|The natural delights of reserves such as Kenya’s Masai Mara are still the number one reason clients want to visit Africa.|
A fast-expanding repertoire of affordable and desirable destinations is what Africa is today. Travel Agent checked with some Africa-specialist agents and tour operators to see where people are going in Africa, what they’re doing, and how agents can sell the continent to their clients.
“Despite the fact that 2011 will likely end ahead of 2010 in terms of revenue for the boutique properties and experiential operators we work with, we are still seeing booking windows decrease with plenty of availability left late in the year,” says Sarah Fazendin, a principal consultant with Travel Marketing Worldwide. “Destinations like Kenya have perhaps ‘oversold’ flagship attractions such as the Great Wildebeest Migration and are facing an increasingly slow low season. In most cases, rates for 2012 will remain the same and marketing will become more important than ever before in addressing shifting demands from tour operators and consumers alike.”
Abercrombie & Kent’s Scott Wiseman has noted a rise in solo travel. “If you include both East and Southern Africa, more solo travelers choose safaris than any other type of trip.” He also points out that safaris especially attract female solo travelers. “Women often tell us they appreciate the ‘me time’ between scheduled morning and afternoon game drives, something they don’t get enough of at home,” he says. “They can spend it being pampered at the spa, reading a book by the pool, or pursuing their passion.”
Where Are They Going?
Africa is a huge continent and all of the different regions have different qualities to offer. Sandy Salle, CEO of Hills of Africa Travel, says that her clients are most interested in going to South Africa (Kruger National Park and Cape Town), Botswana (Selinda Reserve, Okavango Delta and Linyanti), Tanzania (Grumeti Reserve, Serengeti, Ngorongoro Crater, Mahale and Selous), Kenya (Masai Mara, Amboseli, Chyulu Hills, Laikipia), Rwanda for gorillas and Zimbabwe (Victoria Falls, Hwange and Mana Pools National Park)—“which are very up-and-coming places with reasonable rates. And some of the hottest beach destinations this year include Mozambique, Seychelles [where Prince William and Kate Middleton honeymooned] and Zanzibar. These destinations are very popular among honeymooners and those seeking a secluded, romantic escape.”
Marcia Cole, a southern Africa specialist with Uniglobe Accent Travel, says that her clients are most interested in South Africa, even after they are told it is winter there in our summer. “They either have to be there for business, or are taking children (high-school age) and need to go in our summer,” she says. “A lot of them do Victoria Falls after they have visited South Africa.”
Donna Evans of Team Travel, an affiliate of Andavo Travel, says that her clients mostly want to visit South Africa and Namibia. In Cape Town, she says, her clients want to see the penguins, so she puts them on a tour of the Peninsula. “They want Table Mountain and Boulders Beach and Cape Point, but I also encourage them to visit Seal Island. There is nothing that can make you smile like animals and wildlife.”
Jim Holden of African Travel agrees that most people want to visit Cape Town and Kruger National Park when in South Africa, and will time their visits to Tanzania and Kenya for the Great Migration through the Serengeti and Masai Mara. “Usually, second-time travelers look to go to Botswana and Zambia. Many will [include a visit to] Victoria Falls on their first trip to South Africa.”
Lodge, Luxury or Both?
Such a range of destinations would need accommodations to match. Visitors to modern cities like Cape Town, Johannesburg or Dar es Salaam can stay in five-star luxury, while those who want to experience nature up close can spend the night in tiny woven huts in the Serengeti. “Accommodations have really gotten versatile,” Salle says, noting that guests can choose from eco-hotels, boutique hotels, luxury tented experiences or game lodges.
Salle adds that her clients prefer to stay in luxury lodges, city hotels and boutique hotels. Cole’s clients look at four- and five-star lodges in the bush and hotels of similar quality in cities like Cape Town, Hermanus, Johannesburg and Victoria Falls.
|Village tours provide visitors an opportunity to learn about local cultures.|
Evans agrees, noting that her clients ask for tented camps of at least four stars while on safari. “They love properties like the beautiful Cape Grace in Cape Town. I have stayed there, so I know the quality of service and accommodation, as well as the perfect location it occupies.”
Fazendin recommends several particular accommodations, like The Offbeat Mara Camp in the Mara North Conservancy, adjacent to the Masai Mara in southwestern Kenya. “It’s one of my all-time favorite properties in Africa!” she says. In Tanzania, she likes the Manyara Ranch Conservancy, a new six-tent private camp and private conservancy. “Travelers can get out of the vehicle and do all kinds of things they can’t do in the national parks.”
