The travel channel is now more important to Africa post-COVID than ever before as long as the different players within the channel are adding value to guest experiences and to tourism arrival numbers.
This is the message from Colin Bell, Natural Selection Safaris Director, in response to issues raised this week in Tourism Update’s story ‘ABC recognises trade’s ‘good guys’’.
“Many will have seen images of the African map showing its immense size and how all of China, the US, Europe, the UK, India and Japan etc. fit comfortably into the outline of the continent. Yet despite its great size, as well as the quantity and quality of its attractions, Africa only receives 5% of the world’s tourism arrivals.”
When factoring into the discussion the fact that the African tourism sector had become one of the most important creators of jobs, particularly in rural areas, and the prime funder for park and game reservation management costs (conservation), it was clear Africa needed many more tourists and a much bigger – not less – percentage of global tourism arrivals, he said.
Bell commended African Bush Camps (ABC) Founder and CEO, Beks Ndlovu, for the “nimble explanation” behind the controversial Bloomberg article that sent waves through the travel trade last week.
Carolina Beckmann, MD of Life & Luxury, said she was a believer of bold moves by companies with respect to shifting perspectives and taking out-of-the-box actions. “I applaud ABC for doing this, sticking strongly to their values and making bold statements where needed.”
She agreed that for those who were able to stand back and take a bird’s-eye view to rethink things, this was a time when true change and positive outcomes could really come about for the industry.
As part of the new programme #ChangeMakersAfrica, ABC has called on travel professionals wanting to reshape Africa’s future to target more conscious travellers and have meaningful dialogues with them during the booking process, thereby sensitising them to their contribution to conservation and inviting them to be part of the long-term initiatives to conserve Africa.
Beckmann said as a DMC, the company dealt mostly with international agents so she could not be sure how they would convey this message to their clients. “Yet I do feel conservation efforts for Africa will only ever be seen as a positive thing to support. If we highlight this message at the forefront of client conversations in the right way, they will be only too happy to be a part of it when they understand the difference their travel can make.”
Angela Matthews, Owner and Director of Alpha Destinations, said, however, that she struggled with the idea of ‘vetting’ clients who wanted to book a safari through her company.
“Who are we to decide if a client ‘deserves’ to go on safari or not? Clients are generally paying rather high rates to stay in one of the safari camps. They pay conservation fees and often also a community levy. Isn’t this already enough of a commitment?”
She did feel that inbound operators and DMCs should be more involved in the process to match clients with the right experiences to meet their expectations. “We need to connect with clients to understand exactly what they want to take away from their holidays and why they travel – 50% of my work is psychology.”
Not all safari guests were looking for the same thing, she added. “Let’s be realistic. For some, the conservation aspect is everything so bells and whistles are not important. Others just want a break – luxury in the wild and relaxation. Shouldn’t they be allowed to enjoy a safari as well?”
Jan Engelbrecht Klitzke, owner of The Boyz Travel Merchants, said he would not screen clients wanting to go on safari. “They are free to make their own decision. You cannot force people or put them in a corner to contribute to anything.”
With regard to commissions, he said transparency was a deciding factor when he made bookings. “Lodges and camps must understand that they sometimes need agents as well to promote them and what you put in is what you get out. Those properties that cut agents’ commissions will not be supported by agents, as they also need to make a living.”
Beckmann said it was important for the industry to manage clients at every level. “We must not be complacent in terms of letting the client walk all over us at the expense of our time, ethics and often financial investment.”
She added: “We need to find ways to approach our clients if we believe they are not undertaking correct business practices, even if it means lost business. This will protect the industry as a whole and the bigger the names that do this, the more effective it will be.”
Beckmann – in agreement with ABC – wished more companies would take these actions in client management.
“So many people complain about it, yet never do anything due to the fear of losing the client. If we all did our part as an industry, we would experience real change.”