An expanding definition of wellness experiences that includes self-actualization and adventure as much as farm-fresh meals and sophisticated spa treatments is positioning African destinations and operators to become the next leaders in the luxury wellness travel market.
Unlike Europe or Asia, luxury travelers don’t often head to Africa with a wellness-focused trip in mind – meaning destinations and hospitality companies there have traditionally missed out on the reportedly $3.7 trillion wellness industry, of which tourism contributes revenue of around $563.2 billion.
While luxury travel in Africa is still very focused on wildlife and wilderness, more luxury travelers are starting to seek wellness and holistic experiences in even the most remote destinations and luxury hospitality operators across the continent are asking themselves what a safari vacation or extreme outdoor adventure looks like through the lens of wellness.
Integrating Wellness into Luxury Safaris
Once indulgent holidays marked by gin and tonics and elaborate buffets, safaris are taking a two-pronged approach in introducing wellness.
Executives view wellness as experiences that reset travelers’ perspectives and priorities while also re-conceptualizing their spa and dining offerings.
“What has been interesting in our continued analysis of the guest experience is that ‘Wellness’ is not necessarily a separate quest – like visiting a hotel spa or detoxing on a particular health menu to meet one’s needs,” said Tom Fels, CEO of safari lodge operator Singita. “What Singita offers is a holistic experience; in the space, the quiet, the integration with nature, our people, our purposeful conservation and community work, whilst accompanied by thoughtful and relevant food offerings and the opportunity to exercise or relax the body or mind. The total result of which is a transformative wellness experience.”
As Skift highlighted in its 2018 Megatrends, personal fulfillment is the new ultimate luxury.
“The future of wellness is likely not in a spa, a gym, or a menu, but a well contemplated guest experience that is intuitive to the needs of each individual – and in this frantic world, that epitomizes luxury for the modern traveler,” Fels said.
That said, Singita, which operates 12 luxury safari lodges across southern Africa and the Serengeti, is consistently re-conceptualizing its experience for a sophisticated traveler that expects the wellness to be ingrained or at least available. For example, the spa at Singita’s lodges in Kruger National Park—Lebombo and Sweni—was redesigned in 2017 and it introduced new products using local organic ingredients.
Joss Kent, CEO of andBeyond, echoed this idea of wellness as enrichment.
“Health and wellness are an increasingly larger part of travel, but these can mean different things to different people. We’re seeing that guests are traveling, not to escape their daily lives, but to enrich them,” Kent said.
“Guests are looking to slow down and a safari effectively commandeers your schedule immediately with very early-morning and late-afternoon/evening game drives, and sitting around a campfire until late in the evening,” he said. “On safari, you don’t have to manage the winding-down process, it automatically happens on arrival.”
The opportunity to disconnect is also a major draw for a safari vacation.
“We make it easier to disconnect by trying to limit the connectivity options at our camps to our designed-by-nature lodge rooms,” Kent said.
The connection between wellness and culture is perhaps more obvious at andBeyond’s locations outside the bush — for example, its India itineraries offer meditation and yoga-focused retreats while the latest addition to its portfolio, andBeyond Vira Vira in Chile, has a farm-to-table restaurant with an all-organic, local and in-season kitchen. However, the brand is starting to incorporate more wellness into the African safari experience.
andBeyond Bateleur Camp recently reopened in Kenya’s Masai Mara with a spa and fitness center overlooking the Mara vista, andBeyond Phinda Rock Lodge reopened last year with a rooftop deck for sunrise yoga and meditation, and andBeyond Sossusvlei Desert Lodge recently introduced fat bike tours through the Namib Desert.
Dining also plays a role in luxury safaris’ evolution for wellness-minded travelers.
Singita partnered with Cape Town chef Liam Tomlin in 2017 to craft more sophisticated conscious menus that include fresh, local ingredients. Not only is the menu reminiscent of fine dining, but there’s a strong farm-to-table emphasis with 80 percent of fresh fruit and vegetables coming from local farms.
Extreme Wellness Across Africa
One of the eight major wellness trends identified by the Global Wellness Summit this year was “extreme wellness,” which often manifests as extreme high-end travel experiences.
“For many wellness seekers, it’s no longer ‘cool’ to simply kick back on the beach or by the pool having treatments or even take a simple experiential, transformative yoga retreat. Instead, they are looking for one-of- a-kind excursions and ‘survivor-style’ challenges. Disconnection is the key—there is no smartphone for Google Maps or a ‘quick’ peek at work emails—only complete engagement in what they’re doing,” the report reads.
One of the most recognized extreme vacations in the world is hiking Mt. Kilimanjaro, a mental and physical challenge that appeals to luxury wellness warriors.
Luxury tour operator Abercrombie & Kent runs a high-end tour to the top with a 97-percent summit success rate, 6-to-1 porter-to-guest ratio, and guide that doubles as coach with verbal checks, oxygen readings, and hydration guidance. The company prepares custom meals designed for fueling travelers up the mountain, which it serves three times a day. These are the most services and amenities provided by any operator with the 9-night journey starting at $6,895 per person.
The Kilimanjaro trip exemplifies how extreme wellness in Africa can be highly refined for the luxury client.
“I love the uniqueness of A&K and how it really is tailor-made and very individualistic but at the same time you have the comfort of knowing you’re within the hands of the best people,” said Sean Harrison, executive vice president of Kingdom Hotel Investments, who hiked Mt. Kilimanjaro through Abercrombie & Kent in February 2018.
“They know exactly what to do if anything goes wrong and there is always the support there. They take away all the difficulties in traveling both in terms of planning and in terms of when you’re actually on the ground.”
Harrison said the solitude of the mountains and the feeling of just getting away from it all are what drove him to this extreme wellness adventure.
Hotels in cities are also going to new lengths to integrate their surroundings into their wellness offerings
The Belmond Mount Nelson in Cape Town, South Africa, is a traditional luxury hotel that recently innovated on its wellness offerings. Among the new experiences is a yoga excursion to the top of Table Mountain where guests can take a yoga class and have tea and snacks with iconic views.
On the dining side, guests can visit a farm in a local township, learn about its community work and pick their own vegetables before returning to the hotel where chefs turn their produce into a fresh salad. The Belmond Mount Nelson Hotel’s executive chef Rudi Liebenberg also this year introduced a five-course menu created from unwanted or “fashionably rejected” parts of fruits, vegetables, meat, and fish used in the hotel’s kitchen as the nose-to-tail movement spreads through South Africa.
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Photo credit: The spa at Singita's Faru Faru Lodge in Grumeti in northern Tanzania. Singita