Umuntu Ngumuntu Ngabantu. This old saying in Zulu, which translates as “we are because of each other,” neatly underpins the philosophy of two Johannesburg-based travel curators dedicated to encouraging other young black South Africans to explore their own country.
“It’s our philosophy,” said Philile Nzimande, who co-founded Traveling Cheapskates in 2011 with business partner Pearl Nkosi. The pair met in college where Nzimande majored in information management and communications, while Nkosi studied hospitality management and served an internship in Florida at Disneyworld.
“When we travel, we learn from each other,” Nzimande said. “When you engage in a diverse country you learn from the different regions you visit, and discover that everybody has something to contribute.”
The idea for Traveling Cheapskates was prompted by a desire to inspire local people — particularly the many untraveled black South Africans — to discover their own country’s diversity.
When the pair of university friends embarked on a backpacking holiday along the coastal Garden Route region of South Africa, “we saw that there were no young black people in the places we travelled, we were always the minority,” explained Nzimande. “We thought there was a big gap in the market and we wanted to help our peers, other young black people, who were not travelling in their own country.”
Domestic Destinations for Untraveled South Africans
Their Facebook images and posts from the road quickly gained traction, with no shortage of potential clients asking how they could follow in their footsteps. With two fashionable young black women traveling South Africa on the cheap, the name of their fledgling business came easily.
From the beginning the pair made a conscious decision to focus their product offering on domestic destinations. It helped to keep the cost of packages low, but was also an opportunity for South African travelers to discover their own diversity, according to Nzimande.
“Before we look overseas, let’s start to know ourselves first,” she said. “Let’s be curious about the other cultures within our own country. Before you say ‘New York, New York’ can we first see the beaches of St. Lucia, or the mountains of the Drakensberg? It’s important to educate yourself about your own country and enjoy what you have at home. And, it’s cheaper!”
Ignoring the typical off-the-shelf packaging and distribution channels of the travel trade, Nzimande and Nkosi have focused on creating highly specific packages in partnership with selected suppliers.
“We don’t use the standard travel industry tools and methods. Our way of doing things is completely different,” says Nzimande. “We create our own packages, we try out all the product, and because we come from a background of blogging and social media that’s our main avenue for marketing and getting our word out there.”
While social media drives brand awareness, their online presence is simple and straightforward. There is no e-commerce offering, and inquiries via WhatsApp are encouraged. Although Traveling Cheapskates is affiliated with the non-profit South African Youth Travel Confederation, they are not accredited with the Association of South African Travel Agents.
Accreditation is of little concern to their target market, according to Nzimande. She believes first-hand experience trumps glossy marketing, and that familiarity with their specific target market is pivotal.
“We don’t have a specific strategy for targeting young black travelers, we just speak the language,” says Nzimande. “Because we are that market ourselves it comes naturally. We understand that market, and what an ordinary Philile or Pearl would want.”
That sort of approach might work with a small business, but larger firms know that an adept marketing strategy is vital.
Nevertheless, Nzimande said that seven years on, business is booming and the face of the travel industry is changing rapidly as ever-growing numbers of young black South Africans set out to discover their own country. The philosophy of the Traveling Cheapskates appears to be right on the money; we are because of each other.