Dorine Reinstein
Dorine Reinstein

Already a popular trend in 2018, low-impact, high-purpose journeys will increasingly become mainstream in travel to Africa in 2019.

Murray Gardiner, co-owner and CEO at Giltedge Africa, said he has seen an abundance of evidence showing that both socially and environmentally responsible travel is entering the mainstream.

Said Gardiner: "Our Fair Trade-approved tours are gaining popularity amongst our clients. It shows that active engagement with local communities and personal contributions does provide a deep and rich experience for visitors and memories that last forever. Sustainable travel crosses age, nationalities, tourism experiences and destinations. I expect it to be a huge trend in 2019."

Craig Glatthaar, Wilderness Safaris' business manager, agreed, saying that transformational travel was the highlight for tourism in Africa in 2018 and will continue to be so in 2019. "The evolution of travel and specifically safaris, from a passive to a more interactive experience, has seen guests wanting to be more involved in all aspects of their travel experience. Purposeful journeys have become very popular as a way for people to not only have an incredible life-changing experience but to do some good while they're at it," he said.

According to Glatthaar, "travel with purpose" is a trend that is set to continue, grow and develop in the new year, with life-changing, purposeful journeys focused around making a greater difference, where environmentally conscious guests can get their hands "dirty": doing rather than observing and seeing where their money is going.

Glatthaar warned, however, that travelers are also becoming more attune to "green washing" (advertising activities or products as being environmentally friendly when they are not) and want to actively see and experience the "green practices" that ecotourism companies are promoting. The ecotourism industry will be held to a higher standard in terms of living up to their environmentally friendly promises.

Also Sherwin Banda, president of African Travel, said that low-impact travel will be the buzzword for 2019. "Travelers are still looking for five-star, luxurious experiences, but they are much more aware of how their trip or experience may impact the local community. A lot of lodges and accommodations are now very mindful of their environmental impact, so they are taking measures to be ecofriendly, as well."

Banda said travelers also are searching for self, authenticity and meaning more and more. He said: "They want to be immersed and transformed by their travel experiences, not just tick off a list of 'must-sees.' Along these lines, they say that they will spend more for an experience that is customized just for them."

The need to contribute positively to the environment and the wildlife of Africa has also seen "competing" tourism companies work closer together, according to AndBeyond CEO Joss Kent. "There seems to be an increased openness to collaboration in conservation, even among competing operators," Kent said. "The importance of collaboration is incalculable. It's only by working with like-minded individuals and organizations that real change can be generated."

Kent said AndBeyond has pioneered the creation of impact journeys, which help responsible travelers understand the issues, learn, grow, get involved and, most importantly, get a better understanding of how the world, its wildlife, its heritage and its people are woven into such a rich tapestry. He said: "Participative conservation experiences are strongly emerging as companies like ours break down the barriers behind what happens behind the scenes running a sustainability and conservation company and what happens front of stage in terms of guest experiences. Immersive cultural experiences can be equally perspective- and life-changing."

Extraordinary Journeys' Elizabeth Gordon added that travelers are looking for more diverse experiences beyond the typical game drive and continue to care more about cultural interactions and conservation experiences. She said that for 2019 she has already been seeing an increase in requests for itineraries to include conservation activities such as animal relocation projects or collaring, etc.

In this increased quest for meaning and authenticity in travel, a new type of luxury has also emerged. Henk Graaff, managing director at SW Africa, said the new luxury will be about offering travelers destinations or experiences where few or no other people have been before. As an example, he said that social media today is being flooded with pictures of truly exceptional wildlife sightings, setting the bar quite high for unusual and exclusive experiences in Africa. "Luxury travelers are ready to splurge on experiences or views that are out of the ordinary and exclusive and that can't readily be found on Instagram or Facebook," Graaf said.

Africa has become increasingly accessible to travelers from around the world as a result of improved air access, Graaff explained. As a result, Africa is increasingly seen as a "repeat destination" for a number international visitors.

Said Graaff: "When people first started traveling to Africa as a holiday destination, the continent was a lot less accessible than it is today. As a result, travelers opted for longer holidays allowing them to fully explore the destination. Today, we're seeing a trend towards shorter holidays as travelers take advantage of lower airfares and a greater choice of destinations on offer, and they are now opting to travel to two or three destinations in the same year rather than using all their days to travel to one destination. Consequently, we also see travelers to Africa coming back more than once to further explore different regions or different countries in the same region."

Pamela Lassers, director of media relations for Abercrombie & Kent USA, agreed and said that for 2019 more people are combining elements of East Africa and the southern part of the continent into one tailor-made itinerary, something that was not easy just three years ago.  She said: "There is more accessible airlift with flight times that make it possible to have breakfast in Nairobi and a late lunch in Cape Town.  The reverse also works, allowing guests to spend a half day in Cape Town and take an evening flight to Nairobi.  As a result, we are designing more multicountry itineraries that combine safaris in the Masai Mara and Serengeti with Victoria Falls."

Better accessibility in Africa will also see more travelers going to Africa on their own in 2019 as opposed to planned group tours, said Michael King, Great Getaways Travel, an affiliate of Largay Travel, a Virtuoso Agency. He said: "Travelers will move between wildlife parks, cities, and countries, wanting the very best experience. A private plane with your own guide is the top of luxury; this enables you to easily travel both in-country and to neighboring countries in comfort."

Jim Holden, president of Holden Safaris, looked back at 2018 as a banner year for tourism to Africa, with tourist numbers up for all safari destinations. He expects more of the same for 2019.

Said Holden: "2019 will see continued diversification of trips to Africa, focusing on activities beyond just safaris. Voluntourism will continue to grow, as the baby boomer generation retires and finds more purpose in later life, helping deserving projects in Africa such as schools, clinics and village services.

"With African economies and governance gaining more maturity, African tourism will benefit, as Africa becomes more politically stable and predictable. There will be a continuation of the move away from interaction with wildlife, such as walking with lions or riding elephants, as tourists become more informed of the stresses placed on animals in captivity. Visitors will also become more discerning on which lodges and hotels they choose to stay at, wanting to use accommodation that does not add to the world's pollution and climate change."

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