The more the tourism industry grows to include transformed players that involve their surrounding communities in their game lodge offerings, the more we’ll see greater numbers of South Africans become interested in game lodge experiences, believes the Gauteng Tourism Association’s Barba Gaoganediwe.

“We need to offer different experiences and employ more tour guides who understand the language and history of the reserves, rather than just providing information about animals.”

Gaoganediwe says travellers are interested in more than just animals, the sea or mountains. Rather travellers are all about those personalised experiences - things they can see, touch, feel and interact with. Game lodges in the context of only being able to do a safari are becoming mundane, he adds. 

The need to incorporate new players extends beyond the leisure space into corporate buying and selling, conferencing and exhibitions, says Gaoganediwe. New suppliers are needed across the spectrum of product packaging to add in missing elements. If operators are able to consolidate their offerings, Gaoganediwe believes corporates will have more to offer in terms of incentives and team builds.

Gaoganediwe is clear though that the development of new products is not simply about creating different add-ons. Rather it’s about integrating new interactions throughout the experiences. “Dinokeng is a classic example, with a shebeen experience on offer in the middle of the reserve. Instead of building a new shebeen, an existing shebeen has been made available to visitors within the reserve.”

Another example is the Suikerbosrand Nature Reserve, as well as game lodge facilities, which are being integrated with lifestyle trends like hiking. “We are increasingly seeing people going out on weekends and hiking – so now when they have finished hiking they can go out and enjoy the game lodge experience,” says Gaoganediwe. “Gone are the days when products could stand on their own.”

Catering to all price brackets is also important. For example, in Dinokeng, there is the five-star experience offered at Mongena Game Reserve, the two-star camping experience at Kwalata Lodge, or a self-drive experience. “There are over 300 products within the reserve, offering a complete variety of five-star to one-star experiences,” comments Gaoganediwe.