Southern Africa is hot, and
getting hotter. And if tourism officials have anything to say about it,
Americans will be hearing and seeing a lot more about the region in the coming
months and years. As South African Tourism (SAT) president Dr. Felicia
Mabuza-Suttle says: "By 2014, our goal is to have South Africa as well known a brand as Coca-Cola
is in America."
Dr. Suttle may be on to something. These days, the stars
seem to be aligned for the tourism industry in South Africa. The country has seen
overall strong growth in American arrivals since 2002, and the trend shows no
sign of slowing down: The number of total North American tourists visiting the
country from January to December 2005 increased 11.8 percent over the same
period in 2004, and the January to June 2006 numbers show a 10.3 percent
increase over that of 2005.
This boom isn't limited to South
Africa; the rest of southern Africa
is undergoing a tourism awakening as well. South African Airways (SAA) recently
launched its "Visit Southern Africa" initiative, offering a complete
range of air-and-land packages in South Africa,
Botswana, Mozambique, Namibia,
Swaziland and Zambia. The
goal is to position southern Africa among the
world's top adventure travel destinations. Travel
What many travel professionals are finding, however, is that
southern Africa is already on savvy tourists'
radar. "The best-kept secret is out," says Phoebe Weinberg, with
Greatways Travel in Grosse Point, MI. "I've gotten any number of 2008
bookings already; space is harder and harder to get."
Julian Harrison, president of Premier Tours in Philadelphia, agrees.
"Africa as a whole is pumping," he
is swamped—in the summer it's usually slow, but now we're struggling to get
space for people year round." South African Airways is seeing more
consistent business year round as well. "We used to see dips at certain
times of the year," says SAA spokes-man Roberto Cuesta. "Now we see
consistent passenger traffic patterns all year long."
One factor influencing the increase in travel is safety.
"Like any other place in the world, South Africa has its
challenges," says Dr. Suttle. "Happily, the government has made
safety a priority and is looking for ways to help alleviate poverty. Tourism is
a major factor."
Of course, no one can dismiss the power of celebrity
endorsements, à la Brad and Angelina in Namibia
and Oprah in South Africa.
"We believe in word of mouth, and celebrity endorsements start the
conversation," says Dr. Suttle.
Travelers are discovering not only first-world
infrastructure, but also first-class infrastructure. Those seeking high
adventure and high-end accommodations are well served: Its resorts consistently
rate at the top of luxury travelers' "Best Of" lists, and as Weinberg
says, "There's always new product." "People have no idea the
kind of luxury you can experience in the bush," says Lucille Sive,
president of Lion World Tours in Toronto.
"It's a market that's looking for new destinations,
something different," says SAA's Cuesta. And it's a clientele that keeps
coming back for more. "We're finding that people who go to southern Africa for that 'once-in-a-lifetime' trip invariably make
it back," says Sive. In fact, research has shown that some 43 percent of U.S. visitors to South Africa are repeat visitors.
Africa's big news is that the country will
host the 2010 FIFA World Cup of Soccer, the first time the event will be held
on African soil. Over $2 billion in government spending will go to World Cup
capital projects, including 10 stadiums in the nine host cities. The
international terminal at JohannesburgInternationalAirport
(which recently opened a state-of-the-art domestic terminal) will be enlarged.
"Jo'burg has become the gateway to South Africa," says SAA's
Cuesta. "And the World Cup will be a great showcase for the country."
Tourism officials are working hard on marketing initiatives
targeted specifically to Americans. SAT just completed an eight-city
"mini-trade" road show in the U.S.—a
"virtual trip to South
Africa" as Dr. Suttle describes it—that
drew 1,800 travel agents. The agents were given an immersion in the South African
market, through suppliers, tour operators and parks officials. During the next
fiscal year, South African Tourism begins a big media push with its "South
Africa Sizzles" initiative in April 2007.
SAT has developed other creative ways of promoting the
brand. In New York City, during the U.S. Open,
25 city buses were branded 'S.A.'
There was also a subway campaign and skywriting over Central Park saying
"Visit South Africa;" plus, traditional Zulu dancers were sent to New Orleans for the Zulu
Mardi Gras parade.
South African Airways' Visit Southern Africa program
"will be the focus for us for the next 18 months," says Cuesta. In
addition, SAA is a new member of the Star Alliance and will partner with United
Airlines. "The partnership...opens up flights from L.A.,
San Diego, Las Vegas,
Seattle and Chicago," says Cuesta. Another new SAA
product enhancement are lie-flat seats in SAA's Premium (Business) Class.
Because of SAA's new partnership with Star Alliance, the
airline is no longer partnering with Delta or flying out of Atlanta. The 15-hour Washington,
flight is currently the airline's only nonstop flight from the U.S.New York flights now make a stop in Dakar.
The development of new product and existing-property
upgrades continues apace. Leading the way is Cape Town,
which was named the number one city in Africa
by the readers of Condé Nast Traveler. Here the name of the game is
small, exclusive boutique hotels. Among the new properties are Urban Chic, a
20-room hotel with meeting facilities for 100 on fashionable Long Street; and
the Hemingway Lodge, a spacious new addition to the award-winning Hemingway
House. The waterfront 329-room luxury Table Bay Hotel recently completed a
multimillion-dollar refurbishment that includes marble butler stations and a
full-service holistic spa.
