Safari Wallet: redefining travel experiences for Tanzanians

Iddy John, visionary co-founder and chief executive officer (CEO) of Safari Wallet, is set to reshape the tourism landscape in Tanzania through innovative technology.
Born in 2014, Safari Wallet is a travel fintech that identifies, selects experiences and destinations and allows travelers to book and plan their vacations and then pay for them in installments.
This system has created flexible payment options that have allowed people who often associated travel and tourism with huge expenses to explore their country’s rich cultural and natural heritage.
Like any other common African childhood story, Iddy says growing up, traveling and visiting national parks or museums was always the promised reward for academic excellence.
While exposure to travel tourism instilled in him a fascination with what the world offered, the older he got, the more he saw how many people took tourism and travel as a leisure luxury.
This realization led Iddy to embark on a journey to redefine how Tanzanians experienced travel.
“When I was a child, my mother had a job that had us frequently crossing between Loliondo and Ngorongoro, so we were exposed to local destinations from the beginning,” Iddy shares.
The things we remember and learn as children shape who we are as adults, and although Iddy never studied tourism, the experiences he encountered in his childhood played a crucial role in his adventures as an adult.
“Around 2012/2013, I was on a personal journey trying to figure out what I wanted. “She had a lot of ideas but she really wanted to start a tourism company,” she says of his trip.
This was already a very saturated market and Iddy shares that he wasn’t interested in beating that competition. He wanted to build something that was uniquely geared toward his particular skills.
“After extensive research, I discovered that, although the many tourism companies that existed were able to obtain clients, they lacked market power,” he shares.
Many of these companies in their research relied heavily on agents to get them clients or attendance at events such as World Travel Market (WTM), Africa’s Travel Indaba (ATI), etc., in the hope of finding agents to market their companies to and then direct interested customers to them.
“This meant that while they had customers, 80 percent of the market share of a tourism company operating in Tanzania had never been acquired on its own,” he explains.
This was also influenced by the fact that many of these companies also did not have a strong digital footprint and did not know how to use SEO.
There was also the challenge of not retaining the customers they were given.
“I then founded Kwetu Africa, a digital travel marketing agency, specifically for tourism, with the aim of supporting tourism businesses operating in Tanzania,” explains Iddy.
During his marketing activities for those companies, Iddy and his team discovered that local residents were constantly making inquiries through them, assuming that Kwetu Africa was a tour operator.
“Tour operators often work with packages and when these people contacted other operators and gave them the prices of these packages, they found that they were quite expensive as they were selected with international tourists in mind,” he shares, adding that even with an incentive like 15 percent off, some still couldn’t meet the price.
“Our task then was to go back to a tour operator, advocate for these potential clients and put together a package they could afford.”
Ultimately, Kwetu Africa laid the foundation for Safari Wallet’s innovative approach to travel because through its operations, the team learned how much Tanzanians wanted to travel and that many faced pricing and packaging challenges.
“We saw that the main challenge was financial, which we showed after conducting more surveys. So in 2014, Safari Wallet started as an idea and then we decided to capture domains and register names first,” explains Iddy.
He further emphasized that this challenge arises from the absence of a culture of saving in advance for specific travel goals.
“We are the type of people who, if we suddenly receive 50 million, want to do everything at the same time: get married, travel, build; each need arises at the same time. Planning ahead is something that is difficult for us. If you look at the cultures of others abroad, they already have plans for something. For example, they could plan to visit Serengeti or Ngorongoro within two years. They start investigating how much it will cost and start setting aside funds to fulfill that dream,” he explains.
“Our research also found another problem: while locals can pay for these experiences, they are not treated as well as foreign tourists,” Iddy shares.
Customer segmentation meant that local tourists had to deal with substandard service from operators.
To ensure that Safari Wallet brings revolution and change for locals, it prioritized three main areas: financial empowerment, technological advancement, and improving the overall travel experience.
“As a startup, the main goal was to come and change the culture by allowing people to adopt slowly, plan ahead and allow people to pay gradually, ensuring that at the end of the day, they know that their funds were used effectively . ,” he says.
“This way, people don’t feel like they’ve sacrificed too much and they don’t experience the pain of thinking that instead, perhaps, they’ve recklessly spent $5 million.”
Through features like ‘Design Your Own Experience’, users can create personalized itineraries, similar to selecting from a buffet of travel options.
“We are working on improving the ‘Design Your Own Experience’ feature so that users who visit our platform can create their personalized travel experiences, similar to a safari buffet. This will allow us to offer a wide range of experiences and seamlessly connect with other subparties through technology,” she shared.
As they transitioned to formally operating as Safari Wallet in 2016 and 2017, they faced a notable challenge due to the ignorance of existing service providers, as for them, local tourists were not their primary target market.
Iddy shares that service providers neglected to promote tourism locally and prioritized the international market.
“During the Covid-19 period, Europe itself declared a loss of £36 million from local tourism, indicating that Europeans travel more within their countries than abroad. Currently, there are at least 42 million middle-class Africans who can afford to travel within Africa. We see Kenyans driving to Tanzania because they have already established a culture through initiatives like Tembea Kenya in times of crisis,” he explains.
Iddy also pointed out that despite the prevailing ignorance among service providers, some companies chose to serve locals during the low season when foreign visitors were absent.
The Covid-19 pandemic was a blessing in disguise for Safari Wallet as it was a time when domestic tourism peaked, which was social proof that underlined the need for localization of tourism packages and experiences.
“I remember during the pandemic, around 2021, I received a call from the UN who wanted to discuss how we could promote tourism in Africa. They were interested in using the Safari Wallet concept as proof that it works. So we had long dialogues from April to November. It was during this time that we started to see companies starting to promote local tourism,” he shares.
Despite the enthusiasm of numerous companies to participate in such efforts, many struggled due to insufficient understanding of local market dynamics.
Building a tech tourism company during the height of the pandemic was not without challenges. Iddy had to deal with building alone for a while and took advantage of online hackathons.
“At that point, my morale and motivation started to drop because it was one failure after another, and the challenges kept piling up, and on more than one occasion, I kept thinking I was done,” he says.
Iddy applied to different hackathons at the time and they were effective in helping him understand how best to position his product and create an effective tool.
“The key is to create experiences that attract people, for example by organizing events and developing products that align with those experiences,” he shares.
When building a thriving technology ecosystem, Iddy emphasizes the importance of documented failures that innovators can look to as a model to learn from.
“Looking back, many of the failures and frustrations were inevitable due to the limited number of failures we were able to learn from,” he explains.
He further explains that there is also a need for more market-ready products when it comes to innovation across the wide range of investment-ready programs in the technology space. Innovators must have market-ready products and test environments to test their products.
“Technology is also an important source of employment, if harnessed correctly, in any industry and tourism must begin to take full advantage of this,” he says.
However, to do so successfully, he also believes that the ecosystem requires unity, support and, where necessary, policies that give room for development, such as tax breaks for startups.
Despite the challenges within the Tanzanian startup ecosystem, Iddy remains steadfast in his vision for Safari Wallet.
He believes that perseverance, innovation and community support are essential to overcome obstacles and drive progress in technology tourism.