“Indaba is where you can see everyone, it’s where the whole industry comes together,” Lucille Sive, COO of TravCorp’s African Division, which includes both Lion World Travel and African Travel Inc., explained to me on the smooth 14.5-hour SAA nonstop flight from JFK to Johannesburg on our way to Durban.
In the days leading up to Indaba, South African Airways' flights to Durban are filled with African travel specialists, travel agents, and tourism experts all making their way to the largest African trade conference in the world, giving flights the feeling of a very civilized industry cocktail party as suppliers and agents greet each other in person after what’s often a year of long-distance communications.
I was lucky to be seated adjacent to Sive in the ultra-plush and comfortable, flatbed seats of SAA’s cross-Atlantic flight, and we had a chance to discuss what’s new at TravCorp. “We’re very excited about Sherwin Banda joining African Travel Inc as president; he’ll be located in Los Angeles starting in August,” said Sive. Another highlight, she told me, is the “Platinum South Africa” trip that Lion World Travel is currently offering, with five nights at the luxurious 12 Apostles Hotel and three nights at Lion Sands safari lodge for $4,998 inclusive of international and domestic airfare; a savings of nearly $4,000.
In addition to Lion Sands, Sive, who’s originally from South Africa, also extolled two other South African properties: Thornybush and Kapama Game Reserve, which recently added Southern Camp to their lodge portfolio.
“The 10 new luxury suites at Kapama Southern Camp have been extremely popular,” says General Manager Bernard Roode, who I bumped into at the airport as well, “especially the three family suites that have two bedrooms, two bathrooms, and private lap pools.” These rooms are just one of the reasons, Roode says, that Kapama has seen a “25 percent increase in American visitors over the last 2 years.”
Zimbabwe Is Back
“15 years ago you’d say you were from Zimbabwe, and people’s faces would fall,” explained Jason Turner of Singita Pamushana when I talked to him about travel to Zimbabwe, “but today when you say Zimbabwe, people are excited to come visit!”
“It’s great value for money and incredible wildlife,” added Marianne Schaubeck of Reservations Africa in Vancouver.
A new $1.5 million airport will open at Victoria Falls this August, and will offer direct service into Zimbabwe for international carriers. Schaubeck say this is a boon to safari goers who can now start African itineraries at Victoria Falls instead of Johannesburg.
Wilderness Safaris also added to the Zimbabwe excitement at Indaba with the opening of its newest camp, Linkwasha, in Hwange National Park. The 16 bed luxury safari lodge is the newest and most luxurious in Northern Zimbabwe.
Rwanda -- More From Wilderness Safaris
The safari industry at Indaba was also buzzing about Bisate, Wilderness Safari’s first camp in Rwanda. Slated to open in June 2016, Wilderness has worked for three years to create a joint venture with the local community to secure the prime location just 15 minutes from Volcanoes National Park and its protected gorilla population. Brett Wallington, business manager for the Americas, told me that “This will be the most socially responsible and conservation oriented lodge” in the area. The camp will have 12 units, at $1,000 per person per night, and is sure to be the most luxurious option for gorilla trekkers.
Wilderness is simultaneously working on Gishwati, a smaller lodge at just 6 units, and more affordable at $450 per person per night. 20 minutes from Bisate, it will also open in mid-2016. The focus at Gishwati will be on chimp research and rehabituation.
“A simpler, faster, cheaper way to go on safari,” says Mark Cavalliere, head of global sales development and alliances at South African Airways from North America, when talking about Airlink, which will start service in two months and just opened for bookings in the last week. Agents will be able to book one ticket for their clients, using one code the whole way through, for trips all the way from Los Angeles to Lion Sands, or Salt Lake City to Singita, says Cavalliere. Passengers arriving from overseas will land in either Johannesburg or Cape Town, then take flights up to Skukuza airport near Kruger National Park. In the past, travelers would then have to book expensive charter flights, or take long car transfers, to their safari camp destinations. But Airlink will change all of that by having small Cessna Caravans take passengers through safari camps in South Africa’s northern safari areas on the same ticket.