Nxabega guided nature walk, andBeyond.
Nxabega guided nature walk, andBeyond.
Image: Supplied

Cancelled. Indefinitely postponed. Missed celebrations and special gatherings. Still waiting for refunds. The feeling that life is slipping by. If you had booked and paid for your holiday nearly two years ago, just before the Covid-19 hard lockdown, and then (luckily) had the cost refunded so you could choose to have that trip right now, how would it differ, and why?

The need for the hospitality industry to transition into the new, post-Covid reality is creating a marked shift in the way we travel. This, in turn, has affected our travel planning, the overall guest experience, and end-user product design. So, what are the post-Covid trends we are witnessing firsthand in Africa, and how are they affecting travel product and experience design and delivery?

Jeremy Clayton, Cape chair of Fedhasa, the official voice of the Southern African hospitality industry, has observed a marked increase in the number of digital nomads coming to South Africa. Many travellers are now combining business and leisure trips, using the new freedom of remote working to work and travel at the same time, especially if they are solo or have children who can be homeschooled. The hospitality sector needs to accommodate this new class of travellers. A fast, uncapped Wi-Fi connection and access to co-working spaces could soon be seen at many hotels.

Cape Town is certainly a beneficiary of this trend, says Clayton, with people maxing out their three-month tourist visa on entry and then renewing for a second three-month stay. “In essence, they live like a local but spend like a tourist,” he says, “and this is where the hotel sector needs to shift gears most, and should look to attract high-value families for longer stays subsidised by work stipends.”

In the “foreign independent traveller” space there has been a marked recovery in South Africa’s traditional in-bound markets such as the US, Germany and the UK, and a significant uptick is expected in July and August, especially in the safari sector out of the US and Europe. Longer stays, multi-generational travel, nature-based travel and destinations, and private retreats and residences are other trends reflecting post-Covid end-user demand. Travelers want open spaces, sunshine, and authentic experiences — and the logical beneficiary is Southern Africa and its popular safari offerings.

Kwitonda dancer, Singita.
Kwitonda dancer, Singita.
Image: Supplied

According to Joss Kent, London-based CEO of andBeyond (an award-winning, luxury experiential travel company that tailor-makes exclusive safaris and tours in Africa), “Travellers are desperate to catch up on their honeymoons, which some couples have been putting off since 2020, or to celebrate postponed multi-generational trips. Many people are using their holidays to catch up with extended family. Add to this that lead time on bookings is shifting, and we are seeing US-based enquiries coming in on a Friday wanting to travel on a full touring trip on Sunday.” Which, of course, is excellent news for the industry.

“Travellers are seeking out restorative safaris that have a positive impact on conservation and communities, as well as intimate and authentic experiences that… also give back to the world in a way that inspires positive action,” says Keith Vincent, CEO of Wilderness Safaris, which offers guests access to nearly 2.5-million ha of Africa’s finest wildlife and wilderness areas through some 40 luxury camps and safaris across seven countries. “We are certainly seeing an increased demand for family travel, which includes multi-generational family safaris, as well as smaller groups. There is a desire among these families to create memories and to reconnect with one another and with nature.”

When you think about what makes a travel experience or hotel remarkable, you might think of the architecture, the service, or even the food. But you’re probably not (at least, not immediately) thinking about the ways it makes a positive impact on the environment and surrounding communities. Arguably, the best hotels should be contributors on all levels. Sustainability is no longer an indulgent concern, nor is it only about the environment. It’s also about the things that make a hotel a good neighbour, a good employer, and a good investment. It’s the proverbial triple-bottom-line components — economic, social, and environmental sustainability — that work together to deliver a responsible experience. And as a guest, you also have a role to play in this important recipe.

Travellers are planning 2022 trips with a fervour unlike anything we’ve seen since the start of the pandemic

As Kent points out, “We are definitely seeing a shift from passive observation to more of a participative experience with a sense of purpose.” This is echoed across the industry, particularly in the high-end safari sector, where the system has to be functionally responsible and sustainable. Luke Bailes, founder of conservation and ecotourism brand Singita, confirms this sentiment. “Guests question if there is a philanthropic component and what the sustainability credentials are. People are travelling far more consciously… They demand a sustainable experience — looking at the solar energy, food waste, plastic usage, water saving, light footprint, ethical food sourcing, sustainable building materials, local employment, etc.” Consumer travel spending is increasingly being driven by these themes, so the concept of travel with purpose is becoming more mainstream. “Travellers are looking not only for options that have a lesser impact on the environment, but also for more participative and hands-on experiences that provide a deeper understanding of a single destination, often shared with many generations of the same family,” observes Kent.

Nearly three-quarters (73%) of US travellers have confirmed that sustainable travel is important to them, with 44% saying that recent news about climate change has influenced them to make more sustainable travel choices. This insight comes from Booking.com’s latest research, which polled more than 30 000 travellers across 32 countries and territories. This theme is even more pronounced in post-Covid travel.

There is a renewed emphasis on personal wellness throughout the industry, from global hotel brands such as Aman and Four Seasons to local city hotels offering wellness escapes, all promising guests the opportunity to enhance their physical, mental, and nutritional well-being. This requirement is translating into new offerings, with brands launching private residences and designing bespoke retreats.

Wilderness Safaris.
Wilderness Safaris.
Image: Supplied

Experience and product design have had to shift and refine accordingly, resulting in a much wider banquet of choice. Wilderness Safaris’ offerings are “already well suited to this, as our camps are intimate and remote, already located in bucket-list destinations, offering a variety of once-in-a-lifetime experiences, such as doing gorilla treks in Rwanda, ballooning over the Namib Desert, tracking black rhino on foot in northwestern Namibia, or experiencing the Okavango Delta in Botswana,” explains Vincent. Similarly, Singita has a collection of multi-generational, exclusive-use villas that cater to families or groups of friends. “Guests are yearning for longer stays, to slow down the experience and have time to reconnect with one another.”

The pandemic has set back many industries, but none more so than hospitality. The lack of tourism has had a massive impact on the government’s ability to protect wildlife, for example in the Kruger National Park, where illegal poaching has increased rapidly. Singita is not alone in recording that the poverty affecting nearby communities has worsened owing to the declining economic situation, compounded by the fact that people have lost jobs in tourism. Without normal tourist activity there is also far less movement in parks and reserves, which provides more cover for poachers. Clayton points out that the Covid net effect “taught us to be more dynamic than ever, from a business perspective, with greater tenacity to survive, and then hopefully the ability to thrive. There will undoubtedly be more of these black/green swan events, from climate disasters to wars.

Covid has been devastating for staff and morale. Only now are we starting to pay incentives to staff and dividends to shareholders, but this is few and far between.” And the next five years? “Well, we have stopped forecasting with accuracy, but we do project a surge in travel… that will hopefully deliver profitability for both our staff and shareholders alike.”

After some disappointing cancellations and disruptions caused by the Omicron variant, travellers are again planning bigger and more splurge-worthy trips. Private flights and villa stays are still in high demand, says Kent. “Travellers are planning 2022 trips with a fervour unlike anything we’ve seen since the start of the pandemic.”

 From the May edition of Wanted, 2022.

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