Created in 2018, Kumba Africa is a digital marketplace where holidaymakers can plan all the logistics for their next trip. Mwana Wevhu talks to its founder, Tapiwa Ndlovu, to find out more:
When Tapiwa Ndlovu visited South Africa in 2016, he wasn’t looking for the typical tourist experience. “I was looking for an authentic way to experience South Africa. I wanted to immerse myself in that region and culture.” When he couldn’t find a company that could curate this experience for him, he decided to start Kumba Africa alongside his co-founder, Ayyoob Abrahams. The two met in 2017 during an incubator programme in Stellenbosch, and they decided to create a company focused on easing travel in Africa.
“I thought to myself, how can I create a company of value?”
Ndlovu and Abrahams started working on Kumba Africa in April 2018, with the company being legally registered in May 2018, in Delaware. Although the company’s registered in North America, Ndlovu points out that their team is not confined to one location. “We have people in Nigeria, Kenya, South Africa, Zimbabwe and the USA. As we were expanding the team, location was not a big factor because we could leverage technology to compensate for the distance.” Working remotely has also had an added benefit, especially when working in a vast and diverse continent. “When people are in different countries, they give different perspectives. This is what builds the product. Context is key.”
African made African travel
Africa’s tourism destinations have gotten increasingly popular since 2016. Technology’s made this process easier. AirBnB, Trivago, Booking.com and Uber have made travelling in and around certain countries easier and more affordable. So what makes Kumba Africa stand out?
“What plays a role is that we are Africa focused. We focus solely on Africa. We understand the context a lot better,” explains Ndlovu. Instead of being a globally established player moving into local markets, Kumba Africa’s decided to start and stay in Africa. Although their customer base isn’t just Africans, Ndlovu believes that the company’s ethos works for both client and service provider.
“Africa still has a long way to go in terms of technology and travel.”
However, much work still needs to be done to encourage inter-continental tourism – at least that’s what Ndlovu believes. “My experience has been that Africa still has a long way to go in terms of technology and travel. It’s (travelling) is a fragmented process.” He states that there are still gaps in terms of travel insurance, booking accommodation and activities, flights and visa applications. It makes booking a trip difficult and potentially confusing for someone who doesn’t know the ins and outs.
There are other factors impeding local tourism. “There’s a cultural block that exists. It’s not common for African families to travel (within Africa). People want to go outside the continent. They want to go to the UK. They want to go to Australia. Then there’s financial constraints. People are struggling to put food on the table, so of course travel is a luxury.”
Kumba Africa wants to make tourism both affordable and desirable for African customers. They hope to implement payment plans that would make saving and paying for trips easier. To cut out middlemen, they work directly with service providers to get the best rates without compromising quality. They’re focusing heavily on customising travel, so that every person who uses their services has a unique experience. True to their start-up nature, they’re using AI and machine learning to customise trips.
Running a start-up isn’t easy
Ndlovu’s been working full-time on Kumba Africa for the past 10 months. And it hasn’t been easy. “I’ve been living the true entrepreneur life. I lives on a couch for about a month and a half. I worked part-time after work as a tutor.” There have been success stories, but there is a dark side to this cool, glorified scene. Depression and burnout are part of entrepreneurship, especially in the highly competitive tech field. For Ndlovu, his upbringing in Zimbabwe taught him how to hustle and persevere for success. With Kumba Africa about to turn a year old, he hopes that more Africans embrace travelling within the continent, and that the company can make this travel experience easier, more affordable, and more memorable.