Dorine Reinstein
Dorine Reinstein

Africa is the perfect destination for families, with vast open spaces, rich cultures and bucket-list wildlife experiences. 

Now that travel is slowly but surely recovering across the world, travel experts report different trends when it comes to family travel to Africa. Some say demand is still subdued, with American travelers looking more to Europe and Central America for their family holidays, others have seen a massive boost in demand for family safaris. Everyone agrees, however, that the opportunities to grow this lucrative market segment in 2022 are limitless. 

African Travel has seen a significant increase in multigenerational family bookings, which are up an estimated 40%. 

"We are seeing a trend where families take over entire camps for exclusivity, which allows them to experience the sights and sounds of Africa without the concerns of crowds," said African Travel president Sherwin Banda, who added that cultural and conservation experiences are especially in high demand. 

"We have seen a big increase in mutigenerational families wanting to know that their tourist dollars are being applied to responsible travel in their destinations, and to experience that cultural connection," he said. "A safari with the Big Five will always be a great highlight, but understanding how to support good conservation efforts is something families are very eager to learn about -- particularly for teens."

Lindy Rousseau, chief marketing officer for Singita, also reported a significant increase in family travel year on year, especially from the U.S. She said there has been a 19% increase in family travel bookings and a steady increase in the trend.

And according to managing director Maija de Rijk-Uys, tour operator Go2Africa is seeing increasing enquiries from generational travelers booking trips to Africa for 2022. Enquiries received from the U.S. through July that include children over age 12 have increased 14% from the same period pre-Covid, she said, adding that January is the peak season for family enquiries.

However, others report a more reluctant reaction from families. Mefi Pishori Alapat, owner of Journey to Africa Safaris, said she hasn't seen too many requests for travel with young families yet. Alapat said she is heading to Tanzania in March 2022 with her own family to instil confidence. "My kids will be 13 and 11 at that time, and I am hoping to encourage more family travel with my story," she said.

Jim Holden of Holden Safaris said families with young children are not at all keen to embark on a safari at this time.

"With schools in the U.S. still grappling with Covid protocols, amid much debate on whether schools should even be reopening, families are not setting out on safaris at this time," he said.

Marcelo Novais, general manager for North America at Ker & Downey Africa, noted the few incoming requests for families coming in are usually for families traveling with teenagers. 

Angela Pierson, vice president of sales and marketing for Wallace Pierson Travel, said she has seen lagging demand for African family holidays, but she noted demand for family travel overall is getting stronger. 

"Family travelers are willing to take longer trips and are looking for great experiences together," she said. "Whether city or wildlife focused, all ages are looking to meet new people, learn about others, try new things and spend time together. The well-traveled are very much enjoying taking these trips without crowds, soaking up the extra attention guides and restaurant servers and hoteliers are excited give early adapters."

Singita's Rousseau highlighted a few trends in attracting family travelers for 2022. She said travelers are looking for less extravagant, glitzy activities in favor of anything more grounded in nature, such as bush walks. They are longing for stillness, conversation, less intense schedules and activity. 

"Guests are looking to simplify the itinerary, allowing for more real time to relax," she said, "and they want to do things that matter to them and other people."

Rousseau added that there is also more and more demand for longer stays at Singita lodges with simpler itineraries and less multi-country trips. Demand for charter flights has also increased for privacy or maximising time together, where cost is not a factor.

According to de Rijk-Uys, parents have started to show keen interest in exposing their kids to other cultures regardless of age groups. 

"We have seen that there is a general move toward getting out, interacting and being active versus just sitting in a vehicle," she said. "We advise our clients traveling in family groups to include some time in conservancies, which often offer more of a variety of child-friendly activities than national parks. They also allow guests to really explore the surrounding landscapes on foot, on horseback, camelback, night game drives and picnics." 

For older children, de Rijk-Uys said she has seen clients looking to combine a safari with other interactive experiences centred around culture and conservation. 

"We have seen a great number of families asking for volunteer options, where they can spend a day supporting local community efforts like planting trees, or throwing seed balls from hot air balloons, which always goes down well. These kinds of 'educational safaris' are being pegged as the future of safari travel, where families and their kids can experience firsthand the gargantuan conservation efforts that are being made to protect some of Africa's critically endangered species and know that their travels have a direct and positive impact."

A reliable vaccination program will also soon become nonnegotiable, industry experts agreed. An increasing number of establishments are asking that travelers present proof of vaccination, while similarly travelers are asking whether lodge staff is vaccinated. 

Sean Kritzinger, executive chairman at Giltedge, said he feels it is the industry's duty to vaccinate all staff who are in close contact with guests as this provides greater protection for all. 

"We have certainly asked this of our suppliers, especially for group travel interaction," he said. "Over time, it should be that all staff are vaccinated. Some of our larger trade clients in the USA have said they will not send guests to product if staff are not vaccinated there."

Pierson agreed: "It is increasingly important for staff to be vaccinated. It makes the chances better that the trip can operate, and that is getting to be more and more important every week. Clients do not want to lose any other travel opportunities." 

Although the cost of testing is currently not a deterrent for family travelers, they do expect the process to be seamless. Pierson noted companies like Micato include the cost of testing in their safaris. 

"I think more companies should do this, as the well-traveled typically don't want to feel nickel and dimed. They can afford it, but they just prefer it not be charged over and over again. It is a known hoop to jump through, so as long as travel suppliers make it easy, travelers do not seem to have any complaints."

Rousseau said Singita has taken the initiative to get staff fully vaccinated. 

"We believe this will play a significant role in the decision-making of our guests," she said. "More importantly, we believe it is the responsible thing to do to protect our guests, staff and suppliers -- anyone who steps into our world. And we are taking it seriously."

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