SA Tourism: 7 Black-Owned Travel Startups

Updated on 3 November 2017

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7 Black-Owned Travel Startups Changing The Face Of SA Tourism
PICTURE: Instagram/TravelNoire

There are a number of growing SA tourism and hospitality opportunities within the emerging black African market, or the Afropolitan market, says Thebe Tourism Group CEO, Jerry Mabena.

“Certain brands are beginning to recognise this market and are beginning to do things that are interesting in this particular space. It’s bigger than income. It’s about how people think: their lifestyle, their aspirations and what a black consumer wants in the marketplace,” he says.

Mabena was quoted in the August edition of the tourism publication Sawubona.

This increase in interest in catering for the young black traveller is mirrored globally with what’s being referred to as the “black travel movement”. The trend which is being driven largely by social media originated in the US. It is described by CNN as “a growing band of travel agents and social networks that celebrate and promote travel by people of colour.”

Market Challenges
This market is not without its challenges. The majority of black Africans still travel only travel for the purpose of visiting friends and relatives compared to other population groups, whose primary purpose for overnight trips is leisure, shopping and sport.

Domestic tourism within South Africa has also declined over the past two years due to economic hardships, according to the Domestic Tourism Survey 2016 (DTS 2016) released by Statistics South Africa.

Mabena, in the same article, argues that the lack of travel products developed especially for this demographic could be partly to blame for the slow uptake.

“We just haven’t communicated to them. So we need to do more to cater for this market. We need to have products that are designed around them. And we do need to find a way of bringing more of them into this particular space.”

Local and international black-owned startups, like Travellingcheapskates and Soul Traveller Tours, are among a growing number of businesses to offer travel products in South Africa that appeal to this market.

Find out how 4 local travel startups are catering to what was once an ignored market, and 3 international startups that are bringing the “black travel movement” to SA. 

TravellingCheapskates is a black female-owned social enterprise that packages travel deals on a limited budget. The Melville, Johannesburg-based company, which was founded by Philile Nzimande and Pearl Nkosi, focuses on custom-made and pre-packaged deals for groups, solo travellers, families and couples.

Travellingcheapskates also subsidises educational travel for rural schools in KwaZulu Natal.

Soul Traveller Tours is a group travel tour operator that aims to create ‘immersive tours’ covering a range of experiences such as urban culture and cosmopolitan neighbourhood food crawls, as well as nature-focused getaways.

Based in Johannesburg, Soul Travellers was founded by Siphesihle Penny Ndlela, who is also the CEO, in collaboration with Thebe Tourism Group, a 100%-owned subsidiary of Thebe Investment Corporation.

Lebo’s Soweto is a travel startup situated in Orlando West, Soweto, which began in the early 2000’s when founder, Lebo Malepa, who was then selling craft at the Hector Pieterson memorial in Soweto, started inviting some of the travellers to his home to experience another side of Soweto. By 2003 he had officially turned his family home into ‘Lebo’s Soweto Backpackers’ – a backpackers lodge that has grown to include dormitories, private rooms, tents and even a tree house.

Today, Lebo’s Soweto also includes bicycle, walk and tuk-tuk tours around Soweto’s attractions and historical sites including the former migrant workers’ hostel in Mzimhlophe, the Hector Pieterson Memorial – a historical landmark of the 1976 student uprising, the famous Vilakazi Street, as well as a city tour, and safari tours to the Pilanesberg.

Siviwe Tours is a tour company that is hoping to do for Cape Town’s Langa township what Lebo’s Soweto is doing for Soweto.

The travel startup was founded by Siviwe Mbinda, a Langa local, and is aimed at local and international young travellers who are looking to experience township culture. The tour includes common township sights such as local shops, restaurants and shisa nyamas.

Travel Noire is a digital publishing platform that creates tools and resources for “the unconventional traveller“. The startup selects curators from the African diaspora to share their experiences on the platform. They offer travel packages to both Cape Town and Johannesburg, along with other African cities.

Founded by Zim Ugochukwu, the US boutique travel company has sought to appeal to young black millennials and reaches 2 million travellers a month according to Ugochukwu.

Travel Noire offers travelling tips, guidance and deals for its users. This year, Ugochukwu sold the company to Blavity, a media and events startup focused on black millennials and black culture.

Tastemakers Africa [TSTMKRS] is a mobile app and online marketplace where people list, discover, and book experiences in African cities. The Brooklyn-based startup, which was founded by Cheraé Robinson, has a footprint in Ghana, Nigeria and South Africa and curates local experiences in cities across the continent by providing a hybrid booking and content experience.

Their aim is to connect travellers who want to go beyond safaris with local influencers who provide “an insider lens on their hometown – think a nightlife tour with a DJ in Accra or a week with a winemaker in Stellenbosch“, according to the startup’s LinkedIn profile.


Nomadness is a web-series and online travel community for urban travellers and was founded by Evita “Evie” Turquoise Robinson, who is regarded as a pioneer of the urban travel movement according to entrepreneurship and lifestyle publication, Bauce. The US-based platform, which aims to make world travel more accessible to people of colour, has over 15,000 members, according to the website.

Nomadness was the first of its kind targeting diverse millennial travellers, (primarily) urban travellers of colour, in the newly coined ‘urban travel movement’, which includes South Africa where they conduct tours, events and meet-ups, according to their profile. Robinson is also collaborating with American actress and director, Issa Rae, on a new web series, according to Travel and Leisure.

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