The Nordic countries are a growing tourism source market to Africa. Although often termed as a collective, the ‘Nordic market’, the different countries that make up this collective, have different travel triggers, needs, priorities and concerns when considering travelling to a destination.

Travellers from Sweden, Denmark, Iceland, Finland and Norway need be targeted with tailored destination marketing messages, and not one blanket message, say three tourism players who focus on selling Africa as a destination to this market.

Tourism Update spoke to Rune Engstrøm, Business Development Director of Destination Africa; Collin Thaver, Managing Director of Southern Africa 360; and Patrick Menzies, Manager of Sales and Marketing: Scandinavia, Finland and Baltics, of South African Airways; to get a better understanding of the Nordic market and its travel trends and nuances.

Cape Town, South Africa.

Priorities when considering an African destination

Unique experiences and interesting, exotic places are two things that the Nordic market values in a travel destination, say Engstrøm and Menzies. “Don’t market all the usuals,” says Engstrøm. “Market different and off-the-beaten-track areas and attractions. In the Cape Winelands, for example, everyone knows about Stellenbosch – so look further afield to Tulbagh, Riebeek Kasteel and Montague. The Nordics are adventurous and experimental, and like to explore and experience new and different things. This is what brings them back as return visitors.”

Thaver adds that in South Africa, the Nordics also love what SA is known for: the sun and safaris. “Travelling along the Garden Route, sightseeing and adventure – that’s what they like. They look forward to Cape Town, with highlights being the Winelands or full-day wine farm visits.”

This would be included in a first-time visit to SA, adds Thaver, along with a safari experience. “Starting in Cape Town, then travelling through the Garden Route and Winelands, with a safari experience included – that would be a first-timer’s itinerary,” shares Menzies.

Tulbagh Wine Estate.

Increased air access opens the market

Africa has become significantly more accessible to the Nordic region, with regular flights from Oslo to Cape Town via Ethiopian Airlines. There are currently six weekly flights from Oslo, with an expected increase to eight in the near future. "Increased air access will always mean lower prices for travellers," says Engstrøm.

Barriers to choosing Africa

The perception of crime and safety is one of the biggest barriers to choosing an African country as a travel destination. While every country has its safety issues, Africa has been particularly tainted by crime and how it has been portrayed to the world, creating a very dark perception of the crime status and safety of travellers coming to the continent.

Price is a barrier to SA as a destination, with high-priced accommodation such as local hotels and lodges, along with agents selling the destinations with hefty price tag, being a deterrent.

And while the Scandinavian market can visit SA visa-free, unabridged birth certificates (UBCs) are a severe deterrent.

Most popular African countries

Currently, the countries that the Nordic market visit most are SA, Kenya, Tanzania, Namibia, Botswana and Zimbabwe – specifically the Zimbabwe side of Victoria Falls. “Chobe is a very popular destination for the Nordics,” says Thaver, “with Kenya trumping Tanzania. But East Africa in general is broadly known as the safari go-to region of Africa.”

Masai women.

How the Nordics are travelling in Africa

“We mostly see smaller groups and couples,” says Engstrøm, with Thaver adding that these smaller groups are often first-time visitors who explore their selected African destination in guided group tours. “The Danes, Swedes and Finnish travel in groups as first-time travellers, and they love walking, so will often book a hotel within walking distance of local attractions. They are happy to hail a taxi or book an Uber,” he says, “while the Norwegians are more affluent travellers who use pre-arranged and scheduled guided services. They don’t like waiting around, so make sure everything runs on time and as expected.”

Menzies says there is an increase in families travelling, with noticable growth in the senior traveller sector. “Travellers in their mid-50s or 60s are a growing market, and will hire a private car or tour in groups, as they do have safety concerns.”

A taste for travel

The Nordics are very adventurous, and love experimenting and trying new cuisine, says Engstrøm. “I had a group of millennials between the ages of 23 and 34 from the Nordic region travelling with me recently, and they loved the local wines and foods; they tried everything, from crocodile and venison, to veal, springbok and warthog,” says Thaver.

“The culinary aspect is definitely something that can be sold on,” says Menzies. “Food and wine travel.”

Booking nuances

The market is varied in terms of how they book travel and accommodation. “The younger generations are more prone to booking online,” says Menzies, “while first-time, and mature, travellers would book through a travel agent.” This is because agents have first-hand knowledge of a destination, says Thaver, with Engstrøm adding that they are also a go-to should any problems arise in the course of travel – something that online booking doesn’t always provide.

Tips to selling southern and East Africa

Firstly, remember that from a marketing perspective, the Nordic source market needs to be considered in its country split, with each country being targeted with communication tailored to its travel needs and priorities.

“It’s also very much about relationships,” says Thaver, “and building relationships with those that are selling your destination, product or service.” Menzies adds: “It is very important for destination marketing companies to make the effort to come to the Nordic regions to meet with and build relationships with the people selling their destinations and packages/products. Come twice a year on workshops, and once a year to individually meet with the people you work with. Working with the Nordic market and its gateway-travel-sellers is a long-term investment.”