacking in travel experiences.
“We want to fill in those gaps with amazing experiences,” Ndlovu said.
When the Drexel grad is in Philadelphia, he’s joined by two team members in their Philly HQ, while other folks work remotely from Texas, the Netherlands, Ghana and South Africa.
He said planting roots of an African tourism company in Philadelphia is advantages to the company to be able to do research for U.S. markets. (More than 430,000 U.S. citizens visited Africa in 2018, according to Kumba Africa’s media kit, and the continent is now growing the second fastest for tourism, right behind Asia Pacific.) The time difference also allows for customers to almost always be able to reach a customer service representative: If, for example, someone’s working on a booking in the U.S. at 3 a.m., an employee in South Africa will be on to help them out if needed.
The company is currently fundraising an up to $1 million seed round to continue growing the team and its services, Ndlovu said. Also in the plans is to expand where customers can find local experiences.
“We have people coming to us and saying, ‘I want to go to Zambia,'” Ndlovu said. “And as a startup, we might not have anything at the moment in that location, but we will work around the clock to have offerings for you.”-30-