It may seem strange to say I go to Africa to meet Americans, but it is one of the good things that happen when I attend Africa’s Travel Indaba, as I did in Durban, South Africa, May 3-5.
One of the many benefits of attending Indaba is being able to meet travel agents from the US who have been hosted by South African Tourism. Throughout the year, the tourism board works the trade show circuit in the US and singles out travel agents who are ripe for opening up business in Africa. Then, every year when Indaba rolls around in May, SAT brings a select few of them to South Africa. On one trip, SAT exposes them to the broad spectrum of the African travel industry at the one-stop trade show of Indaba, and then takes them around to give them a taste of South Africa.
I have met many American travel agents at Indaba, and it has given me a window into a blossoming market of African Americans traveling to Africa. The composite picture I get is of a richly fertile market that is growing and gathering momentum, as more and more African Americans make the leap to visit the motherland.
On this last visit to Indaba, I met Christy Cason, the owner of Cason Travel & Tours, based in Las Vegas. Christy is not quite your “run-of-the-mill” travel agent, if there is such a thing. Besides the business of helping her clients plan their individual trips, she launches group tours and puts on health, wellness, and music festivals at great travel destinations. She’s an agent on a big scale, a travel entrepreneur.
She has a festival coming up in Jamaica from June 23-28 and, while she was in South Africa, she was scouting around and making contacts and arrangements for a festival that she plans to hold in Durban in November 2023.
On the larger scale of things, she is developing a community, a clientele that she is guiding in their travels to discover certain special travel destinations, such as the Caribbean and Africa.
The upcoming Jamaica festival is the second annual MoBay Funfest, in Montego Bay, Jamaica. The five-night event will be held at the luxury, oceanfront, and all-inclusive Jewel Grand Montego Bay Resort & Spa. The festival program includes a variety of daily wellness sessions. “We have yoga daily on the Boardwalk overlooking the ocean,” she told me, “and a workout class right after. We have line dancing, to help people get moving and be fit.”
There will learning sessions on health, mental health, and nutrition. And, because music is the best medicine of all, at night there will be jazz performances under the stars; as well as comedy, because laughter is also great medicine. There are two theme nights scheduled: White Night, for wearing all-white formal attire, and African Garb Night. There will be pool parties, beach parties with a DJ for dancing on the beach, water sports for the lively, and board games for the subdued.
The performance lineup includes soul jazz flutist Althea Rene, saxophonist Jazmin Ghent, Grammy winner Eric Marienthal, violinist Karen Briggs, and pianist Lao Tizer. Troy Rawlings will do comedy. Also participating are dance instructor Roberta Mason, wellness specialist Dr. JoAnn Cason, and Alicia Eunice “The Candid Coach.”
Christy is planning for a group of about 200 and doesn’t want it to grow much beyond that. “It’s a boutique festival,” she said. “I don’t expect thousands. I like small and intimate—hundreds, not thousands. Hundreds are a lot to manage, and to be personal with the clients and the artists.”
Christy has a lot of experience organizing big events. She founded her agency as a home-based operation 27 years ago in Detroit. She grew the business over 20 years with a series of fundraisers at sea for nonprofit organizations.
Her clientele ranges from 35 to 80. “I work with a lot of retirees,” she said. “They have discretionary time and income. I’m mostly in the luxury market. My clients do want to go to Africa, to connect to the motherland. Many have never been. I like to expose clients to new destinations and adventures. I usually create an event.”
She took a group of 200 clients to Africa. Her clientele is becoming increasingly interested in Africa.
“Many are interested in Africa,” she said, “especially South Africa, Egypt, and Ghana. They want an experienced guide where they go, someone who knows the lay of the land. It’s not the kind of trip they want to book online. That’s why I was at Indaba, to make new contacts and explore more of Africa.”
I was particularly charmed by Christy’s plans to hold a festival in Durban. I have been on a personal campaign to promote Durban for years. It’s such a great and underappreciated city. It’s overshadowed on the world stage by Cape Town and Johannesburg but, in my opinion, it is the equal of either of them.
It’s a fantastic beach city, think Miami or Rio on the Indian Ocean. It’s got a tremendously rich history. It was where Mohandas Gandhi first engaged in his radically innovative nonviolent resistance practices. It has more Indians than any city outside of India, as well as the general South African diversity of people from practically every ethnicity or nationality on earth. It’s South Africa’s busiest port. It has a great deal to offer, a delicious culture to breathe in.
Beyond Durban, I have been shouting from the rooftops for years to promote South Africa at large to Americans. Since I discovered it and fell in love with it myself, I have considered it one of the most amazing places in the world for Americans to visit. There is so much to learn from that country: Its history, its examples of how to deal with the clashing of cultures and to build a society on the strength of diversity, not in opposition to it. With so much division, violence and discrimination in the world, South Africa presents a great contrast. With the good fortune of having a leader of the magnitude of Nelson Mandela, South Africa has shown that there are better ways than racial division. South Africa’s diversity is one of its greatest strengths, and a major source of its cultural richness.
So, hats off to Christy Cason for being a pied piper for seekers who want to discover destinations so rich in treasure for them.
It’s always inspiring to meet people who are really shaking it up, aspiring to new levels of creativity. It helps to show you what you can do.
David Cogswell is a freelance writer working remotely, from wherever he is at the moment. Born at the dead center of the United States during the last century, he has been incessantly moving and exploring for decades. His articles have appeared in the Chicago Tribune, the Los Angeles Times, Fortune, Fox News, Luxury Travel magazine, Travel Weekly, Travel Market Report, Travel Agent Magazine, TravelPulse.com, Quirkycruise.com, and other publications. He is the author of four books and a contributor to several others. He was last seen somewhere in the Northeast U.S.