Tourism Update speaks to US trade and suppliers active in the market about the trends affecting travel from the US.
US tour operators and agents agree that the outbreak of Ebola in West Africa is no longer affecting US travel to Africa. “2015 has been fairly broken out of the American market, caused mostly by Ebola,” says Ross Kennedy, Atta Chairman and Chief Executive of Africa Albida. “We are seeing in our bookings and hearing from the American operators that we deal with that this has changed and that US travellers are booking again for 2016.”
Both Terry von Guilleaume, President and CEO of DSA Vacations, and Ronnie Harris of Under African Skies, agree that the outbreak is no longer an issue for their clients. Harris comments: “As soon as Ebola exited headlines, the market started recovering. US travellers are very skittish and will shy away from problems but also have very short memories.”
At the same time, the depreciation of the rand against the US dollar is expected to be met by an increase in travel from this market. “The strong dollar is a huge asset,” says Harris, adding that it makes SA affordable to a whole new segment of travellers.
2.Demand for niche, experiential touring
Both Alessandra Allemann, Sales and Marketing Director of Welcome Tourism Services and David Kartagener, GSA for Legacy Hotels and Resorts in the US market, have seen an increase in demand for experiential travel. “Experiential travel continues to grow,” says Allemann. “Travellers are looking for destinations and experiences where they are able to engage, interact and actively get involved.”
Kartagener says people are moving away from ‘seat in coach’ packages and want more customised and ‘authentic’ experiences. “They also want to feel that the experiences they are having are theirs alone and they are not just one of a thousand who will be doing the same thing that month.” Likewise, Elizabeth Loftus of Alluring Africa says American travellers are looking to connect with a destination. “I have been noticing a trend where clients aren’t as interested in checking destinations off their list because they were told to go there by friends, but more interested in unique ways to connect with the destination, the wildlife, and the locals.”
According to Kartagener, tours with a specific focus have been very well received, specifically culinary or wine tours and itineraries centred on wellness. Lyndsay Harshman, Marketing Director African Safari Co & Expeditions has also seen an increase of clients looking for niche touring, clients requesting culinary touring, photography-focused touring and wine tours. Says Allemann: “Americans are looking for smaller, more personalised, tailor-made holidays to suit their specific needs.”
Von Guilleaume says his clients are spending less time in Cape Town and on safari and are opting to explore more than just the well-known tourist spots. He adds that adventure seekers are on the rise.
Harris says that while baby boomers still make up the largest part of the US market, millennials are accounting for an increasing amount of adventure travel. “The millennials are more adventurous and more eager to participate,” she says “They want to eat out in restaurants where the locals eat, walk the streets, understand the culture and be part of it.” Karen Cockburn of Africa Travel Centre is seeing an increased interest in walking safaris and tented camps.
Loftus says sustainable travel is important to US clients. “They want to know how they can give back and contribute to conservation, education or health care when they visit.”
According to Kennedy, many US travellers are looking for a positive engagement with communities or wildlife. For example, he says, they want to take part in conservation projects. He adds that these travellers enjoy the “feel good factor” and also returning home and sharing with friends and family the positive impact their travel has had.
4.Multigenerational growth continues
Both Harshman and Loftus suggest that the rise in family and multigenerational travel has continued. Loftus comments: “They want an unforgettable experience that the whole family can share.” Likewise, Kennedy has seen more family travel out of the US, which he says has been a growing trend out of the US for the last two to five years.
Harshman has also seen an increase in demand for private touring and exclusive use of facilities and accommodations.
Kartagener says SA’s immigration laws pertaining to children travelling caused some concern in America. “It wasn’t so much the regulations themselves as it was the confusion about the policy. The trade was confused, which is bad, because if they are uncertain they will not be able to confidently sell a destination,” he says. Kennedy agrees that the regulations have had an impact, but is hopeful that the review of the regulations will change this. “Hopefully SA Tourism does some major PR to fix the perception damage that the regulations have done.”
“Recent acts of terrorism around the world have caused a state of increased anxiety, and this is never good as it dampens one’s adventurous spirit to go out and explore, and tends to keep would-be travellers at home and close to what they are familiar with,” says Von Guilleaume. Harris agrees that the threat of terrorism will deter US travellers.
Kartagener points out that the US State Department issued a warning on all travel following the bombings in Paris. “This is not good for anyone,” he says. Kennedy also believes that the advisory could affect travel world-wide. He suggests that it will affect travel in the first quarter to the first six months of the year. “Many Americans absolutely heed those kinds of travel warnings,” says Kennedy.