Last updated: 12:22 PM ET, Fri September 25 2015

Living The Dream: One on One With Sherwin Banda, President of African Travel

Tour Operator | David Cogswell | September 23, 2015

Living The Dream: One on One With Sherwin Banda, President of African Travel

Photo courtesy Africa Travel, Inc.

Sherwin Banda joined African Travel, Inc. as president in August. Banda is a native of Cape Town, South Africa, who has spent 15 years in travel industry positions in South Africa, the U.K. and California. His last position was general manager of the Table Bay Hotel in Cape Town. Banda succeeds Jim Holden, the previous president of African Travel, who resigned in July.

TravelPulse: So you joined African Travel in August as president. That’s a good place to start.

Sherwin Banda: Yes, it’s a great place to start. Who gets to talk about their home continent every day of their lives and to get to travel back and forth? It’s the American dream. Few people can say they do that.

The American dream and the African dream are not different. The human experience is that one wants to succeed in life. It’s no different in Africa or the United States.

TP: Yes, the basic human aspirations are in the human heart everywhere, absolutely. So you were previously in the hotel industry.

SB: Yes, I was in hotels. I am an hotelier at heart. All of my experience has been in hotels. But our experience is not different in any way shape or form. We are looking after our customers who want to experience a travel destination in a meaningful way, and hopefully making their dreams come true. We are also able to talk about what they will experience on the ground. It’s not that different. What better thing to do?

TP: And you’re from Cape Town. Cape Town is a wonderful place to have grown up.

SB: Cape Town is where I was born and raised. All my family is based there today. It is where my heart lies. My heart is in Africa but my feet are in the United States. I get to send people there every day of my life. I often say I am an African by birth but an American by choice.

TP: What are your plans for African Travel?

SB: Africa has been affected in the last year by Ebola. The one thing we know for sure is that Africa is not one story, certainly not one country. Now people are wanting to experience Africa as a destination, so our focus has been on getting back to Africa.

We are very strongly tied to TreadRight and Wild Aid and we want to create meaningful itineraries for our clients in which they are able to experience Africa but still have some nice time to spend in giving back to Africa. That is something we are very focused on.

It is core for us in terms of sending people to Africa. There are people who are going to want to have repeat vacations to Africa. After experiencing Africa, they want to go back and re-experience it in a different way, and voluntourism is one way that we are focusing on. And for people who have Africa on their bucket list for travel next year, we are putting together some amazing brochure itineraries. Our new brochure has just come out for 2016 and it has some beautiful new products and also some really meaningful voluntourism aspects to travel. People are wanting to give back and donate time.

We have something in East Africa where clients can spend a day building desks and donating them to schools that are in need. More and more we are seeing requests to see Africa in this way.

There is no better inspiration for the soul than seeing people’s lives being affected in a meaningful way. The destination is absolutely beautiful and has lots of offer. But that truly is a unique way to experience a destination, by spending some time donating and giving back to the local communities.

TP: Yes, it seems that for many affluent consumers who can afford to travel to Africa, the kind of fulfillment they are looking for goes beyond that. They want to be able to have a positive interaction with the people in the destination.

SB: A lot of our trade or agents have experienced Africa, and some of them have not experienced Africa, so a lot of our focus over the coming months will be sharing our story with agents so they can share the story of Africa in a real way with their clients. We’re focusing a lot on education of the destination. Our team here has been focused a lot on sharing personal experiences with the agents’ database. There has been a lot of value that has been derived for us and also for them. So that has been a big focus and key driver for selling the destinations.

We are looking at increasing our product offering, particularly in North Africa. We have other parts of our brand that are in the region but don’t do FIT travel and we are wanting to focus on Northern Africa and possibly West Africa as we are increasing our footprint in the marketplace. That’s a key focus for us as well, and making sure that Africa is top of mind in the retail and consumer markets.

TP: So you’ll be working to educate travel agents?

SB: Travel agents are still our bread and butter. We have great partnerships relationships with the major consortia in and around the United States and we use them as our trade partners in selling the destination.

The focus is to make sure that Africa remains top of mind. And for those agents or individuals who have not been to Africa, (the focus is) to take them to Africa to experience Africa. And also through education to allow them to increase their knowledge of the destination. It will be a big focus point for us in coming months.

TP: What other destinations are you looking at?

SB: We’re looking at Morocco. Morocco is absolutely beautiful. We want to add that to our portfolio. And places like Ghana, which is an absolute treasure trove for African Travel. We are going to be looking at increasing our footprint, particularly in those areas.

TP: Are you interested in Nigeria?

SB: Nigeria in the next few years will probably surpass South Africa in terms of its economy only because of its significant oil refineries. But it is not a destination without challenge. Knowing our traveler quite intimately, we know the infrastructure of Nigeria can be quite challenging.

Have you ever driven around in Lagos? If you think Los Angeles has traffic problems, Lagos will teach you a thing or two about congestion.

One thing I will tell you about Nigeria, the food is really a standout. In recent years people will say, “Africa has become a foodie destination,” and my response is that Africa has always been a foodie destination. We are a continent of hunting, hunter-gathering and also farming. So the way we eat is very much at one with nature. If you really want to experience food in Africa it is a unique and amazing destination, and Nigeria is one high point.

Nigeria is not on the list for now, but nothing is set in stone. As we grow and increase our footprint across the African continent that is definitely a place of interest. We can’t do everything at one time. The interest has always been northern Africa. And amongst the African American community, West Africa is a very sought-after part of the African continent.

TP: So in West Africa now you are focused mostly on Ghana?

SB: Correct.

TP: Are there any closing points you would like to leave with our readers?

SB: I mentioned being partnered with Treadright and Wild Aid. The law of Africa is multi-faceted and recent things that have happened in Africa have brought conservation to the forefront. This is a strategic focus for us over the next year as well. To make sure we work with suppliers and ground operations and also encourage sustainable tourism within the region and responsible tourism. It’s important that the message that goes out is to choose your travel agent very carefully. We would prefer obviously that people partner with African Travel, but more importantly to partner with responsible agents and operators on the ground and keep sustainable tourism alive for future generations to come. That is our overriding message that we wish the world to know about Africa.

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