Entrepreneur Cheraé Robinson is a bridge builder. For the past seven years, the New York-based entrepreneur, pan-Africanist, and DJ, has dedicated her time to connecting people with meaningful experiences. As the Founder and CEO of Tastemakers Africa, a New York City-based travel startup company, Cheraé has helped provide thousands of travelers visiting Africa a platform to find creative and authentic experiences in Africa.
Cheraé conceptualized the idea for Tastemakers in 2014 in response to her observations of the African travel industry at the time. Many travel companies focused on African tourism were selling experiences that had provided a limited scope of African culture and history. Cheraé saw the opportunity for her own travel company that would offer authentic experiences as the foundation of the business.
During the beginning stages of Tastemakers, Cheraé traveled throughout Africa with the intention of learning the honest experiences of local communities. As she connected with local artisans, restaurateurs, musicians, and entrepreneurs, she formed real relationships. These relationships later allowed her to join forces with local businesses and creative people to curate experiences for her future customers.
When it comes to community, Cheraé believes that acts of service play a great role in building a community. This applies to both her customers and her partners on the ground. By partnering with the local community, Tastemakers has created a viable system that offers locals a fair profit from the tours that they provide. In fact, the majority of the revenue from the bookings goes directly to the guides.
In the climate of COVID-19, Tastemakers has been focused on how they can virtually connect to their community, virtually. In the next few months, they will be revisiting their newly launched virtual conference series, The Thread. Inspired by a virtual conference she recently attended, Cheraé made the decision to launch a virtual conference to connect members of the diaspora. This virtual experience gathered an incredibly diverse group of African voices from the continent to the diaspora to further highlight and explore Pan-Africanism.
This new endeavor is inspired by the hope to further the positive energy from last year's “Year of Return” event in West Africa. #TheThread brought minds together to brainstorm ways to emphasize African music, policy, spirituality, wellness, brands and more to remind the world why Africa is such a special place to visit. The speakers shared their experiences and hopes for the future of African culture and travel.
Although there is much uncertainty regarding the state of the world in the upcoming months, Cheraé remains hopeful about the future of tourism. Tastemakers will continue to create opportunities to expose travelers to authentic African culture and promote the spirit of pan-Africanism and community.
Listen to episode four of The Folklore's 'Our Folklore' podcast featuring an interview with Tastemakers Africa Founder and CEO, Cherae Robinson. Available now on Apple Podcast, Spotify, SoundCloud, and Google Play.
The travel industry has been on man down, and it really has given us the opportunity to reset. Once you get venture-backed, you have to really focus on a different set of metrics of success. Everything that is happening in the world right now has brought all of those expectations to a standstill.
The core mission of tastemakers is to break down the walls between Africa and the Diaspora by allowing them to have experiences with each other. So it's a two-way trade: it's not just about helping black people connect to Africa but also helping Africans connect to themselves.
When I first started Tastemakers, it felt like a series, in a sense. I was not familiar with the term “startup” at the time and I didn’t know anything about entrepreneurship, I just knew that I wanted to fill in this gap.
When I boiled down our mission, I realized that it can happen even when people cannot get on planes. The idea was to lean into our mission and lean into the community aspect of our platform and really be in a position where we can do that in a time where people need it the most.
When the Year of Return happened, in many ways I felt like the whole world caught up to what I have been saying. I was super excited about it. From a revenue perspective, it was our biggest revenue of the year, ever. And it was perfect timing because we had just launched a new platform at the end of the year before. And it worked perfectly for the Year of Return traffic. Now that we have done the Year of Return, we are going beyond the return, but what does that look like in a world that is basically upside down? I love the idea of tapping into technology and streaming to do something that can still somehow feel intimate.
One of the things that you can do as an entrepreneur is to remind yourself of your mission first. And your mission is not always the product you build. Our mission was leveling the playing field, really creating an equality-based dialogue between Africans on the continent and Africans in the diaspora.
Everything in the tourism industry prior to the inception of Tastemakers was superficial. None of it resonated with me, as a 26-year-old trying to explore the continent. I did not feel like anything else was connecting people to the fun and authentic experiences. Tastemakers was created to connect people to what's popping on the continent, authentically, through a curated lens.
In the long game, we are still hopeful. Even if the tourism industry does not bounce back this year, we are still expanding to new cities and looking for new ways to have the same impact. That Year of Return energy is not about it being a blip on the radar, its the start of a new relationship and we really want to help facilitate that for people.
Written by: Gelina Dames