As the coronavirus pandemic ebbs and countries begin to ease restrictions, many of us are keen to think ahead about international travel, perhaps rebooking a once-in-a-lifetime trip that had to be postponed this summer.
Hotel and aviation industry experts predict a ‘less often, but more lavish’ approach after lockdown – with remote locations, flying private, and hyper-personalized service in higher demand – and Africa is a place that neatly ticks every box.
From unparalleled wildlife, including seeing mountain gorillas in Rwanda and Tanzania’s Great Migration, and romantic landscapes, to idyllic castaway island escapes; the continent has to be one of the most inspiring and varied (over 50 countries make up its territory) travel destinations on the planet.
“Africa has always been a sought-after travel destination for the luxury market, its wild spaces and legendary wildlife offer travelers a unique experience compared to destinations around the world,” says Marcelo Novais, managing director of leading safari specialists, Ker and Downey Africa, who have pioneered travel there since the mid-90s.
While the continent has open spaces and small occupancy hotels in spades and can provide normality through seclusion and natural versus artificial distancing, there is a growing desire for a more socially and environmentally impactful experience among luxury travelers.
Something which experts from some of the world’s most exclusive suppliers agree is also helping to secure the continent’s place at the top of the luxury traveler’s bucket list.
“The remote luxury lodges here play an integral role in preserving the continent’s wildlife through conservation projects and the upliftment of surrounding communities,” Novais continues. “Many suppliers employ and work with members of the local community, running schools and programs which rely heavily on tourism and donations.
Reactivating tourism to remote corners of Africa will play a large part in contributing to the continued upliftment of local communities and protecting endangered wildlife species.”
A sentiment echoed by Mindy Roberts, director of marketing and sales at Time + Tide, whose private-island hotel, Miavana, just off the north-eastern coast of Madagascar, expects to welcome guests back later this year. “Conservation and sustainability are important. Tourism creates a buffer, and with the lockdown Africa was vulnerable – no travel and fewer jobs resulted in pressure on communities and, ultimately, poaching.
This continent is full of Disney moments, but if you want your children to see a wild lion or lemur in its natural habitat, book a trip now.”
According to Ker and Downey Africa, the impeccable service provided by lodges in protected private reserves and strict measures the travel industry in Africa is taking in light of Covid-19 is already resulting in an influx of luxury travelers seeking safari destinations for next year. And for those with flexible schedules who can take advantage of last-minute bookings, even sooner.
Pamela Saliba, executive director of One Nature Hotels and Resorts, whose Nyaruswiga Serengeti Lodge ensures staff quarantine two weeks before each guest group arrival, has already had reservations for the end of July. “Safari properties are not confined – there are no hallways or elevators – even during full capacity it’s always felt private here, guests can eat a la carte poolside or on the astral observation deck.
Many countries here also have low populations in general, and safari regions even less, so there’s no better place for social distancing than Africa.”
One of the least impacted countries, with fewer than 100 cases of Covid-19, Botswana has also reopened for domestic travel with plans to welcome back international tourists, starting 18th July. “It’s a very high impact and low volume destination, so the ideal place to go,” says Cindy Boshoff, sales and marketing director of Belmond Safaris, who also shared that private jet arrival requests have increased for September and October. “Belmond’s first two hotels in Italy recently reopened, giving us an idea of guest feedback. We’re currently working with the Botswana Tourism Organization on cleaning and safety protocols across our lodges (Savute, Eagle Island, and Khwai River); it’s nice to know that people want to and have started, travelling again.”
Co-founder of Azura Retreats, Stella Belttany, said her teams are ready to welcome guests back to their eco-friendly private island getaways off Mozambique’s coast. “Most people think of us as an add on destination to Southern Africa, but Qatar and Ethiopian both fly here directly, making it an easy hop from the mainland. Social distancing comes naturally at Azura – it’s easy to get out on to the beach and not see another soul.”
Despite reports that South Africa would be off-limits to international tourism until 2021, the Tourism Business Council of South Africa has since pushed for a September opening with Delta Airlines’ new joint service to Cape Town and Johannesburg slated to return in October. Simon Mandy, director of sales and marketing at Royal Portfolio, believes now is the perfect time to jump on that Kruger National Park, Winelands, and Garden Route road trip itinerary.
“We’re currently experiencing 20 to 25 percent of bookings coming in for this year, with a balance 75 to 80 percent for 2021. I suspect this will change once the government announces the opening of international borders. Still, hotels and lodges across the region are small and already have low occupancy, so the destination as a whole is perfect for the anxious post-Covid-19 traveler. Reservations are flexible right now – but don’t delay, it’s filling up fast!”
LLM July 2020 (Keri Bridgewater)