How Three Entrepreneurs Are Changing The Perception Of Travel To Africa
Batuku dancers in Cabo Verde, Photo by Joli Moniz of A Vontade Tours
A visit to Africa not only forever changed Tiffanie Anderson’s outlook on life, it gave her a totally different professional direction. When Anderson studied abroad in Cape Town, South Africa, in the summer of 2006 she had such an amazing time she decided she wanted others to be able to have the same experience. Two years ago she made that dream come true when she launched her own tour company, Away to Africa.
“That [trip] was my first exposure to travel to Africa and I had all these preconceived notions about Africa, but when I arrived in South Africa it was so amazing,” Anderson recalled. “I found such a welcoming vibe and it forever changed my life.”
Though Anderson didn’t start her business until 2015, she began laying the foundation for her tour company as soon as she returned from studying abroad, telling all of her friends they should make the trip. “I tried to tell them that what they see in the media about Africa is not Africa,” Anderson said. “I was able to encourage one friend who actually got a job in Africa and then another friend went to visit.”
Tiffanie Anderson of Away To Africa (Photo courtesy of Tiffanie Anderson)
She may not have known it then, but Anderson was on to something. According to the World Tourism Organization, Africa is one of the world’s fastest-growing tourist destinations, second only to the Middle East. And the fastest growing tourist destinations in Africa for 2016 were Egypt, Morocco, and Côte d’Ivoire.
Shifting attention from North Africa, which already enjoys high tourism, Away to Africa currently offers travel to South Africa, Ethiopia, Ghana, Zanzibar, Tanzania, Kenya and Mozambique, and is gearing up for a big New Year’s Eve excursion to Zanzibar and South Africa with Afropunk. The country offers two tours per year to each of the listed countries as well as custom travel packages. An Away to Africa representative always travels with the tour groups.
Despite notable growth in travel to the continent, Anderson said it’s still difficult to get some prospective travelers to get over their misconceptions about Africa. Among the questions she’s asked most often are: Is it safe? How long are the flights? Is it hot? What type of food do they eat? “Oh, and safaris,” Anderson said. “People think everywhere in Africa has safaris.”
While Away to Africa’s main customer base is in the Caribbean, the company is also registered as a business in Miami and takes travelers from the States as well. Anderson said she is looking to expand by offering tours to Seychelles, Uganda, and Cape Verde next year.
Joli Moniz, an American of Cape Verdean descent had always wanted to spend more time in her ancestral homeland, and one trip sparked not only a business idea but a major personal decision. “I went to Cabo Verde with the intention of staying ‘just one year’ and learning to speak Cape Verdean Kriolu. During that year I started to realize that I could not imagine leaving Cape Verde. It had become my home,” she shared. “During that first year I hosted at least 10 friends and family members who had come to visit and check in on me. Thanks to one of the visiting friends, I also realized that I could actually make a living by hosting tourists.”
That same summer in 2013, Moniz founded A Vontade Tours and began promoting Cabo Verde. “It just made sense,” she said. “I absolutely enjoy everything about it: the marketing, meeting new people, exploring new places, learning more about cultures, contributing to the local economy, working with artists, positively promoting Cabo Verde and Africa in general. I even get to use my photography to document visits and promote.”
Helping build awareness about Cabo Verde and encouraging more people — especially Caboverdeans from the diaspora like her — to come back home, is also an important part of her work for Moniz. “Also helping to change the narrative about Africa by disseminating positive stories that show the richness and beauty of this continent is so rewarding,” she added. “I feel like I am doing what I was meant to do.”
Like Anderson, Moniz tries to get prospective visitors to understand and embrace the culture of their African destination. “Travel to Cabo Verde is my passion because I know first-hand how unique and beautiful the country is and how much the islands have to offer travelers. I truly believe with its rich culture and natural beauty, Cabo Verde is a slice of heaven. I have yet to meet a visitor who does not fall in love with Cabo Verde. And being Caboverdean myself, I am motivated to ensure that the business I bring to Cabo Verde actually benefits the local community,” said Moniz, who recently expanded her business to other African countries by offering dual destination packages.
“We are encouraging clients to consider visiting Cabo Verde and Senegal, Cabo Verde and Morocco, Cabo Verde and Ghana, Cabo Verde and Guinea-Bissau. That way, they can experience not one but two unique African countries, one island nation and one on the continent, and make the most out of their trip overseas.”
Moniz is also no stranger to the hesitancy people sometimes have about traveling to Africa. “Sadly, thanks to centuries-long negative media coverage, many equate Africa with poverty, misery, famine, disease, or at least jungles of tigers and men with spears in hand. Also people expect dirt-cheap prices, not realizing how high the cost of living can be, and that there are many very high-end options in hotels and restaurants that add to a trip’s price tag.”
Part of Moniz’s job is getting people to understand the variety of experiences they can have across the continent. “Being the largest continent composed of 54 countries and countless cultures, you can find any and everything you are looking for in a vacation. Do you want to relax on a picture perfect beach and be pampered in all-inclusive resorts or high-end boutique hotels? Do you want culture-infused, sophisticated nightlife? Do you want to experience bustling music festivals? Do you want outdoor adventure? Do you want to volunteer in the community or experience a family homestay? Cabo Verde, and of course Africa in general, offers all of this and so much more!”
Moniz offers customized individual and group trips as well as standard year-round packages such as the Cultural Immersion Trip, Culture + All That Jazz, which is centered around the Cabo Verde Jazz Fest, and the ladies’ getaway, “Eat, Pray, Love…Badja!”, which includes spa treatments, yoga on the beach, and Kizomba dance lessons, among other things.
In 2016, Lawrence McLean left his job as a software engineer to concentrate full time on his tour agency African American Travelers (AAT) which he launched in 2012 as a meetup group focusing primarily on Philadelphia. Today, it is a fully accredited agency serving nine African countries: Egypt, Ghana, Togo, Benin, South Africa, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Botswana, and Morocco. “We plan to visit Africa no fewer than three times in each year going forward,” said McLean. “Travel to Africa is an absolute must! Not just because it’s your home, but because it is unequivocally the most beautiful place on Earth.”
For McLean, AAT is not only a business but an opportunity for him to enjoy Africa himself. His favorite spot in Africa? “Where do I pick? If you force me to, I’ll have to pick the area around Victoria Falls. The falls itself are quite a site and there are just so many amazing things to do in the area like safaris, animal walks, and cultural visits, just to name a few,” he shared.
As Moniz summed up, when it comes to Africa, there is something for everyone. “Just know that if you come you will fall in love. There is just something undeniably magical and intoxicating about the energy in Africa that is guaranteed to, in some way, transform you for the better. Once you visit it simply becomes a part of you.”