How Fahamu Safari leverages augmented reality to sell tourism in Tanzania

What is the best way to tell the stories of your homeland? In many African cultures, songs and folklore were the main means of expressing the greatness of Africa.

However, you had to be there to truly witness its magic.

Nowadays, these cultures and folklore also make up a good part of the tourist attractions and the way we tell them to our visitors and potential visitors has changed drastically.

Today, with options at our fingertips and innovation ensuring stories reach the visitor before they even physically arrive, tourist attraction opportunities continue to grow as large as we allow them.

Fahamu Safaris, a tour operating company located in the safari capital of Arusha, has taken advantage of a unique opportunity that emerged with technology and turned selling destinations in Tanzania into a unique experience for prospective tourists.

For co-founder and CTO Solomon Michael, tourism was a fascinating field.

As a child who saw a lot of tourist vehicles, his dream was to one day run his own operation, especially considering he came from Mwanza where this was not very common.

A software engineer by training, the path to tourism was not very linear.

After finishing college, he found himself with lucrative work on USAID-funded projects. For a while she forgot about tourism.

“These projects come to an end and I started to wonder what I could do to not go back to work. During that time, she was talking to a friend who had already been in the tourism industry for a long time. He explained the ABCs of the business to me and I thought, ‘Why not start my own tourism company?’” Solomon shares.

“I already had all this knowledge in technology and I knew I could incorporate it into tourism,” he adds.

Solomon went into business with his friend and together they ran their company for a few months until Covid-19 hit.

When the pandemic subsided, he had to figure out how to boost the company, especially since they didn’t have any tour agents working with them.

Most travel companies owe their success to agents who bring them clients because they are located in their target markets.

In an effort to overcome the obstacle before him as a tourism agent, he had to do a lot of research, which led him to realize that people would prefer to use their phones and search for their destinations and with this technological change, he saw an opportunity to engage.

“I thought, why not create my own website and do my own SEO and ads? So I built the company’s first website myself, from scratch,” Solomon shares.

“It wasn’t the best thing I could have done considering I still had work responsibilities, but the vision of how I could incorporate the technology began to take clearer shape.

“While Fahamu Safaris offers similar tourism experiences to many other operators, one thing that has set the company apart is how they have turned to augmented reality (AR) to attract visitors to visit Tanzania.

This technology merger came about as a result of travel demand during global lockdowns as a result of Covid-19.

One of the major markets that Fahamu Safaris entered was Germany.

He credits this lucrative market with being filled with a large population of people known to be travelers.

This early decision to focus on specific objectives was crucial for Fahamu Safaris in terms of managing costs and resources allocated to advertising and marketing efforts.

“When selling anything, you need to build trust, and for us, we were faced with the question of how we could build trust with these people,” he says.

“Two of the key decisions we made were to hire German-speaking talent and create a website that specifically catered to that market,” he shares.

Once all this was done, Solomon says they still had to sell Tanzania beyond normal.

When attending trade shows and conferences, you must be able to convince potential buyers why Tanzania is a must-visit and why they should choose Fahamu Safaris as their host and guide.

You also need to leave a lasting impression so they have no choice but to want to work with you.

This is where AR emerged for the enterprise.

Instead of spending so much time talking about what it is and what it isn’t, the team put together informational video clips embedded on postcards that one could carry with them and, with their phone cameras, scan and learn about Tanzania.

The use of AR has helped the company stand out, attracting visitors both tech-savvy and curious to work with.

This use of technology offers tourists a preview of the experiences that await them in Tanzania.

In addition to AR, the team is also looking at the potential that virtual reality (VR) experiences can offer to further boost tourism in Tanzania.

Unfortunately, this type of tourism doesn’t come cheap, and as Solomon can attest, just putting together the AR cards cost the company a considerable sum.

“Capital for tourism is already a major challenge and while emerging technologies like the AR we use can be a game-changer, I also recognize that it may still be difficult for some,” he says.

This, he says, is a result of the fact that the availability and adaptation of this technology is still very low in Tanzania and shares that the only company he knows of that is currently leveraging this technology to create AR and VR images is OnaStories.

“We also face the challenge of a lack of talent that is not only capable of developing this technology but also implementing and sustaining it,” he says. He adds that while tourism is a very lucrative industry, the sad reality is that workers on the ground are still wary of embracing technology as a potential tool to boost the industry.

“For young people coming out of university, I would recommend that they consider the integration of technology within the sector because it can be used in many ways beyond marketing destinations or attracting visitors,” he shares.

A change in perceptions is key for young people entering the workforce.

“Many tend to assume that studying ICT directly translates into jobs in that specific area, but technology is just a tool and those skills can be used in many different ways,” he says.

“Learn to think outside the box to increase your experience,” he adds.

Fostering these skills would also be easier with support frameworks that help entrepreneurs develop technology that can benefit the country’s tourism sector.

“The Fahamu Safari experiment and the successful launch of AR-based marketing products are proof that when it comes to technology, we are as small or as big as we allow our minds to dream,” he notes.