Now is the time to be travelling in Africa and even though travel is more complex than it was before the pandemic, it does, however, remain extremely rewarding. In addition, guests are feeling so special and appreciated while they get to make a tangible difference towards contributing to people’s employment and livelihoods.
This is the view of Classic Portfolio owner, Suzanne Bayly, which she shared in conversation with ATTA CEO, Chris Mears, during a webinar about her recent travelling experiences in South Africa (during a Level 4 lockdown) and Mozambique.
“There really is a barter exchange emotionally at the moment,” she said. “We are all giving to each other.”
She conceded that there were more hoops to jump through and hurdles to overcome, but if travellers were working with travel professionals and reputable suppliers to guide them through protocols and preparation, it was easy to have a fabulous holiday in SA and Mozambique.
“While I have been travelling by myself in SA, it is a funny feeling when you go on holiday again during a pandemic. I was nervous. For someone who spends half her life on a plane, half the time I was questioning whether I should be doing this. I did have anxiety. In hindsight, however, every single minute was worth it.”
She appreciated fewer crowds at the airports and felt the administration was well handled. “You need a sense of flexibility because things do change and I recommend working with an agent to book flights and handle logistics.”
Bayly travelled with her two daughters, aged 11 and 12. While the plan initially was to visit Príncipe, they went to Singita (Ebony Lodge) in the Kruger National Park and then flew with Airlink from KMI Airport direct to Vilanculos. They stayed with Azura in Mozambique and from there it was back to Johannesburg and then Cape Town.
The quality of the guest experience during a safari at the moment was fantastic, she said. “Everybody just seems to love you and appreciate you that much more. They go out of their way for you. We had a private game-viewing vehicle, our own guide and tracker, as well as our own tables and private dinners so the experience was sublime.”
She said before the pandemic, guests generally had to pay up to R12 000 (US$800) a night for any safari stay with a private game-viewing vehicle and now many of the lodges were making this available to keep guests separated. Mears agreed that it sounded like a ramped-up client experience and was curious as to the type of people who were travelling in SA.
A few hiccups
Bayly had met fully vaccinated Americans, Europeans (predominantly Swiss) as well as older, well-travelled, engaged people who had visited Africa a few times already.
“One little snag, guys, that I’m going to warn you about and that I didn’t take into account is the cost of a COVID-19 PCR test on the property. The three tests at Singita came out to be R12 000 (almost $800). I hadn’t anticipated those costs, even though it included the transfer in from and back to Nelspruit. We went out on our morning game drive and the nurse came to meet us to do the test before brunch.”
Speaking with Tourism Update after the webinar, Bayly reiterated that despite this unexpected cost, the convenience of having the PCR test on safari was brilliant.
Travelling from Nelspruit to Vilanculos as a single mother had required a “raft of papers” and documentation, which seemed to be a bigger issue for the authorities than the COVID-19 documentation, she said. “Don’t forget your standard documents in the midst of meeting all the COVID-19 requirements. They really scrutinised my parental right to be travelling with two minors.”
Another hiccup was when the lab accidentally inserted an extra digit for the passport number on her daughter’s PCR test and they wouldn’t let them on to the flight. “I called Singita to help and within five minutes they had the lab resend the result with the correct passport number.”
‘Amazing sense of emotional freedom’
After that, getting into Mozambique was straightforward, without any blips, she said. Upon arrival at Azura, Benguerra Island, guests were given a rapid test as they checked in, which gave her the confidence to let her guard down a bit to relax. “Over there life is still happening at an easy-going pace and that brings an amazing sense of emotional freedom.”
Bayly told Tourism Update that the PCR test was also managed very well at Azura; it was done on the property by a nurse who came over by boat from Vilanculos.
Azura was fully booked and doing well, she said to Mears, who could also appreciate the idea of life getting on as normal in a COVID-free bubble. “There were a lot of South African families coming out to enjoy the island paradise, as well as Americans, Europeans and also some Russian guests who were visiting for 28 nights. Most people are spending seven to 11 nights in Mozambique,” she said, mainly repeat visitors to Africa and honeymoon couples.
Mears believed this could be an indication of how people would start staying longer in destinations when travel resumed properly, as opposed to hopping around doing lots of short trips.
The other guests also said travelling there had been easier than they had anticipated after they got over their sense of nervousness and anxiety, added Bayly. “Once they got going, they were like: Why on earth would I not be doing this?”
That made the restrictions imposed on travellers returning to the UK from sub-Saharan Africa absolutely ludicrous, responded Mears.
Her advice to travellers was to allocate extra time to the holiday in case they did test positive for COVID-19 during the trip. Most of the camps, lodges and resorts had facilities for self-isolating guests. “It’s not the worst thing in the world to isolate there. Some people get sick and need to be evacuated, but everyone has those procedures in place. They are also starting to require that guests be fully vaccinated.”
Bayly said while we wanted to be realistic about the complexities of travel right now, it was not that bad.
“I encourage people to come back to Africa because, without tourism, we will be in trouble. We need foot traffic, more than we had in 2019, to get conservation funds back, drive revenue into communities and offer life-altering experiences for people. You can sell Africa to your clients with absolute confidence.”