It's been an eventful and exciting year in Africa in 2017.
A great number of U.S. delegates visited the continent for the ASTA Destination Expo in Nairobi in February, and an exciting partnership between Cape Town and New York was achieved in September. We witnessed the opening of Africa's largest art museum and saw several airlines starting to offer connections within Africa helping travelers discover those lesser-known but amazing destinations in Africa.
According to tour operators, there are even more exciting things to come in 2018. They lifted the veil on some of the trends we can expect in 2018 in Africa.
Transformational travel will be huge: Transformative travel and isolation travel are going to be hot trends in 2018, said Sean Kritzinger, co-owner and managing director at Giltedge. He explained that more and more, travelers in the luxury segment are looking for untouched and remote holiday locations.
Marcia Gordon, Extraordinary Journeys and a Safari Pros Member, explained that transformational travel is the biggest disruption to luxury and a welcome disruption in her opinion.
As part of the transformational trend, travelers will continue to look for authentic experiences in 2018. Tad Bradley of the Kusini Collection said travelers are seeking the luxury of exclusivity and unique, authentic experiences as opposed to opulent, over-the-top accommodations.
Bradley said, "Seasoned travelers will be quite happy to pay a surcharge for exclusivity that provides a sense of adventure, veering off the normal tourist route, even if it means selecting more rustic accommodation, but without compromising on comfort and safety and where you are still assured wholesome food, a good night's rest, a hot shower and exceptional guides."
Rumit Mehta from Immersion Journeys and a Safari Pros Member, agreed, saying travelers are seeking even deeper and concentrated experiences. He illustrated this by saying: "In Johannesburg they want to delve deep into the art scene. In Botswana, they want to actually take part in conservation efforts."
People today want to be forever changed by their trip, and they are increasingly finding that Africa is the perfect place to do this, according to Sherwin Banda, president of African Travel. "You cannot leave Africa the same as before you arrived. You can leave Africa, but Africa never leaves you. Most travelers who have been touched by Africa will always yearn to return.
"Travelers don't just want to come home with trinkets and photos anymore; they want to come home with lasting memories of the locals they met and a piece of the continent in their hearts," Banda said.
Millennial travelers will want active holidays with a wow factor: All travelers, but especially millennials, will want to be active and be wowed on a trip to Africa in 2018.
Marguerite Smit, Travel Beyond consultant, said active safari choices have always been popular, but the increase in the number of millennial travelers has seen this trend really take off.
Henk Graaff, managing director at SW Africa, agreed, saying the millennial generation is looking for new and exciting activities and destinations. "They want to actively participate in walking safaris, sample the local food, have a cultural encounter with the local population or experience something unusual or scarce such as a gorilla encounter in Rwanda," he said.
Kathy Burns Lamphier president of Posh Travel, a Virtuoso Agency, said the younger generation wants experiences, such as whitewater rafting and bungee jumping. Or they want to take part in tribal ceremonies, such as walking with a Bushman elder as he points out unique of the flora/fauna or even participating with Masaai ladies designing their beaded creations.
"People don't want the standard or the 'norm' anymore," Gordon said. They want adventure and new experiences every hour of their trip that comes as a surprise and are not expected. This is why working with our partners in Africa constantly to have them produce this kind of experience for our guests is important."
Banda said Africa offers experiences that are beyond the ordinary. "There are so many places where time seems to stand still, and it's just you and nature, such as the forests of Rwanda, where endangered mountain gorillas can be seen," the African Travel president said. "Africa offers the ability to connect with nature and culture and disconnect from everyday responsibilities and problems. It's a place for rejuvenation of body, mind and soul."
Jim Holden of Holden Safaris has seen a thirst for more understanding and learning on safari holidays, rather than simply looking at wildlife from a jeep. He says: "Visitors will for example want to visit working villages to meet with local people and understand their customs and traditions."