International awards keep pouring in for the Pezula Resort
Hotel & Spa, which opened in December 2004 in Knysna, along the Garden Route.
Pezula has access to secluded NoetzieBeach, an 18-hole
championship golf course, and 78 suites, each with a fireplace, balcony and
Botswana and Beyond
The heaviest tourist activity in southern Africa is in South Africa, but Botswana,
Namibia and Mozambique are
humming as well. (Zimbabwe
has some of the best game parks on the continent, but instability has put it on
the U.S. State Department's Travel Warnings list.)
Many agents and tour operators sell packages incorporating
often vastly different elements of the southern Africa
experience. Lucille Sive, for example, recommends a "bush and beach"
trip to South Africa and Mozambique.
Safari itineraries often combine bush camp stays in both South Africa and Botswana.
with its low-density, high-yield tourism ethos, is a stunning success story in
sustainable ecotourism. Its luxury concessions have earned high marks among
travelers; three Botswana
camps made Condé Nast Traveler's 2006 Top 50 Best of the Best lodgings
in the world: Chief's Camp, Chobe Chilwero and Mombo. Nearly half of the
country is protected wilderness. "Botswana is...a place with
wide-open spaces and very small camps, something like 18 beds per camp. If you
see another vehicle during a game drive, it's a crowd," says Julian Harrison.
is currently the country's second-largest long-haul travel group, after the
U.K. Tourist arrivals in Botswana
grew by nearly 8 percent from 1999 to 2003, and it's estimated that those
numbers may double by the end of the year. To cope with this increased volume,
the government plans to institute an Open Skies policy in 2007 to entice other
airlines to challenge Air Botswana's
Many specialist agents consider Mozambique
one of southern Africa's best-kept secrets.
is so unspoiled," says Sive. "It's easily one of the most beautiful
places on earth." The country now enjoys a politically stable climate and
a gorgeous coastline that is a magnet for divers and beach lovers.
Sive recommends two new beachside resorts in Mozambique,
both Rani Resorts properties. Medjumbe Island Resort, 13 thatched chalets on a
white-sand beach, plans further enhancements in 2007, including private plunge
pools and sun decks for each chalet. "At Medjumbe, we sat down at the bar
for a drink expecting typical bar snacks like nuts or pretzels, and they
brought in this 20-ounce lobster," says Sive. "And they do this every
night. It's like paradise." Matemo Island Resort comprises 24 thatched
chalets on a private island.
Few people had considered Namibia a tourism contender
before Brangelina; now people are discovering not only spectacular unspoiled
scenery but also a well-developed tourism infrastructure. "Namibia is definitely becoming more
popular," says Harrison. "Currently,
however, it tends to be more of a second or third destination, or a trip you
might combine with a safari."
Those who do include Namibia in their itinerary find
that the country has much to recommend on its own. Harrison
touts Serra Cafema Camp, an oasis in the middle of a desert. Visitors stay in a
camp built on the banks of a river, on a lush greenbelt surrounded by harsh
desert. He also recommends Wilderness Safaris' Little Kulala, an atmospheric
lodge on a 46,000-acre private reserve with views of the famous red sand dunes
of Sossusvlei. Namibia's SkeletonCoast is another draw. "When you
fly along the coast in a small plane, you can see seals playing in the water on
one side and on the other side big sand dunes where elephants are
playing," says Harrison. "It's
To help tourists and the trade make informed decisions about
accommodations, the Namibia Tourist Board has recently developed a Star Grading
System to assess the quality of the country's lodgings.
Weddings and Honeymoons
Southern Africa is seeing a
rise in destination weddings. A growing trend, according to Sive, is taking the
entire family on a destination safari wedding. And the region is experiencing
an "explosion of honeymoons," says Phoebe Weinberg. Lion World has
even created a Honeymoon Registry for customized trips to southern Africa.
At press time, the South Africa Parliament's vote to
legalize same-sex marriages seemed likely to mean a sharp rise in gay travel. Cape Town is already one
of the world's top gay destinations.
Southern Africa is only now jumping on the family safari
bandwagon that Kenya and Tanzania have
mined for years. More and more family safari opportunities are opening up,
particularly in KrugerNational Park and
non-malarial reserves like Madikwe. One Kruger lodge that actively encourages
children, with a kid-friendly program, is Londolozi, a Relais & Châteaux
property with 24 tents and superb leopard sightings. Even in lodges where
children are not allowed on safari, a number have "family rooms."
Luxury Kruger property Singita, for example, has just opened two three-bedroom
family units in its various lodges.
South African Tourism
www.botswanatourism.org.uk or www.botswana-tourism.gov (latter not up to date with contacts) firstname.lastname@example.org
Namibia Tourism Board
www.africaguide.com/mozamb or www.mozambique.mz (latter in Portuguese)