Travel Impact Spotlight features startup company founders committed to changing how we travel. These startups bring travelers closer to the people and culture of their destination, lessen the negative impact of travel on the environment, and benefit local communities from all parts of the world.
Cherae Robinson aims to disrupt the narrative on travel in Africa through her startup, Tastemakers Africa.

Cherae Robinson, Tastemakers founder

The Tastemakers platform connects travelers to African musicians, artists, chefs, and other local insiders who offer experiences that go beyond safaris or volunteering.

The startup supports the creativity and entrepreneurial endeavors of these insiders, who give travelers access to unique and authentic experiences at the heart of vibrant African cities. “Beyond being a tour operator, it’s almost like we bleed into the lifestyles of what’s happening in the city,” Cherae said.

We met Cherae at the Booking.com Booster Program in May. This week, we caught up with her while she was in Paris partnering with Afropunk to talk more about Tastemakers’ beginnings, the startup’s impact on travel in Africa, and what’s in store for the future.

Q: Why did you decide to found Tastemakers?

Cherae: I’m a biologist by training, and I was always trying to build my passion for Africa, my love of travel, my training as a biologist and researcher, and my natural knack for communications into one thing.

When I was at CIMMYT, a World Bank agriculture research center, I was fortunate enough to lead our strategic partnership division, which meant I spent a lot of time on the road. Doing that, particularly in Africa, it got the point where my friends were sort of dropping everything whenever I was in Nigeria or Kenya or South Africa to come meet me during work. Then it began to be friends of friends. I started to become like this resource for people who were wanting to travel to Africa but were not prioritizing the safari experience.

They were learning about all these other ways to experience African destinations by looking at my Instagram or looking at my Facebook, and I was always peppered with questions. Eventually I was like, ‘I wonder if people would pay for this this kind of experience?’ At the same time I was thinking, ‘man, this could really be a way to change the narrative.’ If you’ve got people coming and experiencing African cities in a more modern context, more people will begin thinking that that’s something to do.

Q: What cities do you work in?

C: We’re an African travel platform, so our core business is offering experiences in Cape Town, Accra, and Johannesburg. Because of the partnership with AfroPunk, we’re offering limited-edition experiences in each of their cities. So, they are in Brooklyn, Atlanta, Paris, London and Johannesburg.

Q: How do you find the local insiders you work with?

C: In the beginning, it was largely Instagram. We were looking at who were the Africans living in their home countries and showing that they were well-connected in the city and also just curious. Everyone who lives somewhere isn’t curious about the place they live in, just like many New Yorkers have never been off their street, let alone their borough — the same applies everywhere.

Now, as we grow our network, we ask partners what we’re looking for, we partner with creative organizations and entrepreneurial organizations in-country to find people, and then just word of mouth.

 

A post shared by Tastemakers Africa (@tstmkrsafrica) on Jun 15, 2018 at 8:08am PDT

 

Q: What are some of the most popular experiences you offer?

C: Definitely anything with food. People want to be able to connect with more authentic dining experiences, whether they be in someone’s home or even at a fancy restaurant but with locals to experience it with.

Our nightlife experiences are really popular, and I think that’s largely because a lot of tour platforms stop at nighttime experiences. People want to know where to go out, especially with our demographic being largely millennials and Gen Y folks.

And then, anything that takes the stuff that people really want to do — like the bucket list stuff — but then adds some special sauce, like we almost have wine and champagne on every experience. That kind of stuff goes over really well.

Q: What kind of experiences are you offering in Paris this month?

C: What we try to do is tap into the African diaspora experience and really focus on things that either tell the story of African Americans in Paris, like Josephine Baker or James Baldwin, or tap into Paris’ immigrant communities, whether they be from African countries or Caribbean countries.

We really focus on bringing people into a Paris that some people don’t even think about, and even if they do, most people don’t know how to access it in a way that’s safe and in a way they feel they can trust.

 

A post shared by Tastemakers Africa (@tstmkrsafrica) on Jun 27, 2018 at 10:10am PDT

 

Q: What is the impact on travel in Africa and local operators?

C: I think the first one is just awareness and offering an opportunity for local operators to try more unique things and know that we can drive demand to them so that trying new things will also mean making more revenue. It increases not only the reputation of the destination but also their ability to connect with customers.

I think the second one, changing the narrative, is a big one.

And then the last one is the offering itself, like in a lot of these destinations tourism is not spread to places outside the center of the city, and even if it is in the center of the city, it’s very sterile. Tastemakers is building product out in cities where it didn’t exist before with the level of nuance and diversity that’s on our platform.

Q: What is your ultimate goal for Tastemakers?

C: The ultimate goal is for people to connect with an African experience wherever they are in the world.

 

A post shared by Tastemakers Africa (@tstmkrsafrica) on May 2, 2018 at 7:38am PDT

 

Tastemakers events coming up:

 

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.