Multigenerational travel continues to grow: Safaris will continue to grow in 2018 as an appealing multigenerational travel option, according to Graaff. Parents and grandparents are keen to show and teach their children and grandchildren about the wildlife in Africa and expose them to new cultures.
More baby boomers will decide to travel to Africa in 2018 and bring their families with them, says also Bradley. He explains that the trend has resulted in a rush by safari operators to build family units in recent years to keep up with the demand.
Lamphier explained that voluntourism is especially appealing for families. She said: "They might help build a well for the village and run pipes to the well to eliminate long walks for water. Or they could build an extension onto a schoolhouse, or assist wildlife experts in tagging an animal to enable that animal to be monitored."
Out-of-the ordinary and multidestinations will be an important trend: The new year will see travelers opting for multidestination safaris thanks to an increase in regional and trans-Africa flights.
Metha pointed out that a few years ago, travelers would stick to one region. However, today, it's much easier to get a cultural experience in southern Africa and include a safari in East Africa in one trip. He said: "This is thanks to the advent of a larger network of flight options where, within a few hours, guests are transported to another area of the continent."
Smit of Travel Beyond said that the lack of availability for high season may see travelers pursuing options that fall outside of the regular cookie-cutter itinerary. She said: "Availability to South Africa for travel in 2018 is already problematic, this allows Africa experts to consult clients on the reasons for visiting off the beaten path destinations, countries like Zambia for example. Experts have the knowledge to present itineraries which cannot be found online, putting pieces of a complexed puzzle together to form an unforgettable experience and reviving the importance of travel planners and industry experts alike."
A shift away from hands-on animal experiences: In 2018, we'll see a shift towards more sustainable animal experiences and away from the hands-on animal encounters such as elephant riding and lion cub petting.
Said Bradley: "I think travelers will continue to gravitate to conservation-oriented and active animal experiences like black rhino tracking in Namibia with Save the Rhino Trust, gorilla trekking and walking/biking/horseback-riding safaris."
Gordon agreed that sustainability will become increasingly important in a rapidly changing world. "Clients want to know that their journey is part of the solution... not the problem and appreciate the conservation and responsible tourism of our partners and ourselves," she said.
Gordon said her company, Extraordinary Journeys, has started reaching out to "unusual" people, such as Hanli Prinsloo, who is an expert free diver and founder of I Am Water Ocean Conservation. "Clients can now experience marine life like never before," she said, adding that other exciting initiatives include a game census in Kenya, elephant collaring in South Africa, rhino darting in South Africa and rrotecting lions in Zimbabwe.
Banda said visitors want to know that their travel company supports local industries, communities and the environment in the places they travel to. "With tourism being the largest contributor to the GDP of many African countries, travelers are increasingly cognizant that their travels have a significant impact on the places they visit, and they want that impact to be positive."
The new year will bring a greater awareness of the human wildlife conflict, as Africa continues to develop at a frantic pace, according to Holden. "Travelers have a desire to be part of the solution and contribute in some way by participating in conservation efforts," he said.
The sustainable animal trend is definitely not a fad, Kritzinger added, and is here to stay, especially in South Africa. "Many of Giltedge's suppliers are changing their product offering, making their animal interactions more sustainable proving this to be a long-term trend," he said.
Value will be key: Value will be a key element when booking a trip, as travelers become increasingly educated about the type of vacations available.
Said Mehta: "Most guests know how much a trip should cost. Africa is not cheap, so they are even more conscious about where they are spending and they do spend freely. However, they want to know what value they are getting."
Kritzinger has seen a rise in "affordable luxury" as clients are opting for value-packed safari itineraries like Big Five game viewing in the Eastern Cape, using high-end, four-star or entry-level five-star properties. He added: "Clients are also choosing off-the-beaten-track locations for their itineraries or combining a more remote destination with a popular Sabi Sands or Kruger National Park safari."
Graaff explained that affordability continues to be an important element for travelers in 2018. He explained that travelers are increasingly taking advantage of the favorable exchange rate that offers excellent value, resulting in longer stays and/or a higher per person spend.