African Instagrammers Documenting Rare, Hidden Hotspots on the Continent are Disrupting Tourism
Traveling around Africa was once considered unsafe, costly, and lacking in variety.
There were the usual places to visit and the usual things to do: safari in Kenya, pyramids in Egypt, and river rafting in Zambia or Zimbabwe (depending on which side of Victoria Falls you live on).
But young African innovators and diaspora entrepreneurs are turning people’s desire to see a “different side of Africa” into a business.
Through the use of social media, travel platforms like Tastemakers Africa, Everyday Africa, Hip Africa, Visiter L’Afrique and others are giving African travel and tourism a fresh and youthful injection by reimagining the possibilities of African travel for Africans, the African diaspora, and international tourists keen to do something other than seeing the “Big Five” on a game reserve truck or buying rugs in Morocco.
“Social media has done more for African tourism than anything else,” says Cheraé Robinson, chief executive of Tastemakers Africa. Robinson, who’s American, started the online platform after working in international development which saw her frequent cities including Nairobi, Freetown, Lagos, and Johannesburg.
“When I visited those places, I felt their dynamic and creative cultures weren’t being covered. So I thought Tastemakers could reflect what was actually happening in African cities to give a fuller and bigger picture of those cities,” she said.
Hip Africa founder Ruby Audi had a similar inspiration, but hers came during her career as a travel journalist. She realized there wasn’t a platform offering practical advice about how to travel around and between African countries.
“There wasn’t really a place to go where they could tell you how to book a hotel, get a visa, and how to travel around different African countries,” Audi said. Despite being raised in London, Audi had a knowledge of Africa beyond popular destinations like Cape Town and Morocco.
Audi, whose mother was born in Ghana, launched Hip Africa in 2013, and began enlisting writers and content creators from different regions of the continent to cover their respective cities.
“When I first started Hip Africa, we were one of the only ones covering Africa through the lens of tourism. A lot of my work involved reporting about places, talking to people on the ground, and using the network I had as a journalist to understand each city.”
A recurring theme for these innovators is capturing a face of Africa not often seen in mainstream media, even within African media. A couple of decades ago, it would’ve been unlikely that one person’s photo hobby could be seen by more than a few friends, or that you could organize those friends to also share their photos on the same platform. Instagram and other social media platforms are helping to show authentic and unexpected sights of African cities and cultures.
That’s how Diane Audrey Ngako, the Cameroonian founder of Visiter L’Afrique uses her platform. When she started her Instagram page three years ago, she was determined to take on what she perceived as Western tropes of Africa being a place of “famine and wars.” She started traveling at a young age to Europe and America but soon realized she wanted to “learn something about where she was from” and began frequenting East Africa and North Africa.
What started as a hobby, adventure, or a passion project for these founders has quickly evolved into real startup business opportunities or marketing partnerships.
Robinson first tested out the idea for Tastemakers as a travel community and potential business when she organized a trip via Facebook called “December in Ghana” with her South African co-founder, Stephanie O’Connor in 2014. They sold out ten spots within a week. The site launched shortly thereafter and now facilitates trips to Nigeria, Senegal, South Africa, Morocco, and Zanzibar.
About 70% of Tastemakers’ travelers are from the United States. But in recent years, Robinson says more upper to middle class Africans are traveling more within the continent, either booking trips within their home country or to places like Ghana and Kenya.
Last year, Tastemakers pivoted towards “marketplace-style business” similar to Airbnb to allow visitors to book trips and tours directly.
Robinson has since worked with South African, Kenyan, and Nigerian tourism boards as an advisor for online branding and marketing strategies and received a $250,000 investment to expand the team and develop growth strategies.
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