Understanding cultural context is key. Do not think you can just jump into a country. We had to spend five years navigating the cultural nuances and building connections, understanding the different ways of working, liaising with local government, and researching the laws and rules. Ensure you immerse yourself in the experience before you try to make changes. The number of questions we get is incredible. And of course, we have to confidently answer them so an immense amount of background research goes on behind the scenes ahead of every single trip.
As part of my series about “How To Create A Travel Experience That Keeps People Coming Back For More”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Kai Cant.
Kai Cant, 40 is the co-founder of The Tribe Experience, an intimate travel adventure where volunteers pay an all-inclusive fee to explore some of the world’s most spectacular and underrated travel destinations whilst undertaking vital charity work for communities in those regions.
Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
Prior to founding The Tribe Experience, I was a successful event producer and promoter. I founded several house music event brands including ABODE and HotBed which evolved from single events in London to a series of festivals across Europe and residencies in Ibiza. As a result of promoting these events I garnered a large and engaged social media following. However, then the COVID pandemic hit, and I had to quickly pivot to an alternative career path as all events ceased.
In my twenties I had trained as a holiday rep so had prior experience in the travel sector and my business partner Emily Chapman also has experience as a travel agent, so, given that we were both living in Ibiza, which endured several strict lock downs, we decided to create The Tribe Travel Company at the height of the pandemic. Utilising our knowledge of the island, we created a disruptive travel brand which offers travellers much more than conventional holidays. The Tribe Travel Company provides a five-star level of service. We offer full packages from airport transfers to villas, boat trips around the island, group sporting activities such as kayaking, not to mention personal training sessions and chefs sent to guests’ villas to cook for holidaymakers. We are also integrating wellness and fitness retreats into our offering too. Our overall aim with The Tribe is to make the experience as enjoyable and stress free as possible for those wanting to get away and see a different side to their destination.
Five years ago, myself and my business partner at the time, Peter, set up our first school in Kabale, Uganda using profits from our brand ABODE. Since then, we have worked hard to expand the school which now has a facility for children with complex needs.
As a parent of a non-verbal child with complex needs, I know how difficult it is for them to get the right care and education that they deserve.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?
I have always been proactive in trying to help those in need, and when I saw the devastating floods in Mozambique in March 2019 on the news, with entire houses underwater due to the monsoon, I knew I had to help in some way.
I served in the British army for several years, so I utilised my military training to assemble a small humanitarian response team, crowdfunded donations using social media and set off to assist on the ground on a volunteer mission.
The country was under water, and so with the money raised we purchased water purifiers which helped the local community turn flood water into much needed drinking water. We hired a boat and went out to locate families who were stranded on the roofs of their houses, unable to access food or water — and we took in supplies. However, we were unfortunately arrested by local soldiers, accused of espionage, and ended up being rescued by UNICEF and flown out of there on a charity plane back to the UK.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
They weren’t particularly funny at the time, but certainly proved a learning curve for us. When we set up The Tribe Experience, our first two volunteer experiences made a loss. This was due to us under-pricing as well as the US dollar crashing. However, we used that experience to guide us, and it taught us the value of making rock solid relationships on the ground in Uganda. We have now negotiated some fantastic deals through quality local suppliers who can always deliver what we need, which means we are heading for a healthy profit in 2024. This ultimately means we can invest back in the charity we have created called The One Love Project, and its extension Our Little Tribe — a school we have set up in Kabale, Uganda for children with complex needs and neurodiverse requirements.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
When we first arrived in Uganda we had to work very hard to build relationships with the local community. Many were understandably sceptical, but most were incredibly welcoming, kind and generous.
One individual stood out. Martin was working as a tour guide and boat trip host and his perfect English and extensive knowledge of the local area and individuals in the community was exceptional.
Martin has been working with me ever since and when we launched The Tribe Experience in 2021, he was the obvious choice to manage the team in Uganda. We are very grateful to have him as one of our team on the ground.
Thank you for that. Let’s jump to the core of our discussion. Can you share with our readers about the innovations that you are bringing to the travel and hospitality industries?
Launched in 2021, The Tribe Experience has taken over 150 adventurers to Uganda and in December is set to launch its first experience in Zanzibar, Tanzania. All Tribe experiences include a packed itinerary of community experiences mixed with music and entertainment plus a chance to experience the local beauty and adventure of these stunning locations.
My business partner Emily Chapman and I have innovated the conventional travel experience to incorporate philanthropy, with a range of opportunities to give back to communities in desperate need. We also give travellers the option to sponsor children and families on an ongoing basis. Some describe this as voluntourism but we know it is much more than that!
