With improved air access to Africa and ever-increasing traveler confidence, Africa is expected to be a hot ticket for US travelers in 2023. This presents incredible opportunities for travel consultants, Africa experts say.
The opportunity lies in the fact that more than ever, travelers to Africa are taking a lead.
“Before Covid, some travelers asked for quotes on pre-determined destinations and camps. They would then compare prices, often choosing the lowest[-priced] Operators,” said Karen Zulauf of Deeper Africa. “They seemed to trust the internet more than anyone with extensive experience in the space. Travelers planning safaris for 2023 appear to be much more open to advice and guidance.”
The knowledgeable specialist safari tour operator will play an important role in advising and assisting travel consultants and their clients in planning the safari itinerary that best suits their expectations, said Holden Safaris’ Jim Holden. He pointed out that with more information and choices when deciding on a safari, the assistance of a safari specialist is essential.
According to Holden, the most common prefix for most customer questions is “when or what is best” and then fill in the blank, be it the best time to go on safari, the best destination to go on safari, the best place to see a leopard etc. “The answer is, rather than relying on hearsay or trying to sort through all the conflicting information on social media, go with a specialist safari tour operator,” he said.
As travelers are more likely to turn to trusted travel advisors for 2023, it’s important to be up to date on the key trends for the year ahead. Here’s what thought leaders in Africa are predicting:
1. Short delivery times: Probably not the news most travel advisors want to hear, but last-minute bookings to Africa will remain rife in 2023, said Cindy Sheedy Walker, a consultant at Extraordinary, a collection of luxury hotels and lodges in southern Africa. Travelers have an urge for spontaneous adventure and discovery, adds Craig Glatthaar, Americas sales manager at Wilderness Safaris. “In a post-pandemic era, the need for adventure in life is a growing trend.”
Onne Vegter, managing director of Wild Wings Safaris, also sees a trend towards last-minute or “spontaneous” trips. This is unfortunate, he said, as availability can be limited many months in advance during peak seasons, particularly in destinations where demand far outstrips supply. Vegter added that no-deposit concessions made during the pandemic have come to an end. Travelers are still reluctant to part with large sums of money well in advance, but suppliers understandably need to insist on a reasonable deposit, typically between 10% and 30%, to reserve the rooms.
Opportunity for travel consultants? Travel advisors can encourage their clients to get out of peak season where they have greater value with new experiences and fewer crowds during shoulder seasons, says Sherwin Banda, president of African Travel.
2. Take responsible travel to a new level: In 2023, responsible travel in Africa will reach a whole new level, according to safari specialists. Sandra Devoti, general manager at Giltedge, says meaningful travel is a big trend for 2023 as travelers want to “give back” and have a meaningful vacation.
Travelers are turning to Africa because it offers sustainable travel with numerous opportunities to give back in a meaningful way, Banda agreed. “Given the severe impact of the global pandemic and the importance of wildlife conservation, there has never been a greater focus on sustainable travel in Africa,” he said. “Customers across the continent are looking for up-and-coming destinations and more remote destinations. They crave life-changing experiences.”
People are traveling much more consciously, said Lindy Rousseau, chief strategist at Singita. They are interested in authentic sustainability credentials and engage with issues such as solar energy, food waste, plastic use, water conservation, ethical food sourcing, sustainable building materials and local employment.
Opportunity for travel consultants? Direct travelers to responsible companies that not only pay lip service to sustainability and conservation, but companies that have a proven track record, said James Currie, North American sales and new development manager at Great Plains.
3. Linger longer: According to Robert More, CEO of More Family Collection, people can and will linger longer in 2023 as they have more flexibility with virtual work options.
Index Hotels CEO Craig Seaman agreed, saying we will see more individual travelers. But contrary to what is seen in Europe where it will be the more mature market, in Africa we will see a younger profile (under 35). “This is being driven by the ‘work-from-anywhere’ phenomenon that will allow this generation to enjoy longer stays,” he said.
Travelers are asking for longer stays at safari lodges to enjoy the full safari experience and the many additional activities now offered by many safari lodges, such as learning about the importance of conservation, Holden noted.
Opportunity for travel consultants? Expand the safari experience by incorporating many activities previously considered “back home” that are an integral part of a safari lodge’s existence, such as protecting wildlife and the environment, Holden said.
Seaman adds that it is important for travel consultants to be realistic and aware that Africa is a large and developing continent and not all areas are easily accessible. “It often takes a lot longer to travel from A to B than Google Maps says, so it’s better to choose a ‘base’ hotel/luxury villa from which your guest can explore, rather than doing this every day or two to change hotels,” he said.
4. Group travel of any kind: While solo travel is a key trend for 2023, so are multi-generational travel and group travel. As Zulauf of Deeper Africa pointed out: “Before Covid, the trend was to personalize travel, but now people want to travel with others who matter to them.”
“We see friends traveling together – men, women and couples traveling together – to create memories. These groups often have a common interest, be it sport, food, fauna or flora, but what they are looking for most are unforgettable experiences,” said Seemann.
The result, according to Index Hotels’ Seaman, is an increasing demand for luxury serviced private residences.
“Groups traveling together want the luxury of a hotel but the freedom of homestay, where they can set their own schedule but still not have to worry about cleaning and cooking,” he said.
Opportunity for travel consultants? Banda noted that customers want enhanced experiences and are interested in a la carte options that cater to the diverse desires of their group, so there is something for everyone. Travel Agents who have a group of more than 10 clients traveling together may book a new group.
Travel agents should look for multi-room villas to accommodate group travel. Both Tswalu and Natural Selection have previously announced that they will be incorporating multi-room villas into their new camps, which will launch next summer.
5. A holistic experience: “We’ve entered a new travel landscape and not just a travel bubble,” Seaman said. He said travel has become part of people’s well-being and wellness journey since the pandemic subsided.
Wilderness Safaris’ Smoothhair agreed with Seaman, saying that as travelers look to the future, self-development will be a critically important element of the travel experience. “Events surrounding the pandemic have highlighted the issues of self-care, mental resilience and other introspective exercises. People will look at travel as a way to invest in themselves.”
Opportunity for travel consultants? After the uncertainty of the pandemic era, travelers want to travel with peace of mind. Hence a consistent, reliable delivery of the travel experience, with health and safety in mind from start to finish, said Glatthaar.
Singita Rousseau’s travel consultants must provide guests with a seamless and easy booking experience. “Make sure guests feel cared for. Take the time to connect the right guests with the right product,” she said.