It's that time of the year where tourism industry players and thought leaders around the world share their predictions about popular destinations and trends for the upcoming year. It's not always an easy task, and as Warren Green from Warren Green & Associates says: "Predicting trends is a little like predicting the weather these days."
Although it might be difficult to pinpoint exact trends, Green still shares a few ideas for the year to come. He predicts we will be seeing growth in the adventure sector typified by youthful travelers seeking off-the-beaten-path experiences that offer physical engagement. Successful destinations in 2019 will speak to this market.
Africa is ideally positioned to answer the need for adventure and authenticity, according to industry players. Rumit Mehta, founder of Immersion Journeys, a Safari Pros member, said this can be seen in forward bookings. "Guests are booking not only deep into 2019 already but seriously considering 2020 and are willing to put down deposits. So, the trend is a continued demand to visit Africa," he said.
The following destinations are likely to be hot in the year to come, according to travel experts in Africa.
1. Rwanda -- Sean Kritzinger, co-owner and executive chairman at Giltedge Africa, said that Ellen DeGeneres' recent visit to Rwanda has put the East African country in the spotlight for gorilla trekking.
Henk Graaff, managing director SW Africa, agreed, pointing out that one of the greatest advantages of opting for Rwanda for gorilla-trekking expeditions is that the condition of the roads is very good, the travel distances are small and the infrastructure is great.
However, gorillas aren't the only drawing card for Rwanda. The country continues to attract high-end travelers and is in a position to finally offer diverse experiences beyond the gorillas, such as Nyungwe and Akagera national parks, said Mehta.
Rwanda has indeed set the stage for an ecotourism revolution, according to Craig Glatthaar, Wilderness Safaris business manager. He said that with amazing cultural experiences and incredible biodiversity, Rwanda is well positioned to tell the story of its incredible history and its evolution into one of Africa's most progressive countries.
"The country has embarked on an epic ecotourism drive and is building sustainable ecotourism models to counter their dependency on agricultural revenue. This is an exciting time to visit a country in a state of rebirth that understands the benefit of ecotourism, and how tourism economies can truly benefit its wildlife and people," said Glatthaar.
New and exciting developments for 2019 in Rwanda include the opening of Wilderness Safaris' new Magashi tented camp, which is set to open in Akagera this year.
2. Ghana -- Mehta has witnessed an increase in tourism to Ghana (West Africa). "It's a stable country where English is spoken and new hotels are opening," he pointed out.
The Ghana Tourism Authority (GTA) recently announced that key tourist sites in the country will receive a face-lift in 2019. This comes as tourism has been recognized as the country's fourth-largest foreign exchange earner with the support of tourist sites such as Kakum National Park and the Cape Coast and Elmina castles.
Another plus: Airlift to Ghana is expected to improve in 2019. South Africa Airways (SAA) recently announced it will increase its frequency of nonstop flights between Washington Dulles and Accra's Kotoka Airport to five days weekly starting April 2.
According to Todd Neuman, SAA's regional general manager for North America, the service between Washington and Accra has been a resounding success from its inception in 2015.
This also marks the Year of Return for Ghana, which is expected to draw a number of tourists from the U.S. Owner and Travel Consultant at Oheneba Events & Travel Akua Washington said Ghana's Tourism Authority is heavily marketing the Year of Return. She said: "This is meant to commemorate 400 years since the first ship carrying enslaved Africans reached the Americas. There are many festivities planned."
According to Washington, while much of the rest of West Africa is not yet established as tried-and-true tourist destinations, Ghana is leading the way. She said: "The infrastructure is sound, the exchange rates for the dollar and euro are strong, and the people are extremely hospitable."
Washington added that the Ghana Tourism Authority is focused on providing tour operators and suppliers with the training necessary to ensure every traveler has a welcoming and unforgettable experience. She said: "Guides and operators go through a rigorous vetting and training process to be licensed to operate in the country."
3. Namibia -- Elizabeth Gordon, CEO and co-founder of Extraordinary Journeys, said she has seen a huge interest in Namibia. "The destination is so remote yet offers a wide variety of excursions for any type of traveler," Gordon said. "It's so incredibly different from other parts of Africa travelers typically go to and offers great diversity in landscape from the desert, coast and canyons."
Kritzinger has also seen Namibia grow in popularity with some new innovative lodges that have recently been launched.
AndBeyond Sossusvlei Desert Lodge closed in January this year for a complete refurbishment and will reopen in October with a modern look, including glass walls to maximize the dramatic desert views. Current accommodations will be expanded along with the addition of a two-bedroom private villa, perfect for visiting families. New experiences planned for the lodge include e-bike excursions to the mountains, gravel planes and sand dunes that surround the property.
The Shipwreck Lodge on the Skeleton Coast also opened last year. This uniquely designed luxury lodge has 10 shipwreck-style cabins, cast adrift on the sand dunes of Namibia's Skeleton Coast.
The Shipwreck Lodge on Namibia's Skeleton Coast opened last year.
Namibia, with its unique landscapes and ancient cultures, will especially appeal to the return visitor to Africa, according to Jim Holden, Holden Safaris.
4. South Africa -- Tourism officials said South Africa will become even more popular than it already is in 2019, as it is an affordable country and offers many more tourist attractions than the customary safari.
Holden said South African Tourism will continue to steer visitors away from the traditional destinations -- Cape Town, Kruger Park safaris -- to other parts of the country, such as Kwa Zulu Natal and the Garden Route, where prices are more competitive.
Sherwin Banda, president of African Travel Inc., agreed, saying South Africa will continue to be popular because it offers great value and offers many diverse experiences, from wildlife and culture to sightseeing and cuisine.
Also in South Africa, new developments and lodges are in the works. Joss Kent, CEO of andBeyond, said he expects the eastern sector of the Sabi Sand to attract a lot of attention in 2019. His Tengile River Lodge opened there in December. "This part of the Kruger is still pristine, exclusive and with low land impact," he said. "Existing properties in the Kruger and particularly Sabi Sand can be quite dated or don't deliver value on money or both. We intend to change that dynamic with Tengile. It is a fresh design, giving our guests what they crave most, which is, we think, space. Tengile will have the largest rooms in the Sabi Sand (over 2,150 square feet). It's time to give the Kruger and Sabi Sand a makeover, and Tengile is our answer to that."