Dorine Reinstein
Dorine Reinstein

According to research conducted by the management consulting company McKinsey, 35% of American job holders are able to work away from the office full-time, and 23% can do so part-time. It's not surprising, then, that the "work from anywhere" trend has taken off to such an extent in the U.S., especially since the pandemic.

The trend has not gone unnoticed in Africa. A growing number of countries on the continent are recognizing the opportunity international workers bring, whether they are digital nomads, bleisure travelers or MICE visitors.

Mauritius is one example. In a move to encourage the business of hosting international events in Mauritius, the Economic Development Board Mauritius has announced a Refund Scheme for the MICE industry. An event organizer may apply for refund of VAT amounting to 15% of accommodations charges (excluding alcoholic drinks) by the Mauritius Revenue Authority.

The Namibia Investment Promotion and Development Board launched the Namibia Digital Nomad Visa program. The new visa, which will be available to freelancers or people working remotely for companies outside Namibia, makes it easier for foreign nationals to live and work in the country for up to six months. South Africa is working on a similar visa plan, which officials hope will be announced shortly.

According to safari operators in Africa, workations have definitely become more popular since the pandemic, and this trend offers distinct opportunities for travel agents in the U.S.

Raza Visram of African Mecca Safaris, said workation travelers tend to spend two to three months in Africa in different areas. They tend to be couples or individuals. "We recently had a traveler who was on our Tanzania safari having completed his workations in Egypt and South Africa," he said.

Many employers and employees have discovered not only that working remotely is possible, but that it can have multiple benefits, such as increasing productivity, said Onne Vegter, managing director at Wild Wings Safaris. He said that to consider a "working safari," the primary requirement would be a fast and stable internet connection that would be reliable enough for videoconferencing.

Opportunity for travel agents

Collin Thaver, managing director at Southern Africa 360, has seen a noticeable increase in popularity of workations and has even had clients traveling in southern Africa with Southern Africa 360 for over a year. Although Thaver pointed out that digital nomads tend to be booking directly via platforms like Airbnb rather than via travel agents, that doesn't mean there is not an opportunity for travel agents to tap into this market.

"The more travel agents promote the option of a workation, or even a combination of a vacation with a workation to extend the length of trip, the more this trend will likely increase," said Thaver. He added that travel agents can put the idea into the minds of travelers by suggesting that they extend their holidays to include some "work from wherever" time. "For example, a family might have plenty of school holiday time, but one of the parents only has a week vacation time. Agents can suggest to the family that this parent adds an extra week to their trip but as work time; the rest of the family can continue to explore during working hours."

According to Thaver, Cape Town is an excellent option as there is a wide variety of accommodations options, restaurants and working coffee shops as well as an excellent rate of exchange for Americans. "Cape Town also makes a great base from which to explore other parts of the country as well as daytrips and weekends away from Cape Town," he said adding that the safari lodges in the area of Kruger National Park as well as the provinces of North West and Limpopo are also easily accessible from Cape Town via direct flights.

Vegter agreed that South Africa is a great option. He noted that safari lodges in very remote areas are less likely to have a reliable cellphone signal and fast WiFi (satellite-based Internet with decent bandwidth is still rather expensive and therefore not common in much of the country). That's why travel agents looking for suitable workation destinations need to look at less remote safari lodges, close enough to a town or city. There are many options to choose from around safari tourism hubs such as Hoedspruit, Maun, Kasane, Victoria Falls, Livingstone and Arusha, among others, said Vegter.

The drawback of a workcation in Africa is the distance to the U.S., said Jim Holden, president of Holden Safaris. "It's one thing to be working remotely in Africa but another when one is urgently called back to the office in the USA and not being able to get there for several days."

Holden added the other obstacle is the fragile nature of the infrastructure in terms of reliable and consistent power supply to run all of today's IT gadgetry that enables workations to function. "During Covid a Zoom call from a supplier in Africa was more prone to signal interruptions than from, say, Europe," he said.

Key questions for travel agents

When planning a workation for a client, Vegter suggests travel agents ask lodges or destination management companies the following questions:

• Is there broadband Internet access at the lodge, in the rooms and the common areas?
• How stable is the WiFi, and what is the Internet speed (upload and download speed)?
• Is it free to connect, or does the lodge charge for bandwidth beyond a token free amount?
• Can the internet at the lodge handle videoconferencing, such as Zoom meetings?
• Is there a cellphone signal at the lodge? If yes, which network, and how many bars?
• Does the lodge have 24/7 electricity? Is there backup power in case of loadshedding?
• Does each room have a desk and comfortable chair where one can put a laptop and get some work done?

Thaver's advice to agents: use a destination management company, as they will be better qualified to advise them about logistics, options and local tips and will be on the ground for support.

"Each client will have a unique set of requirements, so each should be treated on a case-by-case basis so that an option that will specifically suit each client can be tailor-made," he concluded.

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