What to Do?
Africa lets clients indulge in a variety of activities. “Private wine tours, shark diving, Cape Town City and Peninsula tours, Cape Malay Cooking tours, bicycle tours of Cape Town townships, game drives and walking safaris are generally the most popular,” says Salle. “Clients who are visiting Victoria Falls are interested in microlight tours of the falls, elephant-back safaris, and adrenaline-pumping activities such as bungee jumping and white-water rafting.
Village tours are definitely a huge hit, as well, focusing on the locals and interacting with different cultures. These types of cultural tours are popular in all areas of Africa—whether you’re in East Africa or South Africa, it’s about meeting the local people and tribes in an authentic way.
“Our clients are looking for luxurious and highly customized private tours, where each and every day on their itinerary is tailored to their individual needs and preferences,” Salle adds. “For example, if a client loves wine but wants a chocolate and wine tasting tour, we can create this completely private and personalized experience for them. Another example would be a client specifically interested in searching for leopards during one of his or her game drives. The client’s private safari guide could then change the course of the safari so that the client could witness leopards.”
Lucille Sive of Lion World Tours says that visitors to Africa generally want to try local activities such as hot-air ballooning, visiting wineries, going on game drives, touring Robben Island or townships, volunteering and even shark-cage diving. “People are looking for exciting and life-changing experiences that they cannot get anywhere else, like going on a game drive, seeing a giraffe baby being born, seeing a leopard on a tree, or visiting Victoria Falls—one of the seven natural wonders of the world,” she says.
Uniglobe’s Cole recommends a range of attractions throughout South Africa and Eastern Africa, like Robben Island, the wineries, the Cape of Good Hope and the Wharf area in Cape Town, the Cradle of Humankind area, Soweto, Nelson Mandela’s home and the Apartheid Museum in Johannesburg, Victoria Falls on the border of Zambia and Zimbabwe, or a day in Botswana or Zambia.
Travel Trend’s Evans suggests shark-cage diving near Hermanus. “If they are there in July, there is a wonderful Whale Festival in Hermanus—a terrific little town, right on the water, with ‘whale criers’ during the season,” she says. “The No.1 reason people go to Africa is the wildlife. A safari is a must. They want to see the Big Five. Unfortunately, this isn’t a zoo, so there is no guarantee, but I have never had anyone come back saying they didn’t get to see enough animals.”
A lot of visitors want “the Hemingway experience,” Holden says. “Luxury, once-in-a-lifetime experiences, and value-adds.” Many second- or third-time travelers are looking to experience Africa up close, he adds, so luxury tents, walking safaris and unique experiences are big draws.
So how do these experts suggest you market an Africa journey to your clients? “My advice is to have a very open conversation with your clients and find out as much as you can about their specific needs, preferences and desires for their trip,” says Hills of Africa’s Salle. Her team has a three-way conversation with the agents and their clients, she adds, making sure each trip is completely customized to the client’s needs. “We also provide new clients with a questionnaire prior to creating their customized itinerary, which asks questions, such as ‘How long does it take for you to get dressed?’ and ‘What type of wine do you prefer?’—to surprise them in their room with their favorite bottle of wine.” The clients, she says, are “moved” by the little gestures, and the effort pays off. “We will do just about anything to ‘wow’ our clients so that they come back to us (and their agent) to plan their next African adventure or refer us both to others.”
Cole emphasizes the need for a good ground handler. “A trip that makes them buy everything à la carte once in the country gets really expensive,” she says. “So, it is best if they use someone that includes everything up front.”
Holden emphasizes making sure clients have the budget for the experience and that they do not expect the same experience they’ve had on a cruise or a Europe tour. “Don’t disappoint your clients with unrealistic suggestions,” he says. “Qualifying your customers is very important—don’t just assume they are going to buy the cheapest and what you, the agent, would like. Each client is different—some like over-the-top luxury; others want more authentic experiences; some want very in-depth knowledge of the wildlife; and still others want soft adventure.”
“When my clients go to Africa,” Evans says, “I tell them the typical things, but also to bring a disposable camera with them. Cameras break, or get lost or stolen. You should have a backup for that special moment you want to capture. The other thing to remember when traveling is to be safe. If you are staying in a camp that requires you to be escorted to and from dinner, there is a reason for this. Africa is a wonderful place with amazing wildlife.”
|The Great Migration of zebra, wildebeest and other herbivores draws travelers to Kenya and Tanzania.|