Huge potential’ to grow high-end market

The luxury inbound travel market is thriving post-COVID, and as infrastructure development and access to ‘off-the-beaten-track’ destinations improves, southern and East Africa could be primed to further capitalise on the resilience and wanderlust of high-end travellers.

Tour operators and DMCs catering for high-nett-worth travellers have seen an increase in demand for travel from most of the region’s top source markets.

“There is a definite increase in demand compared with 2019 as travellers are more discerning on where they go, how they travel, and what’s important to them regarding their trip content,” says Suzanne Benadie, Sales Director at DMC Sense of Africa.

Benadie says pent-up demand for travel has also resulted in some travellers being willing to spend more on their first few post-COVID trips, spoiling themselves with more luxury elements.

“Travellers are spending more, and luxury room categories are in demand. Suites, private villas or private safari vehicles remain a trend.”

Sabine Blehle, CEO of GoVacation Africa, echoes Benadie’s observations on the demand for exclusive and personalised offerings.

“Private villas and their offerings have increased in popularity, going beyond traditional accommodations. These villas cater precisely for the demands of luxury travellers, providing privacy, personalised concierge service, and abundant space. Moreover, the appeal lies in their capacity to create authentic tailor-made experiences, building unforgettable memories,” says Blehle.

“Luxury travellers enjoy the freedom of their own schedule, like meals prepared in their time by a private chef, based on culinary preferences. Facilities such as a pool, Jacuzzi or fitness room add to their sense of well-being.”

Consistent growth from source markets

The region’s top European and North American source markets have all grown considerably, as pointed out by both Benadie and Blehle.

“North America, Switzerland, Italy and Australia have all continued to recover well, and this has included the luxury market,” says Benadie.

Blehle says the resilience of the luxury travel market continues to be a central pillar for the tourism industry. “Despite the persistent global challenges, the luxury sector exhibits tenacity. Leading the charge are European markets including Germany, Switzerland, France and, notably, the UK, all of which are consistently growing within the luxury segment. These markets prioritise wellness, health, and lifestyle – attributes that align seamlessly with what South Africa can offer.”

Destinations leading the charge

Destinations that offer a combination of unique experiences, natural beauty and exclusive offerings are leading the high-end charge.

“When considering experiences and activities, the main emphasis should be on how these encounters make the traveller feel, all while ensuring their uniqueness and authenticity,” says Blehle, singling out the Cape Winelands, private game reserves such as the Sabi Sands and Tswalu Kalahari, and Cape Town’s upmarket areas of Camps Bay and Clifton as some of the destinations in high demand.

In East Africa, Rwanda, Tanzania, Zanzibar and Kenya all remain popular destinations for luxury travellers, according to Christine Macharia, Sales and Marketing Executive at Sense of Africa’s East Africa division.

“Rwanda has increased in popularity due to its good infrastructure, eco-tourism, and that it is not a mass tourism destination. The country has positioned itself as a luxury marketing case due to the pricing of the gorilla permits. Kenya’s popularity has increased, particularly in Laikipia, where there are plenty of activities to engage in outside the traditional game drives; and in the Maasai Mara thanks to the diversity of wildlife.”

Spreading into new areas

With parts of southern and East Africa still underdeveloped in terms of infrastructure, there is significant scope for the spread of luxury travel to new and exciting destinations.

“As infrastructure and access improve to, and in, areas like the Kavango-Zambezi Transfrontier Conservation Area, the tropical coast of Mozambique and its inland ‘bush’ experiences, the expansive national parks and coast of Tanzania and the waterways of the Zambezi, to name but a few, we are able to offer the best nature and lifestyle experiences to be found anywhere,” says leading tourism consultant and The Journey MD, Mike Fabricius.

Fabricius cautions, however, that a blinkered approach to high-end tourism could have significant pitfalls if not well managed.

“Local communities can easily be alienated from their own resources, unless they participate in decisions and benefit tangibly from the tourism proceeds. COVID has also taught us the value of our domestic travel markets and a balanced price mix is very important in this regard.”

Destinations should also guard against painting themselves into a corner by following a ‘high-value, low-volume’ tourism policy, as has been successfully achieved in Botswana.

“Being branded as such could result in not being able to expand tourism volumes to allow for local entrepreneurship, job creation, viable air access and other requirements for feasible tourism growth. We should continue nurturing policies that establish a conducive environment for responsible private-sector investment and creativity,” Fabricius concludes.