As the Africa Rising narrative continues to spread, interest in Africa for both travel and business is booming. As more people travel to the continent, perceptions are changing and new opportunities are being created as Africa becomes a desirable place to live, work and play. The East African countries of Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda and Tanzania have all experienced recent booms in tourism and the private sector. Oil and natural gas discoveries have fueled the interest of multinational corporations, while improved business environments have attracted smaller investors to the region.
Kelsey Horton, a Chicago native, is capitalizing on this opportunity by merging the best of both worlds and introducing people to both the beauty and opportunity that Africa has to offer. Kelsey just wrapped up his first successful ‘Yacht Week East Africa’ and sat down with Gaidi Faraj to share some insights into doing business in Africa and his contribution to the Black travel movement.
How did you wind up in Tanzania?
As a kid, my mom worked at what was then called the Center for Inner City Studies, a satellite campus of Northeastern Illinois University located on the South Side of Chicago, (now called the Jacob H. Carruthers Center for Inner City Studies). The campus offered curricula through an Afrocentric lens and celebrated African culture and traditions. She would take me and my brother to work with her during summer breaks, and it was within this atmosphere that I first became enamored with Africa. Later, I began working as a finance manager in the international development space and began traveling to Africa frequently for business. It was at this time that my affinity for Africa grew and when an opportunity to live and work in Tanzania presented itself, I jumped on it.
Why Yacht Week?
My interest in yachting initially came from attending yacht events on Lake Michigan in Chicago. When I moved to Dar es Salaam, which sits on the Indian Ocean, I began to attend yacht events more frequently. I noticed many travel companies organizing yachting trips throughout Eurasia and the Americas, but Africa was being totally overlooked. Fully aware of the unparalleled beauty and potential of East Africa, I began to develop the Yacht Week East Africa concept. In addition, African-Americans had been attending other yachting events in Europe and felt that those events didn’t particularly cater to their travel needs. Yacht Week East Africa was also designed to address this gap.
How did you market your event?
Considering it was a new event, it made sense to initially market it to my existing networks in the U.S. As a result, the first Yacht Week East Africa cohort was primarily from the states. Future Yacht Week East Africa events will be marketed to African-Americans as well as others within the African Diaspora.
What was the local reception to the idea?
Yacht Week East Africa was well received by the local community. They viewed it as an exciting and refreshing idea that could potentially boost tourism.
What was the international reception like?
The Black travel movement is at an all-time high and people are very interested in seeing what Africa has to offer. Many Black people came across Yacht Week East Africa in their social media feeds and not only saw it as an amazing way to explore Africa but also as more meaningful and culturally relevant version of the yachting events being offered in Eurasia and the Americas.
Did you encounter any fears or concerns based on negative perceptions of Africa?
Yes! Someone wanted to know how will they be protected from a Captain Phillips situation! I quickly alleviated those concerns by informing guests that pirate incidents are rare, and those that do occur typically take place off the coast of Somalia, a country about 1500 miles away from Tanzania, about the distance from NYC to Kansas. Tanzania has no such issues and is one of the safest and most peaceful countries in Africa.
What were some of your obstacles in implementing your first Yacht Week East Africa?
One of the biggest obstacles was yacht availability. There are no official charter companies in East Africa, so I had to search for and source yachts from private owners based in Dar es Salaam.
What were some of your biggest successes, and what are the lessons learned from this first event?
Some aspects of the event were absolutely amazing, others aspects will require some fine-tuning before the next Yacht Week East Africa event. The land component of the event, which was primarily managed by my team and included the welcome reception, tours in Dar es Salaam and Zanzibar and all of the official Yacht Week East Africa parties went extremely well. And the guests absolutely fell in love with Zanzibar! The sea component of the event, which was outsourced to the private yacht owners, is an area that I’m committed to improving. I’m currently in discussions with charter companies in the Seychelles that would be able to provide better yachts, and I’m also exploring the possibility of hiring our own captains. There will be other improvements, including an update to the route so that it is more efficient and impactful, and the hiring of more staff to assist with logistics and guest services. This was the first run of the event, and I’m committed to refining it in order to make it the premier yachting experience in East Africa.
What potential do you see for expanding?
I’ve contemplated having similar events in other parts of Africa, but considering I live in Tanzania and I’m well-connected here, I would like to focus on Yacht Week East Africa for now. With that said, I would like to eventually secure funding to procure my own yachts and provide daily charters to Tanzania’s network of islands in addition to hosting Yacht Week East Africa several times per year.
What would you say to other African-Americans interested in moving to East Africa?
East Africa is a beautiful and peaceful region of the continent and we’re definitely welcome here. There are many other African-Americans here, and numerous business and career opportunities. The same ingenuity that we use to make it in America can certainly be applied in Africa, perhaps with greater impact and reward.
Dr. Gaidi Faraj is a Pan African scholar, writer and entrepreneur. He holds a Ph.D. from the University of California at Berkeley in African Diaspora Studies and resides between the U.S. and Mauritius. His twitter is @iamgaidi