With new products and services, the tourism industry in southern Africa is quickly understanding the needs, wants, and spending power of the authenticity-seeking, hyper-connected millennial traveler.
With its bespoke mobile app, disruptive room decor and dedication to curated experiences, the Radisson RED Cape Town, which opened in September, is a bellwether of the shift. The Carlson Rezidor Hotel Group evidently sees potential in the millennial market in South Africa: It’s just the fourth of 60 Radisson RED hotels the group plans to open worldwide by 2020.
A homegrown competitor hitting similar touchpoints is the Protea Hotels Fire & Ice brand, launched in 2006, with features that include in-house DJs, high-speed Wi-Fi and an Instagrammable pool deck.
“We’re no longer just in the business of selling rooms,” said Avukile Mabombo, group marketing manager for Protea Hotels. “From public spaces to services to entertainment, the full hotel experience has become so much more important.”
Mabombo flags intra-African millennial travel as a key growth point for the rest of the decade as cross-border collaboration booms, particularly in creative industries. Marriott International acquired Protea Hotels in 2014 in a $141.1 million (ZAR 2 billion) deal. It’ll be interesting to watch if Marriott will expand the Fire & Ice brand, or launch its own millennial-friendly Moxy brand into Africa.
Regardless of the name, the sustainability credentials of the property may drive purchasing decisions. Many African cities are resource-restricted, and whether it’s tackling water scarcity in Cape Town or energy-saving in Accra, “millennial travelers are going to start making hotels more accountable,” Mabombo said.
Safari Operators Adapt
While city hotels are obvious targets for millennial-focused brands, safari operators are also courting younger travelers. The millennial market is even impacting how safari holidays are marketed and booked. Travel agents still may deal with the details, but image-rich social media threads increasingly inspire safari travel.
“The millennial generation is all about authentic experience, about writing their own scripts, telling their own stories,” said Lindy Rousseau, director of sales and marketing for luxury safari and conservation company Singita, where rates are above $1,800 per person per night. While it’s typically their parents picking up the tab, “once they arrive, we know what they want.”
That means high-speed Wi-Fi regardless of the lodge’s remote location, flexible safari activities infused with unique experiences, and the opportunity for authentic community engagement. That could mean meeting the graduates of the Singita School of Cooking, a local upliftment and training project, or understanding the reforestation projects at Singita’s Rwandan lodge set to launch in 2019.
Another safari operator, an experiential travel company called AndBeyond, has similarly adapted its offering. Alongside the safari staples of twice-daily game drives and sundowners on the savannah, guests can volunteer in community projects and engage in hands-on conservation projects, working alongside veterinarians and rangers to ear-notch endangered white rhinoceroses.
Local Travelers Important Too
The future is as much about local travelers as inbound millennials, however.
“South African millennials travel a lot, have sizeable budgets, and are adventurous,” said Sean Kritzinger, managing director and co-owner of tour operator Giltedge.
But as much as their aspirations are similar, their limited spending power — compared to inbound millennials — has led to specific local product offerings.
For example, free Wi-Fi is an essential offering for hotels looking to capture the millennial market because the country’s mobile data costs are inflated. There’s also the issue of limited access to credit, which has forced airlines to develop distribution channels in mid-level supermarkets and through in-store charge cards.
Further, what the travelers want is slightly different. The local millennial traveler “still cares about brand and brag value, whilst foreign travelers want a more meaningful and mindful experience,” noted Mariette du Toit-Helmbold, a destination marketing expert based in the Cape winelands.