The COVID-19 pandemic provided an opportunity for people to re-examine their priorities when it comes to work, family and their values, which is driving new consumer travel trends from the northern European region, says South African Tourism.
During a webinar hosted by SATSA last week, Abby Jacobs, Acting Hub Head for South African Tourism outlined some key consumer insights driving travel from the region, and the opportunities they present.
The northern European hub is made up of the Netherlands, which accounts for 70% of the region’s travellers to South Africa, Belgium, accounting for 20%, and Sweden, making up the final 10%.
Wellness was identified as a key trend in a consumer immersion exercise conducted in the Nordic region in 2018 already, but Jacobs said the trend had become even stronger among travellers post-COVID
The pandemic has also shifted values, and impacted people’s priorities and how they work, which has seen the rise of trends like ‘gen-cations’ and digital nomads.
As people looked to reconnect post-pandemic, ‘gen-cations’ and ‘friend-cations’ emerged as a trend, which Jacobs said remained in place. These holidays, with multiple generations of the same family or groups of friends, are often in the mid- to high-level price range, with itineraries incorporating activities aimed at various generations.
“The value of the package is also so much higher because so many people are being incorporated,” Jacobs said.
The work-from-anywhere trend was also a great opportunity, said Jacobs, driven by a different approach to work in the region.
“In the Netherlands specifically, COVID had made people relook at their lives. Some people have lost jobs or they’ve left industries.” She added that international conglomerates like Amazon entering the market had resulted in new and different jobs.
“Younger consumers are wanting to do something different. In the region, there is an oversupply of jobs. It’s a very different context to South Africa and there are lots of vacant positions and people are picking and choosing.”
A culture of travel in the region is also contributing to new trends among younger travellers. With travel being seen as almost as important as a university education, parents were sending their children to travel from early on, Jacobs said.
So when they do travel on their own, “they go deep”. “It is about them immersing themselves in the culture. They want to meet the locals, live in their houses, eat their food, live in communities and contribute to them.”
Strong pull to sustainable travel
This also ties in with a strong pull towards sustainable travel. Environmental activist Greta Thunberg, who hails from Sweden, popularised ‘flight shaming’ in 2018, resulting in travel being viewed by many as being inherently selfish. But in the post-COVID era, consumers are looking beyond flights, and are demanding more sustainable activities.
According to Jacobs, 78% of people in the Netherlands are looking for sustainable, responsible travel options, with Gen Z and Millennial travellers leading the charge.
SA Tourism’s recently launched Live South Africa! campaign for the region has capitalised on this trend, with a strong focus on responsible tourism.
Regional spending trends are also driving how people travel. Jacobs said while there was increasing demand for luxury travel from the hub, there was still a strong focus on getting value for money.
She said the average spend in South Africa by tourists from the Netherlands in 2022 was R23 000 per person (€1 445), R22 800 (€1 136) for Swedes, and R21 000 (€1 046) for Belgians.
While these amounts do not include the cost of flights, this is seen as a core barrier. Prices are impacted by the fact that there is only one airline flying direct to South Africa out of the Netherlands, which influenced the perception of how expensive it was to travel to South Africa, she said.