The Tribe Experience allows volunteers to see a part of the world they would never have thought to visit. Far from the beaten track, our destinations are characterised by breath-taking natural beauty and a completely different way of life.
We involve our school and complex needs centre in every volunteer trip to Uganda, with volunteers meeting the children, as well as playing games and sports with the children. Each volunteer trip has assisted in building the schools, engaging in refurbishment work, to create more facilities. Our volunteers that come are often trained in specific skills — for example we’ve had osteopaths and personal fitness trainers coming to coach the children in nutrition and physical exercise, as well as special needs teachers and nurses coming over to offer their services.
Recently, The Tribe Experience has purchased a hotel overlooking Lake Bunyonyi which will open in 2024, and we are going to offer children who were educated in our school the chance to learn trade skills such as plumbing and building to help renovate the hotel- so they will get the opportunity to learn transferable skills, making them highly employable within the community. The hotel will be a great employment driver locally, employing carpenters, plumbers and so on, and we aim for it to be the first hotel in the area with a gym, an outdoor cinema and much more, whilst offering very good value for money and rooms at an affordable rate.
Our financial model drives profits back into Our Little Tribe and creates jobs for scores of people. This school is a lifeline to the community as youngsters with complex needs are often ostracised and don’t receive any financial assistance from the Ugandan government. Having the ability to have their children looked after in this school gives the parents the ability to work and earn money, knowing their children’s needs are being met.
Which “pain point” are you trying to address by introducing this innovation and how do you envision that this might disrupt the status quo?
There is nothing like our experience in the world — each time we organise a volunteer trip, the participants come away from it saying The Tribe Experience has changed their life. To hear that our innovations in curating this travel experience have such a powerful effect on the participants is incredibly rewarding.
From the beginning we’ve been careful to navigate the local community with respect, carefully observing their cultural norms with empathy so that we can offer long-term ongoing help, based on local needs.
Coming to Uganda, building the school, and creating employment for so many has been a massive education process for us. We immediately realised the need to proactively educate ourselves, work hard to learn local methods and get to understand cultural nuances. In some instances, we had to learn the hard way, but we have carefully persevered with sensitivity and understanding.
You hear about people doing charity work overseas then fleeing without continued support — we have persisted despite a multitude of obstacles, always maintaining a strong presence in the community. So, five years down the line, we have long term plans mapped out with a strategy to continue building sustainable business.
We are continually growing the school, adding new classrooms, new teachers, new subjects and specialisms and importantly employing ex-students several of whom have complex needs.
I have ADHD and I wasn’t academic, and I perpetually felt failed by the traditional education system in the UK, so I understand the value of providing non-academic career paths. We are funding students through a range of courses including carpentry and plumbing. Employing them on an ongoing basis is the goal so there are a variety of options for the children can choose when they finish their education.
Heartbreakingly, these children, due to the lack of opportunities for those with complex needs in Uganda, would, without this support, have dropped out and been living on the street.
As you know, COVID19 changed the world as we know it. Can you share a few examples of how travel and hospitality companies will be adjusting over the next five years to the new ways that consumers will prefer to travel?
The COVID pandemic meant a seismic shift in how people want to travel. There is a huge increase in solo travellers which is so relevant and aligned to The Tribe Experience as many of our guests are solo travellers. The demographic of the guests is becoming increasingly diverse. We are seeing more families with children with ages ranging from 5 to 16 and the last trip we undertook included several children — and it was an incredible trip — we welcome children of all ages.
COVID has also forced people to consider the way they travel, and people are now much more driven by a desire to give back to the places they visit. We see this as a trend that is only going to continue to grow over the next five years.
We just had a lady in her 40’s with two children in their early teenage years join us as a volunteer for the second time. After returning home she told us she could never holiday in a conventional ‘beach’ holiday’ ever again given what she has experienced. There is a huge desire for something more meaningful, people don’t want to feel like they are wasting their holiday, they want to give back to the world.
You are a “travel insider”. How would you describe your “perfect vacation experience”?
A combination of ‘once in a lifetime’ experiences, meaningful community work and being with a group of likeminded people.
With the Tribe Experience, we are disrupting the travel industry.
You have to be a certain type of person to book onto The Tribe Experience — one that wishes to help others, give back to communities and be OK with being pushed out of your comfort zone. The trip always puts so much into perspective for the participants, and we are seeing a fantastic return rate — with volunteers immediately booking the next experience as soon as they return to the UK!
This, to us, is the perfect vacation experience and our vision is to take The Tribe Experience to more destinations outside of Uganda and Tanzania soon — watch this space!
