Extreme travel is rumored to become a hot trend in 2018, with an increasing number of travelers seeking to earn their travel "bragging rights." They want epic adventures, over-the-top experiences or they want to be the first to visit "inaccessible destinations" or the last to see an endangered species.
For African tour operators, this trend is good news as Africa still has numerous attractive destinations that remain relatively unexplored. "Most Americans think of a safari to Africa as an 'extreme experience' in itself!" said Jim Holden, president of Holden Safaris.
According to Holden, what is now driving demand for safaris is the increasing publicity given to poaching and the imminent demise and extinction of some of Africa's unique wildlife, particularly several members of the Big Five that all Americans want to see, such as elephants, rhinos and lions.
The urgency to see species that are threatened with extinction has prompted the popularity of conservation safaris with U.S. travelers. They are invited to accompany teams on game capture activities to deter poachers and embark on activities such as dehorning rhinos or relocating elephants.
Safari Pros' member Darren Humphreys of Travel Sommelier explained that his company has just introduced an opportunity in Zambia that enables clients to experience a carnivore program firsthand. He said: "It is a rare and unique opportunity to understand the role of cutting-edge conservation initiatives in protecting lions, leopards and cheetahs in the Kafue National Park. The Kafue is the second-largest protected wilderness reserve on the African continent, and there is a tiny human footprint; hardly anyone gets the opportunity to get there."
African Travel president Sherwin Banda added that also the more "traditional' extreme experiences are also available across Africa in the most unique locations. He said: "Travelers can take a flight on the Flying Fox at the edge of Batoka Gorge in Zambia, which allows them to 'fly' over Victoria Falls and the Zambezi River while attached to a cable; or if travelers want to experience a ziplining thrill, they can throw themselves off the edge of the gorge in a body harness and freefall before ending their jump with numerous pendulum swings."
According to Banda, these kinds of experiences are especially appealing to the younger generations. "Africa is hot destination among millennial travelers who I would say are more interested in 'extreme' experiences than a more mature demographic," he said, but he was quick to add that older travelers are certainly not opposed to extreme experiences, especially when traveling in a multigenerational family group
"These experiences are unquestionably for all age groups," said Holden. He made that point that young and old alike can marvel at the volume of water, the thunder and spray of the Victoria Falls in all its majesty at high water level in May; be overcome with emotion when helping at a remote school or village; feel the significance of helping to preserve rhinos from extinction; or stand at the top of Mount Kilimanjaro, Africa's highest peak, and observe the effect of climate change on the mountain's shrinking glazier and snow cover.
Safari Pros member Betty Jo Currie from Currie & Co. Travels agreed, saying she has several clients over age 45 who have booked trips to destinations such as Ethiopia's Omo River Valley, Chad and even the Republic of Congo to visit the lowland gorillas at Odzala as well as Congo pygmies. "We have definitely seen a demand for extreme travel if by extreme we mean rarely visited and off the beaten path."
The remoteness of the destinations in Africa also has a special appeal for travelers looking for extreme holidays. Sean Kritzinger, managing director at Giltedge Travel, explained that Airlink recently connected South Africa with St. Helena Island, which formerly was a destination that could only be reached by ship.
According to Kritzinger, East Africa is also slowly gaining more popularity, with especially places like Tanzania and Rwanda seeing an increased interest from U.S. travelers. He said: "Rwanda is a bucket list experience and perfect for those who want to see the gorillas but also enjoy an authentic, remote place with luxuries."
SW Africa has seen an increase in interest in African destinations that are known to be more remote. "The further north you travel from South Africa, the more wild and real the experience tends to become," said Henk Graaff, managing director of SW Africa.
Zimbabwe in particular has seen a renewed interest, according to Graaff.
"Zimbabwe has always been seen as the black sheep of Africa, but it's become a very attractive destination as it's not overly frequented," he said. "Mana Pools, for example, is one area in Zimbabwe that is quite difficult to access, but when travelers get there, they feel a sense of achievement and wonder."
All activities in Mana Pools are exclusively nature-based, from hiking to bird-watching to studying the stars at night. There are no shops, and mobile phone network coverage is very limited.
Graaff explained that Mana Pools is extreme in the fact that it is a "wild" destination with unfenced camps and a high density of potentially dangerous wild animals traversing the camps, such as lions and crocodiles. "This makes for real adventure with real danger experienced," he said.
Humphreys predicted that Madagascar is set to become the new global vanguard for ecotourism. "It is largely undiscovered, from the country's vast cave complexes to the primary rainforest treks where travelers can explore completely unique geology (as well as fauna and flora) to the dive reefs where travelers can be the first person to explore archipelagos," he said.
Humphreys illustrated this with a story about his visit to Miavan, where he took an early morning boat tour during which the dive captain pointed out spots that he planned to explore that he was 100% certain had never been used for tank dives before.