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Startup Spotlight: Tourifique is digitizing local and immersive Afrocentric experiences worldwide

Charles Shima shares why he made the difficult decision to leave his financial analyst career with the government to create what he hopes will become Canada’s next tech ‘darling’

Welcome to Vancouver Tech Journal’s startup spotlight series, where we dive into companies building in Vancouver.

When Charles Shima returned to his home country, Rwanda, for the first time in 24 years, he hoped to experience the country again as a local. 

He spent countless hours searching for things to do online and kept finding the same results: safaris. It was frustrating, to say the least, as he knew very well Rwanda offered much more beyond its diverse wildlife.

When Shima arrived, a local took the time to show him around. It not only reignited his love for his country but also sparked an idea: creating a platform that makes it easy for travellers to find and book Afrocentric experiences around the world.

Shima’s goal: to offer travellers authentic experiences that deepen their understanding and appreciation of a destination — while dispelling misconceptions about the many unique Afrocentric experiences.

Having always been drawn to entrepreneurship, the father of twins and financial analyst — who has proudly worked with provincial and federal governments — had finally found his calling in the travel industry.

Fast forward to today, Shima was recently awarded the prestigious Philip C. Wolf Memorial Scholarship and is heads down into growing his startup: Tourifique

What’s your elevator pitch?

Tourifique is an experiential travel booking platform for Afrocentric experiences around the world — across Africa, North America, the Middle East, and Latin America.

Unlike traditional tourism, which often involves sightseeing and visiting popular tourist attractions, experiential travel involves participating in local customs, traditions, and activities. This allows travellers to immerse themselves in the culture and engage in authentic experiences that deepen their understanding and appreciation of a destination.

Our platform is different because we connect travellers with verified suppliers who offer local experiences. We also plan to develop other tools like itinerary management, digital payment, and online travel stores. 

Photo: Tourifique

When did you start your company? 

I launched my startup in February 2020 as ZaNiheza and rebranded it to Tourifique in January 2024. The reason I chose the name ZaNiheza is because in Kinyarwanda, murakaza neza means welcome and niheza means it’s beautiful.

As I built my startup, I noticed that while ZaNiheza is a unique name, it was difficult for my targeted customers in North America to connect with. So I changed it to Tourifique — which is just as meaningful and combines tour and magnifique.

What was the catalyst behind starting your company?

In 2018, I traveled to Rwanda after an absence of 24 years. 

Before my trip, I spent countless hours searching for cultural experiences online — similar to what I had experienced in Japan. The search results kept showing safari options when I knew there was so much more. 

When I arrived in Rwanda, I connected with a young man who became my local guide.

Photo: Charles Shima and his tour guide in Rwanda

As I shared pictures of my trip online, most followers were surprised that Rwanda had much more to do and see for travellers beyond gorillas. A good friend travelled to Rwanda a year later to see for himself.

It was then that I realized the need for an offering like Tourifique. The tourism sector was untapped, largely offline, and disconnected from other platforms that promoted Afrocentric experiences.

What problem is Tourifique solving?

We’re digitizing local and immersive Afrocentric experiences worldwide that otherwise may not be accessible to travellers.

Photo: Dr. Jason Holt, Tourifique’s first traveller

When you think about European or Asian travel experiences, from culinary to museums, they’re easy to find and book because of platforms like GetYourGuide or Klook.

Now, it’s easy to do the same for Afrocentric things to do anywhere in the world through Tourifique. Even in Vancouver alone, you can ensure you don’t miss out on the events and tours showcasing the city’s rich history of Black culture.

For example, in Vancouver, you may have yet to hear that Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald, and Sammy Davis Jr. performed at the Penthouse on Seymour Street. 

Photo: Qatar Keshta experience

What markets are you in?

Our travellers are primarily from North America. 

How big is your team?

Since Tourifique’s relaunch this year, I’ve been focused on rebuilding my team and am looking for a technical co-founder. 

If you’re a brave and skilled software engineer, reach out and let’s change the world together.

Have you raised money?

Tourifique is proudly bootstrapped. However, we are looking for funding.

Since Black founders receive less than 0.5 per cent of funding, I’m gathering interest for an upcoming community fundraiser on Equivesto. 

Are you profitable?

With our focus on building the supply and marketplace first, we aren’t profitable yet, as with many other startups in the early stages — like Airbnb, which took eight years to turn a profit.

What does Tourifique need right now?

We’re looking to connect with more travellers, travel suppliers, angel investors, and strategic partners.

Where do you want Tourifique to be in 3, 6, and 9 years?

In nine years, I want to see Tourifique become a great Canadian success in travel tech with millions of bookings.

In six years, to be profitable and create thousands of jobs for underprivileged youth.

In three years, to achieve product market fit and generate revenue.

Photo: Tourifique

Looking back on the early days of starting Tourifique, what was the biggest challenge faced? How did you overcome it?

When I started, I knew nothing about how startups are built or the challenges of raising money.  

Two years ago, I read the book ‘That Will Never Work: The Birth of Netflix and the Amazing Life of an Idea’ by Marc Randolph, the co-founder of Netflix. 

It was instrumental in shaping my understanding of how a startup works. Although Netflix is widely known today, few know how it was built. 

For example, Randolph initially thought of launching shampoo packs, personalized dog food, custom sporting goods, and online vitamins.

This book taught me that you must trust your instincts when building a startup and not be afraid to fail. 

What’s one piece of advice you’d like to share with other entrepreneurs?

Be resilient and take care of your health. If you’re a new entrepreneur, don’t hire until your startup has sales or funding. 

Find other mentors to join you in your journey, and don’t miss out on the Vancouver Tech Journal’s valuable networking events.

How can people connect with you?

Find me on LinkedIn.

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