Travel is not always about escaping, but about connecting. Have you made efforts to cultivate a more wellness driven experience? We’d love to hear about it.
Our volunteers give us such incredible feedback and it’s always so incredibly positive. Most of our travellers are solo travellers and spending 10 days with 50 people you have never met before is eye-opening, humbling and creates incredibly solid, life-long friendships.
Our new hotel is going to have the facilities for us to host wellness retreats, so wellbeing experiences are high on our agenda.
On an emotional wellness level, our volunteers often join us at a pivotal time in their life. We’ve had solo travellers join us that have just lost their parents, some who were experiencing marital breakdown, and one person’s best friend had just attempted suicide. These are individuals that are suffering with grief, anxiety, and a whole host of powerful emotions. Each one of them has told us afterwards that they’ve found it a powerful, enriching, hugely beneficial trip which gave them a renewed sense of purpose and a new lease for life upon returning home.
Ok super. Here is the main question of our interview. Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things one should know in order to create a travel experience that keeps bringing people back for more? Please share a story or an example for each.
- Understanding cultural context is key. Do not think you can just jump into a country. We had to spend five years navigating the cultural nuances and building connections, understanding the different ways of working, liaising with local government, and researching the laws and rules. Ensure you immerse yourself in the experience before you try to make changes. The number of questions we get is incredible. And of course, we have to confidently answer them so an immense amount of background research goes on behind the scenes ahead of every single trip.
- Simplicity and a stress free experience is what travellers really want
We’ve had volunteers join us who have incredibly stressful and demanding jobs and they envisioned the trip would require them to do a lot of organisation and planning on the ground when they were there. They were then pleasantly surprised to learn that is not the case. A text message is sent at the end of every day informing each volunteer what they will be doing the following day and all they do is just turn up! We handle all the organisation and intricate planning work to remove all stress from volunteers.
- Travellers want the safety and security in the same group returning again and again. We had 18 people from the November trip who really bonded and connected so strongly as a group. They all went into the experience trip asking ‘what could I add to people’s lives’? People who come on these trips solo have told us they wouldn’t go out on their own in the UK — but they return time and time again, as they’ve felt safe amongst these people that they’ve bonded with. Our return rate is one of the best in the travel industry.
- Have a trusted, strong team. Emily and I really complement each other in terms of our skill sets. I enjoy socialising with the guests whereas Emily will be working away adding surprises into a detailed itinerary and double-checking logistics for the following day. We both always encourage and drive our volunteers to be open minded and sociable and we know that as hosts we need the attendees to be able to identify with us, so we ensure we approach every trip with an open mind and remain present and accessible to everyone that joins us on the experience.
- Offer value for money. In traditional holiday destinations frequented by Brits such as Magaluf or Marbella there is no community experience and prices are sky high with very little return. In Spain it can often cost £70 to get in a nightclub and £25 for a couple of bottles of water! In Uganda £25 sponsors a child at our school for a whole month. Every single person that volunteers sponsors a child or family, and that money goes back into the community, helping the families achieve more financial autonomy and independence.
Can you share with our readers how you have used your success to bring goodness to the world?
We are only just getting started! We have so much more we want to do. But currently we have 150 kids in school in Uganda, we employ 21 staff and are continuing to grow. We are committed to providing employment to the local community ongoing and commitment and having a stamina of spirit is key to make that happen!
The Tribe Experience has also put Uganda on the map with a younger generation. Over 400 people have joined us as volunteers over the last few years — these people would never have booked a trip to Uganda if it wasn’t for us. They’ve fallen in love with the country, its beauty and we’ve driven tourism to an area which hugely benefits from it.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
Having an experience like this changes your perception of travel. My long-term plan is that when people travel, they ONLY travel with The Tribe across various countries. In 2024 we are going to launch The Tribe Experiences in other destinations across Africa as well as various European experiences including The Tribe on the Snow offering snowboarding and skiing. We are launching in Zanzibar this Christmas!
In Zanzibar we are working with a local hotel owner called Laura and she is helping facilitate our Christmas and New Year trip there in December. We asked her to identify a local school for children with complex needs in the area that needs support and there is one that is going to be working with us as our chosen project.
In terms of a movement, our desire is to create jobs and long-term opportunities that benefit the local community all year round. On a personal level, I want to be able to work from anywhere in the world, and I am thankful to be able to do that now. As well as helping the communities, what matters to us is the quality of experiences we offer through The Tribe. We make sure every day supersedes the day before — guests wake up one day surrounded by elephants, then the next day they are trekking high in the mountains with gorillas, then the next day they are white-water rafting down the Nile. Every experience is a life changing for us too, not just our guests!
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This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!