Skift Take

Reconsidering luxury in the context of experiences across African destinations is about so much more than just a wildlife safari.

The concept of luxury is as simple as needing to unpack and pack a suitcase less.

Time, the ability to rest and the opportunity to fully immerse oneself in a destination, all point to the ultimate luxury of travel itself, shifting the typical itinerary offering for countries across the African continent. For one, it’s caused a significant increase in the average nights spent in Cape Town as a destination.

Martina Barth, group sales manager for The Liz McGrath Collection, said the company has noted the average stay in Cape Town has shifted from “2 to 3 nights to as much 6 to 8 nights” per visit to the city.

Barth added that luxury travelers are typically spending “more money and time in one destination” with the desire for an immersive experience that’s a lot more authentically engaged with locals.  

The global boom in the luxury travel segment has defined how tour operators and destinations package experiences, but even more so in a Pan-African context.

African destinations are looking to transcend the appeal of safari experiences.

These were just some of the discussion points at World Travel Market Africa, in Cape Town this past week, as experts within the industry sought to define what luxury means for travelers to African destinations.

One way this is being done is through the cultivation of tour itineraries, events and festivals that foster deeper engagement, according to Christy Tawii, Euromonitor research manager, who said the Amapiano Festival in Ghana was a good example of exporting Afrobeat and music culture to grow destination appeal and tourism.   

Cultural Immersion

The focus on Africa as a safari destination further called into question the need for diversity and inclusion, especially when it comes to the concept of luxury being typically defined as a stay at a five-star lodge experience.

“Animals are not manmade and it’s important to decolonize this narrative of animals when it comes to the tourism offering of Africa,” said Koyo Kouoh, executive director and chief curator, Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa (Zeitz MOCAA).

Advocating for the power of museums and art to bring a diversified city tourism experience, Kouoh said the fact that art is seen as a luxury is “a contradiction of Africa’s development and creativity.” She noted the deep artistic heritage and grounding that art provides across the continent, as the museum based in Cape Town’s V&A Waterfront looked to showcase emerging artists from across the continent.

Bheki Dube, founder and CEO of Curiocity Hybrid Hotels, added that it was important establishments cultivated engagement through alternative experiences as travelers look to connect, rather than just stay in a particular destination.  

“Art gives common purpose and dismantles walls,” said Dube as he referenced Ghana‘s Year of the Return activation, which ignited the “curiosity of a large community of diaspora tribes.”

Dube said diversity in luxury experiences could be as simplistic as collaborations between Zeitz MOCAA and Chimurenga, a pan African platform of writing, art and politics, as it looked to amplify lesser-known artists and voices in world-class space like the Zeitz museum. He added that Curiocity is already focused on curated community experiences, such as the Yeoville’s Dinner Club in Johannesburg, which lets travelers break bread while having conversations with local artists as an example.

It was essential for conversations about blackness to go beyond the continent, Kouoh added, and with the increased focus on Africa’s diverse offering, it called for communication that allowed people to actually find these cultural experiences, thereby expanding the focus beyond wildlife experiences alone.

“The power of the story being told is the biggest opportunity – compelling, grounding challenging – and it is profoundly linked to our humanity. True stories have the ability to renew ourselves and others,” said Kouoh.   

When Staff Members Tell the Stories

It was a sentiment echoed by Kim Gunnell, MICE Sales Manager for the Radisson Group, who said, “Staff are the biggest asset when it comes to luxury hospitality. It‘s no longer a scripted experience and being unseen. Guests value interaction for authentic memorability that you can’t put a price tag on.”

The access to staff for hospitality services sets African destinations apart, according to Sabine Lehmann, founder of African Association of Visitor Experiences and Attractions and owner of consultancy agency, Curiositas. Having just spent a month in Berlin, Lehmann noted that tourism across African destinations was unique in comparison to Europe, where staff shortages meant that certain services in hospitality were just too expensive.

“On that level alone it couldn’t compare with destinations like South Africa. Hospitality and tourism with its low barrier to entry, was a way to curb high unemployment, while providing unparalleled luxury through service,” she added.

Gunnell and Barth both highlighted the importance of upskilling and empowering staff to be brand ambassadors within the hospitality segment as guest feedback positively pointed to the engagement with staff as a way to delight but to also add value to a guest’s stay, through their unique local perspective, recommendations and destination knowledge.

A Balance of Experiences

Ultimately African countries cannot and certainly don’t want to shake the wildlife safari positioning altogether. However, access plays a huge role in bridging any diversity gaps.

Increased collaboration between public and private sectors was a means to create a more inclusive tourism sector, said Velma Corcoran, regional lead, Middle East Africa at Airbnb.

“We see that many of our hosts who have access to homes are older, but the younger, more tech savvy hosts tend to be able to host experiences.”

She used Airbnb’s latest Waterberg project, done in partnership with the Endangered Wildlife Trust and Waterberg Tourism, as an example with its hosted African cultural beer brewing to a guided experience with former anti-poaching dogs. These experiences spread access to lesser-visited destinations and disadvantaged communities, said Corcoran. It also made it easier to extend the value of tourism beyond the traditional safari.


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Tags: africa, airbnb, cape town, euromonitor, experiences, ghana, luxury, radisson, south africa, tour operators, tours and activities, Travel Experiences, world travel market

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