Selling South Africa: Agents Share Insights, Advice

by Dori Saltzman

South Africa is a complex destination with lots of must-see sights and myriad accommodation choices. For agents, planning a South African vacation requires a bit more knowledge and skill than, say, booking a one-week cruise.

And because South Africa is often a once-in-a-lifetime trip for clients, travel sellers need to get every detail spot on.

To give agents with little to no experience selling South Africa a leg up, Travel Market Report asked South Africa specialists to advise their colleagues about what they need to know when it comes to planning, booking and marketing South Africa.

Here’s what they said.

Best client prospects
“South Africa offers something for a lot of different clients – things like culinary experiences, adventure, wildlife and wine. Demographics don’t come into play too much, because there are so many price points.” – Donna Evans, owner, Team Travel / Andavo Travel, Aurora, Colo. 

Joe Gandolfo

“They’re usually people who have traveled to Europe several times and are looking for something different. These are usually not first-time travelers, unless they have some kind of cultural reason for going to South Africa.” – Joe Gandolfo, travel planner, The Travel Center / American Express, Kendall Park, N.J.

“Just about everyone – especially clients who've taken adventure vacations or love the outdoors are great prospects for South Africa.” – Margie Jordan, CTA, CEO, Jordan Executive Travel Service, Jacksonville, Fla.

“Suggest South Africa to clients looking for something different. When I see clients are unsure of where to go, I say, ‘I wouldn’t suppose South Africa would be of interest to you?’ I then tell them about my experience and how diversified the destination is. It has worked.” – Barbara Jathas, Skyway Travel, Ossining, N.Y.

Promoting South Africa
“Offering client webinars with South African vendors is an excellent way to showcase the beauty of the destination. Events with an African theme are great too. It helps to bring the atmosphere to your clients and get them excited about going. I've found that social media is a great avenue to market Africa. It's the perfect venue to start those conversations and build up a following of those that want to visit Africa.” – Jordan

Donna Evans

“Whenever I get an offer that I think is exceptional, I go through my list of clients and send it out. But I don’t send it to everyone. I only send it to those that might really be interested.” – Evans

“It does not take a lot of convincing, because South Africa is on so many people’s bucket list.” – Connie Ebright, owner, Ebright Travel, Glendale, Calif. 

Spotlighting your expertise
“I have a blog,, that provides great travel information on South Africa. I continually talk about my travels, showcase my photos and share Africa every chance I get.” – Jordan

Connie Ebright

My website is devoted to Africa. My business cards have an image of safari animals and state that I am a safari specialist. And I blog and twitter about specific camps or hotels in Africa I have visited.” – Ebright

“I used Facebook, email and all kinds of social networking to show pictures of where I went in South Africa and to describe places. That piqued the interest of some people, who then contacted me about going.” – Gandolfo

Reasons (for you) to go
“It is much more effective when you can say, ‘I’ve been there; I’ve seen it. Let me tell you something about it.’ Clients trust me more because I’ve been there. They’d rather speak to someone with personal knowledge than go on the Internet.” – Gandolfo

“Most clients realize how many options there are for South Africa. They get totally frustrated trying to decipher the differences between all the accommodations and which are the most game-rich areas. That is something that requires someone who has been there many times and who has site-inspected or stayed in most of the lodges. Clients who book on their own quickly learn that the Internet can lie, and photoshopped images are not always as they seem.” – Ebright

Determine what’s important
“It’s best to know what you want before you start booking. You need to qualify your clients; you need to find out what their activity level is, what their interests are. Do they want to see cats or elephants?” – Evans

Must-sees for first-timers
“A must-see in Cape Town is Cape Point, where the cold Atlantic meets the warm Indian Ocean. It has unique flora and fauna found only in this one place in the world. Tour the Winelands for spectacular wine tasting.” – Ebright

Margie Jordan

“If in Cape Town, book a trip to Robben Island and take the historical tour to understand South Africa's history. Sun City is the Vegas of South Africa. It's absolutely gorgeous. Be sure to keep your doors and windows locked – the baboons are pretty smart and they will get into unlocked rooms and raid the refrigerator.”– Jordan

“Cape Town has so much to offer; there are vineyards and penguins; there’s the city. It’s both urban and bucolic. You can see all kinds of things just by basing yourself in Cape Town and taking day trips.” – Gandolfo

Safari advice
“In my opinion Kruger is a great game park, but the private reserves are an even better experience. It’s a really good idea to combine them. Do a few nights in Krueger and then do a few nights at a private game park to get the different experiences.  Do part of it in a lodge, part of it in a tented camp; that way you get a unique experience.” – Evans

Options for return visitors
“The Drakensburg Mountains, the Garden Route and God's Window, Durban, Soweto, Kruger National Park, the many cultural villages, Pretoria, the Cradle of Humankind, the Big Hole and other diamond mines.” – Jordan

Experiential vacations

“Take a hot air balloon ride over the South Africa bush. Sleep outside in a treehouse in the South African bush. For the adventure lovers, hike the wild coast, surf or even bungee jump. Swim with penguins, ride an ostrich, or dive with the great white sharks.” – Jordan

“Durban has got the largest Indian population outside of India, so it’s got not only fabulous beaches but great cuisine. So that would be a great culinary experience. And if they are divers, there’s the Sardine Run [May to July].” – Evans

Use a reliable partner
“South Africa is large; no individual agent can have seen or lived all of it. So using a reputable tour operator is extremely important. By reputable, I mean a tour operator that specializes in that area. There are tour operators that service the entire globe; they’re not specialists.” – Gandolfo

“South Africa is a little different. If you haven't been, you must work with someone who has. Find a supplier that has the knowledge to build the experience your clients are looking for.” – Jordan

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