We had the opportunity to sit down with the incredible Yasmin Metz Johnson; Founder TELLS TRIPS. In this interview, Yasmin shares with us how she came up with the innovative travel concept designed to inspire, educate, and empower individuals who want to embark on transformative adventures, while embracing the true essence of West Africa.
From Abidjan, to Dakar, to Freetown, Yasmin shows why she is putting West Africa on the map for all the right reasons. Enjoy!
Can you tell us about your journey as an entrepreneur and what inspired you to start curating travel art-based events in West Africa?
My journey as an entrepreneur has been quite a journey. It’s been rewarding, however, it’s been difficult too. What inspired me to start businesses such as TELLS TRIPS is that I saw there was a market for hosting trips, not everybody has the confidence to visit a new African country by themselves, therefore TELLS TRIPS closes that gap. We curate travel experiences in a variety of locations. In 2021 I began Yasmix, which is a pop-up cultural and networking exhibit that happens in Freetown, Sierra Leone. Both of these endeavors came about naturally as the next step of what I have been doing online for the last decade under my personal brand, www.yasmintells.com.
What unique aspects of West African art and culture do you incorporate into your events, and how do you ensure they resonate with both local and international audiences?
Firstly, TELLS is an acronym for: Travel, Explore, Live and Learn. I believe that the USP (unique selling proposition) of TELLS TRIPS is that for most trips we center the visit around a public event that is happening. For example, our next trip to Abidjan in Ivory Coast is for The Africa Cup of Nations. The same is for Senegal, we will be attending the Dak’art Biennale in May next year. This gives our customers the opportunity to truly become immersed not only in a new country but through their culture, heritage and art.
What challenges have you faced in organizing these trips across multiple West African countries, and how have you overcome them?
The challenge, I would say, is accommodating everyone’s needs. I wouldn’t call it a challenge actually, it’s a task that comes with the job. I overcome many challenges by collaborating with people on the ground. I am a big believer in collaboration.
Can you share some success stories or memorable moments from your travel art-based events that stand out to you?
Where to begin! There are so many, but I will always refer to the very first trip last year. TELLS TRIPS began in 2022, after some of my audience of Yasmin TELLS would often reply to my posts saying they ‘wish they were there’, or they would be interested in visiting themselves. A stand out moment for me would be our time spent at the Dak’art Biennale in Dakar, Senegal last year. Everyone enjoyed discovering new art, new african artists and the parties of course!
In what ways do you collaborate with local communities and businesses to enhance the cultural and economic impact of your events?
During the trips we participate in cultural experiences, whether it be a cooking class or a textile technique from the country of origin. These events are hosted by local people. As I mentioned prior, I also work with many people on the grounds, from tour guides to transportation provisions.
West Africa is a diverse region with a rich cultural heritage. How do you ensure that your events celebrate this diversity while still maintaining a cohesive theme or message?
I like this question because it is so true. West Africa is rich with culture, art and heritage from an aray of ethnic groups. I think that is why I find the region so fascinating. Being able to distinctly itdentify what is similar amongst different cultures and what differs. As I’ve mentioned, we usually visit a country during the time of a cultural activity or public event. They (the citizens) do a tremendous job of embodying all that represents their country. So to answer this would be, by experiencing the event and particaparting in different activities that highlight the entirety of ethnic groups such as city tours, museum tours and workshops.
What advice would you give to aspiring entrepreneurs who want to venture into event curation, especially in the field of art and travel?
My advice would be to work with others when you can and nurture relationships on the grounds, even when you are not there. Stay in contact with these people that help you create the experience.
How do you envision the future of your business and its impact on promoting West African art and culture to a global audience?
I envision TELLS TRIPS hosting more trips, not only in West Africa but in other regions of the continent, the impact and personal experiences that people who attend TELLS TRIPS gain will travel far and wide, bringing new people to experience our trips for themselves. The majority of out clientele currently is from word of mouth.
As an entrepreneur operating in Sierra Leone, what are some of the unique opportunities and challenges you’ve encountered, and how have they shaped your approach to business?
This is a good question. Sierra Leone requires many of us to be creative with the resources that we have. I am in between the UK and Freetown but I would say that I believe subconsciously that I became an entrepreneur because I was living in Sierra Leone. As I mentioned, it’s a place where you need to be creative and in a world where inflation continues to skyrocket. We need to be creative in producing the needs of the people and opportunities that will drive income.
What role does storytelling play in your events, and how do you use storytelling to connect with your audience and convey the cultural significance of the art and destinations you feature?
Storytelling is the starting point of it all, from the selection of countries to the events to the itineraries to the advertising. The production depends on storytelling. It is pivotal to TELLS TRIPS in all that we do.