Operators see brighter days for Africa tourism in 2015

This year has not been as easy one for the travel industry in Africa. The Ebola epidemic, although contained to West Africa, had a devastating impact on travel to the entire continent.

Tour operators are confident, however, that 2015 will be a successful year for travel to Africa. They explain travelers have increasingly started becoming curious, active and engaged with the world around them. They want authentic and unique experiences, and what better continent to offer this than Africa?

The following are some exciting developments tour operators say we can expect for travel to Africa in 2015:

Authenticity in travel: Authenticity will continue to be an important consideration for travelers wanting to explore Africa. Joss Kent, CEO of andBeyond, says: “Guests want to really experience the place they are visiting and feel a full cultural immersion. The modern luxury traveler is a global citizen. He or she doesn’t want a sterile, postcard vacation but would prefer to meet the local communities, see where the food is grown on our lodge properties, and really get to know the staff and hear their stories.”

Karen Cleary, Boundless Journeys, explains people are beginning to understand Africa has much more to offer than just wildlife safaris. She says: “The new We Are Africa [travel trade] show seems to really be pushing the concept of tourism in Africa being about much more than ‘just safaris.’”

Marcia Gordon, Extraordinary Journeys, agrees but says travelers generally do not want a full cultural immersion program. She explains: “Travelers are curious and interested and want to learn about the people in the areas they visit. They value authentic experiences, and many are thrilled to visit the homes or villages of their drivers or guides or to find small interesting shops or visit schools [or] clinics supported by the camps/lodges.”

Walking safaris: The new year will see an increase in active holidays in Africa. Gordon explains walking safaris will be a big hit for 2015. She explains that especially in Zambia, Zimbabwe and South Africa, there is an increased availability of walking experiences.

Cleary agrees activities such as walking safaris are being requested more and more. She says: “The tremendous growth in active travel that has been seen in trips to other areas of the world will certainly be filtering into African travel; it’s just a matter of time.”

Jim Holden, the president of African Travel, explained at the World Travel Market in London walking safaris in Zambia were voted the best safari experience in 2014. He said active safaris have also grown in popularity, with quad biking, cycling and running among the activities offered in several African countries.

According to Kent, andBeyond has witnessed a growing interest from guests to include active components to their safaris. He explains: “Many of our lodges are on private concessions, which allows for bush walks, a tactile way to experience the wildlife and landscape, seeing things from elephant footprints to dung beetles. We’ve also launched a biking tour at Lake Manyara Tree Lodge led by the local community that has been very popular.”

Photo safaris: Photo safaris are expected to become a popular choice for U.S. travelers in 2015. Gordon explains an increasing number of travelers is requesting to spend time with a professional photographer and learn to take better safari photos. She says: “We have several trips like this traveling in 2015 and have gotten a significant number of requests that express interest in this kind of experience.”

More specialized safaris: According to Cleary, there will be an increase in specialized safaris in 2015. “Clients will be planning entire trips around a specific event or a specific species, or at least building these elements into more general wildlife safaris,” she said, adding that this year, Boundless Journeys offered a special event safari in Zimbabwe timed to coincide with July’s “supermoon” so that clients could camp out at a watering hole in Hwange National Park to assist game warden’s with an elephant census.

Focus on conservation: The plight of rhinos has not gone unnoticed by travelers, who want to help and make a difference. In South Africa alone, over 791 rhinos have been killed by poaching in 2014.

“We have seen an increase in travelers interested in partaking in conservation efforts as part of the trend of responsible travel,” Kent said. “This can involve visiting an animal sanctuary or participating in animal monitoring programs.”

Gordon also expects an increase in interest for conservation-focused safaris. She says: “All of the attention on rhino and elephant poaching is really helping generate interest from travelers in engaging with these issues while traveling,” she said. “This can include visiting the Daphne Sheldrick Elephant Orphanage in Nairobi, walking with a former poacher in Tsavo, learning about anti-poaching efforts in Lewa or Ol Pejeta in Kenya or rhino-tracking and -notching at Phinda or Kwandwe.”

The article is by Dorine Reinstein in Travel Weekly