Xavier, Eliza and super-guide Francis, in Kigali. Photo by Leigh Woods.
"Every other tour operator looked at us like we were insane."
Eliza Richman and Xavier Curtis didn't move to Ethiopia from Washington, DC, with the intention of launching a tour company. But within weeks of arriving in Addis Ababa 5 years ago, they saw so much they wanted to share with others.
"Tour operators used to advise spending no more than 24 hours in Addis," says Xavier. "But we love exploring cities and figuring out the most interesting hole in the wall," and in Ethiopia's capital they discovered a richness in culture, people, coffee, and above all, food, especially at Merkato, the frenzied market. Where other tour operators equated Merkato's noise and smells and crowds with danger, Eliza and Xavier saw a one-of-a-kind experience that adventurous travellers would love.
Customers enjoying a walking tour in Addis Ababa with Desalegn, a Go Addis tour guide. Photo by Ab Teshome.
Less than 8 months after starting Go Addis (formerly Addis Eats) as a side business, they had both left their jobs and devoted themselves full-time to food, city and culture tours. They’ve even served as consultants to chef/TV personality Anthony Bourdain.
Wave has been part of the journey for the pair, especially invoicing for their trip planning services. "We learned early the importance of collecting payment in advance for our bookings. The process before was PayPal, which on many levels was horrible," Xavier explains. There he was in Africa, trying to arrange payment from customers all over the world. His invoices needed to inspire confidence and professionalism; anything less and customers might balk at making advance payments to a small tour operator they'd never met in person. "The ease of creating the invoices was great. But more important was how attractive the invoices were to our customers," he says. "Clients would see our invoices and not have a second question about going forward with it."
Go Addis (a U.S. LLC) accepts credit card payments right on their Wave invoices, to ensure prompt and reliable payment. "The fees are significantly lower" than with the alternatives they've looked at, too.
This week marks a new chapter in Eliza and Xavier's tour business: Expansion to Rwanda! Just as they saw (and smelled and tasted) an opportunity in Ethiopia, the duo discovered a tourism void in Kigali. "Somehow the city had no company dedicated to offering authentic city tours."
Go Kigali (gokigalitours.com) kicked off operations on May 1. Each city tour is customized to the visitors' preferences, with guide-to-guest ratios of about 4:1. What would you see in Kigali's food market? "There are lots of foods Westerners have never tried before, like a tree tomato, or even a really ripe passionfruit." Moreover, there are things that Westerners have never done before, like learning to carry 25 pounds of bananas on their heads. That lesson is part of the Go Kigali experience.
Xavier practices carrying fruit in a Kigali market. Photo by Leigh Woods.
Standard day-long tours in Kigali and Addis Ababa are $85, with everything included. "From the time you start the tour, you don't touch your wallet again."