Destination Africa

The magnetism of Africa’s untouched wilderness and its seductive connection with tradition, roots and origins mean the developments happening on the continent are currently focusing on authenticity and sustainability, as Emily Millett discovers.

Tourism directly contributed to 3.6 per cent of Africa’s total GDP in 2013, while investment in the industry reached $25.9 billion according to figures released by the World Travel and Tourism Council.

The growth of both Africa’s economies and tourism industries is prompting international hotel brands to look to the continent for future expansion plans. Investing heavily in Africa, Marriott International bought Cape Town-based Protea Hospitality Holdings last year, and Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide has announced plans to open an additional 20 hotels in Africa over the next four years.

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This optimistic attitude that has prevailed across Africa despite the odds faced by the continent has helped catalyse tourism developments and spurred innovation, creativity and progression.

Speaking to TTG about the destination’s tourism success CEO, Cape Town Tourism, Enver Duminy said: “After a successful year in tourism for 2013, we are feeling positive that 2014 was a good year for tourism too. Looking at the peak holiday season of December 2014 to March 2015, 90 per cent of businesses surveyed by Cape Town Tourism revealed that they are expecting better business performance compared with the same period in 2013.”

With an ambitious target of attracting 1.9 million visitors to Cape Town per year, Cape Town Tourism has a number of exciting projects lined up for 2015 as Duminy commented: “Exciting projects for 2015 include upgrades to the 12 visitor information centres around Cape Town, to give them a fresh new look. A winter campaign that targets emerging markets that travel in our low season, as well as a campaign to encourage locals to visit Cape Town 365 days a year.”

AUTHENTIC EXPERIENCES

Investing in innovation and expansion is one way to push the industry forward, however also emerging as a significant tourism trend is a nod back to authentic Africa, with tourists increasingly looking to experience something genuine.

“There is a movement towards authentic experiences in travel and as such Cape Town Tourism is focusing on the experience of ‘travelling like a local’,” said Duminy.

“We have created a mobile app that curates crowd sourced content about Cape Town. The advice from locals will guide visitors through the city’s top iconic experiences and hidden gems.”

This spotlight on genuine experiences is in keeping with the pared down, back-to-basics simplicity so often seen in Africa’s tourism image, especially when it comes to the nature-based products such as safaris and wildlife camps. Looking to take advantage of this penchant for undeveloped landscapes, Norman Carr Safaris is set to expand operations into Zambia’s Liuwa Plain National Park in May this year.

“Guests are increasingly wanting more remote, more wild, more untouched places to visit, which is why it’s so exciting that we are operating in Liuwa Plain this year,” sales and marketing director, Norman Carr Safaris, Mindy Roberts told TTG.

Also noting the complementary aspects of authenticity of experience and the simple pleasures of nature, chief operating officer, Wilderness Collection, Bruce Simpson said: “The trends we have identified are being driven by demand for authenticity of experience, philosophy and luxury. Experiential travel continues to be an important trend in high-end safari travel.”

Noticing that travellers also increasingly want to go on what they perceive as more ethical holidays, Wilderness Collection is planning to add new wildlife conservation camps in iconic African destinations this year.

“For our guests, luxury is about space – the privilege of travelling to the most iconic wilderness areas of Africa; genuine local hospitality and service throughout their trip; and life-changing wildlife encounters – all whilst ensuring that local communities see the benefits of ecotourism,” commented Simpson.

SUSTAINABLE PRIORITIES

Authentic African experiences such as safari excursions lend themselves to discourses on sustainability and ecotourism.

Demonstrating the increasing importance of environmental consciousness, social media and marketing manager, Aquila Private Game Reserve, Michelle Marais told TTG: “Aquila has been responding to the need for sustainable tourism over the last few years, before it became a talking point and thereafter a trend. We believe in ensuring our carbon footprint is minimal whilst offering our guests an authentic African safari experience.”

The reserve is currently working on the launch of the new Aquila Rehabilitation and Conservation Centre which is set to offer travellers the opportunity to learn about vital issues in sustainable tourism. And it seems that it is the tourists that are actively requesting these educational ecotourism experiences as assistant PR and corporate communications manager, Kenya Tourism Board, Kimutai Ngeno explained: “Ecotourism, conservation and diversification of tourism products are among key trends tourists are keen on.”

Another pioneer of conservation and ecotourism is Big Game Parks in Swaziland which is constantly working on diversifying activities, expanding facilities and highlighting the importance of conservation. Commenting on recent developments, marketing manager, Big Game Parks, Ann Reilly said: “The year 2015 is an exciting year ahead, with planned extensions of our overnight horse and hiking trails, improved activities and walks at Hlane Royal National Park, extended self-catering accommodation at Mlilwane Wildlife Sanctuary, [among others].”

With the spotlight on authenticity and sustainability, the mighty Africa is harnessing its natural abilities to drive its tourism product forwards.