What will 2017 bring for the tourism industry in South Africa? Fiona Davids spoke to some industry players to hear their views on what to expect for the year ahead.
Tourists are interested in seeing what role their money plays in the community. Vernon Wait, Marketing Director at Lalibela explained: “We find that the gradual trend from guests is wanting to know what our role on the community is.” He said travellers wanted to know to what extent their contribution in tourism benefited the local communities as well as the flora and fauna. Sanctuary Retreats agrees that guests visiting Southern Africa have become more interested in hunting policies and are eager to learn about how the game is managed.
Many guests don’t want to disturb the wildlife around them, and want animals to come to them rather than going on safaris. Sanctuary Retreats’ properties in South Luangwa, the Okavango Delta and Tarangire in Tanzania are in the bush and allow animals to come close to the camps.
Tourists to Africa also continue to look for new and unique experiences. Yvonne Skerritt, Sales Director of Tintswalo Safari Lodge, said Tintswalo expected high demand this year for unique experiences. These include adventure-filled holidays where tourists can become a part of the travel story by meeting locals, experiencing real locations, cultures and discovering tourism gems for themselves.
Continued tourist boom
Tour operators are optimistic that tourist numbers will continue on a high throughout 2017.
The continued tourist boom will result in the overflow of tourists into less-known areas and accommodation. Michael Waller, CEO of Dragonfly Africa Tours, says South Africa is a popular and cheap destination, and because of that lodges and hotels are fully booked. Nik Lloyd-Roberts, Commercial Manager of Federal Airlines, agrees and also expects continued growth into 2017 with lesser-known destinations receiving more guests.
Waller and Onne Vegter, Owner of Wild Wings Safaris, say the high numbers of tourists visiting South Africa will result in the use of lesser-known areas such as Waterberg, Madikwe and Tswalu Kalahari Reserve. The boom in tourist numbers will contribute to tourists experiencing different areas, locations, activities and accommodation because the use of these lesser-known products will increase.
In 2017 Live the Journey expects to see a growing interest in out-of-the-norm routings for FIT travellers. Kim van der Westhuizen, Head of Department Inbound, says there is a growing interest in more variety of East African destinations. Demand for Namibia currently exceeds supply, she says, adding that the industry requires Namibia to be supported and steered towards live booking portals.
Because Southern and East Africa are growing in popularity, tour operators insist that early booking is essential in 2017. “More and more tourists are realising that South Africa is safe to visit and extremely popular, so advanced booking is essential to ensure availability at the destination of choice,” concluded Vegter.
Increasing use of solar
This year marks a trend of solar-powered camps entering the market. Charl Badenhorst, Operations Director for Sanctuary Retreats in Botswana, says Sanctuary Chief’s Camp will be completely off-grid with the use of 100% renewable energy sources from the solar farm on the camp.
Wilderness Safaris has continued with the solar power trend, converting more of its camps to solar. Currently 13 of Wilderness’s camps operate on 100% solar power, 11 of which are in Botswana. The solar camps help minimise any negative impacts the operations may have on the environment.
An African Anthology aims to keep the lodge as green as possible, with Tangala Safari Camp tents and the rest of the camp using solar energy and gas. Another camp picking up on this trend is African Bush Camps, with a new camp launching this year. Khwai Leadwood will have a full solar farm and sewage purity system to minimise contamination.
New properties will continue the trend with Rare Earth’s Pel’s Post and CapeNature’s 11 cottages in the Grootvadersbosch Nature Reserve. Both accommodation offerings will provide full solar usage to guests.
A new trend is the use of social media while on safaris. According to Anna Neville, Marketing Manager of Sanctuary Retreats, the use of social media from clients on safaris is on the rise. “Our guests love Instagram and want to share not only their images with their friends but also 15- to 20-second video clips of the ‘action’,” says Neville. Guests’ Instagram posts become an online audio-visual diary of the holiday. Sanctuary Retreats encourages the use of social media and will continue to supply hashtags to visitors.
But while some camps are adding WiFi to their offering, other camps are choosing to stay disconnected. Wilderness Safaris created a network of eight camps that include WiFi connection but continue to have camps that are off the grid and are completely disconnected – allowing guests the opportunity to get away and enjoy the natural space around them. However, for guests who want to connect, in certain camps WiFi is available – primarily in those recently reached by cellphone signal. Chris Roche, Chief Marketing Officer of Wilderness Safaris, explains: “It is our strong belief that we simply have to contribute to keeping some areas of the planet wild and remote.”
In addition to social safaris, SAB World of Beer General Manager, Tony Rubin, believes the main trend for 2017 will be the use of social media and online booking systems. He adds that there is a big move towards self-drive holidays as travellers are looking for more flexibility and convenience.
Travellers in 2017 are looking for real experiences such as connecting with others and exploring the pulse of human existence.
Mark Bland, Founder of Satori Africa, explains: “One of the fastest growing and most exciting trends in the international market is the focus towards locally inspired wellness experiences – fusing resting, relaxation, exploration, reflection and healing.” Bland adds that 2017 will be a year to reconnect with yourself, with your family and loved ones.