The variety of existing product and new product development in South Africa since the start of the pandemic has been hailed as an important tool to win over more foreign visitors and to maintain South Africa’s appeal to returning visitors.
Destination Management Companies (DMCs) and tour operators who are SATSA members are already taking advantage of product development to create exciting new itineraries that speak to post-pandemic travel trends.
David Frost, CEO of SATSA, together with a panel of SATSA members representing DMCs, suppliers and the high-end luxury market, participated in an online discussion about the reopening of the destination in partnership with Embassy Direct – a platform for an international network of embassy employees and ambassadors.
The online discussion was part one of a series ‘Around the Globe in 9 Months’ that Embassy Direct wants to use to highlight exciting international leisure destinations. (Egypt, Turkey, Spain, Mexico, Peru, Vietnam, Singapore and South Korea will also be featured.)
Frost moderated the discussion, with Andrew Camp,Head of International Sales & Marketing for Sun International Group; Jeanneret Momberg, CEO of Visit Stellenbosch; Craig Drysdale, Director of Sales and Marketing at Inspiration Travel and Tours (ITT); and
Ron Mackenzie, CEO of The Safari Guys, also the founder of Embassy Direct, serving as panellists.
The team said foreigner visitors were returning in high numbers, seeking out immersive and authentic luxury travel experiences.
They said lead times for booking were also much shorter (two to three weeks in some markets, especially Europe), while experiential travel, solo trips, single-women travel, and multigenerational groups were identified as some of travel’s latest trends.
Niche sector development
SATSA also wants to see sectors such as adventure travel, mountain biking tourism and food and wine experiences developed in time.
Momberg said tourism partners from the Western Cape winelands area had come together during the pandemic. “Before COVID-19, the platform was very fragmented with wine (tourism business) on the one side and other things on the other. We couldn’t fulfil the town’s potential as a tourist destination.”
Drysdale said, as a DMC, ITT could help to drive new business and SA’s recovery by connecting wholesalers with new product partners in SA.
He said business was being driven by product development and the favourable exchange rate. “We used to say, for the price of one beer in the UK, you could buy four in South Africa. You can now buy five beers!”
Camp said Sun International, one of South Africa’s largest leisure brands – with around 40 years of experience and history in the leisure market – had used the downtime during the pandemic to revamp and carry out refurbishment projects that would not have been possible during high-occupancy periods.
Immersive experiences are another big drawcard. “Guests may want to get involved in a game drive experience to the Pilanesberg, for example, and be involved in rhino notching (guests have an opportunity to assist vets put microchips into rhino horns for tracking purposes while the animals are sedated). Transformative travel means getting more involved with wherever you are going. It is doing something other than a normal leisure activity.”
Revenge travel, where people push back against limitations and restrictions on personal freedoms that were imposed during periods of hard lockdown, is another big trend and opportunity that SATSA’s panel identified.
Camp also said the international luxury travel market was spending 30% more than pre-COVID-19 and travelling for longer periods of time, while families are travelling in groups together to tick off shared bucket-list experiences. He also reported more bleisure visitors and digital nomads.
Looking ahead, Visit Stellenbosch wants to reposition the town as a hub for repeat visitors returning to Cape Town and looking to explore other far-flung parts of the Western Cape.
Momberg said: “We have got the best infrastructure for mountain biking in South Africa and we compete very well with the rest of the world. What is lacking at the moment is a way to package it so that somebody in Germany or the US can identify a mountain biking holiday in Stellenbosch.”
Mackenzie, who was very enthusiastic about many different products and experiences in places like Limpopo, the Eastern Cape and across KwaZulu Natal, said packaging these unique and different experiences could help share the benefits of tourism with more communities. “Cape Town and the Kruger are on a lot of people’s bucket list. But SA is teeming with beauty and there are so many places to experience.”
“When they (visitors) come back, they come back with friends and family. We are looking at new ways to package things, and to package the adventure side of things,” added Frost.
Rodrigo Chiari, Editor of Embassy Direct’s print publication and former ambassador of Panama to South Africa, concluded: “South Africa’s main asset is its diversity. [South Africa], you are doing an extraordinary job. Please keep it up – this industry is going to save the country.”