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Jessika Nilsson | South Africa | Bridging The Gap!

Safarisource is a young and dynamic start up, founded by me, launched at INDABA tourism trade fair in South Africa. I am originally from Sweden, grew up in Tanzania before going back to Europe for my studies. In 2013 I moved from Leuven, Belgium to Ngorongoro Tanzania for my PhD research, where I worked closely with Maasai people in the tourism industry. Local operators would complain to me about being at mercy of foreign travel agents and wholesalers who send their clients to them. Locals told me stories about overseas travel agents presenting themselves to tourists as experts. Taking immense cuts pushing the ground handlers to the limit financially, they would change operator on a whim. They showed her how the local operator organizes the tour and takes the clients on safari and what a great disconnect there often is between overseas ‘travel experts’ and local organizers. An additional source of frustration was not knowing the client until one collected them from the airport, not being able to receive any information on their preferences and needs. I also interacted with countless travelers surprised at how different their safari experience was from what agents in the West had promised them. I was deeply bothered by this. I moved back to Leuven renting out my spare bedroom on Airbnb to help finance my studies. This is when it clicked for me, the needs of both tourists and local tour operators in Africa could be adequately addressed with a technology similar to Airbnb. My desire to boost the independence of small African businesses in the tourism industry went so deep that in 2016 when I graduated from my studies, instead of choosing a career in academia I embarked on my start up project with I'm an entrepreneurial anthropologist, there has never been another objective for me than to start my own business on the continent I love.

What were the biggest initial hurdles to building your business and how did you overcome them?

The safari industry is the last travel industry to be digital. Traditionally, people have felt the need for Western middle men to help book their trips and make Africa feel a little less exotic. The internet has however bridged this culture gap. My friends and family have been supportive but it can be hard for people at times to understand what entrepreneurship is like.

What would you say was the single most influential factor in your business success?

Determination and a good team.

What advice would you give to an upcoming young and old entrepreneur locally and internationally?

Develop a product that bridges gaps is the ‘Airbnb for safaris’, our aim is to fundamentally change travel to Africa. We connect travelers to locals achieving the following things: We empower local African businesses and we lead the traveler straight to the source for a more personalized safari experience. We scrap external agents and let local African tour operators engage the tourist directly. We wish to empower those in the know and connect them to the traveler without foreign agents getting in the way and taking huge cuts. We want to give local operators, especially the smaller ones, the necessary tools to market themselves independently to the traveler and help them be their very best on the internet.

Comfort Zone!

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