Special interest markets for travel to South Africa are dynamic and growing. For agents, these niche markets can deliver disproportionately healthy returns. That’s because the economic impact of these relatively small markets far outweighs their numbers, according to those who specialize in these areas.
“Special interest clients are inclined to stay longer and spend more than the average visitor,” said Andre Botha, marketing and sales director for the destination management company Trans Africa Safaris, a Virtuoso and Signature preferred supplier. This is true whether they travel in groups or as individuals.
Demographic niche markets – notably gays and lesbians, African-Americans and multigenerational families – comprise the largest segment of special interest travelers to South Africa. Travelers with specific interests, including food and wine, photography and rail travel, make up the second largest segment of this market.
To help travel agents identify the best opportunities in special interest travel to South Africa, Travel Market Report spoke with South Africa destination management companies and tour operators.
Market size: “At least a quarter of a million gay and lesbian individuals or couples could travel to South Africa from the U.S. – if appropriately marketed to,” said Kenneth Heiber, president of Gay2Afrika, a division of 2Afrika.
Who’s going: Well-traveled professionals, ages 30 to 60, predominate. Gay men make up the majority, as they travel more than lesbians generally, according to Joel Cabrera, co-founder of Zoom Vacations.
Couples rule the gay market, especially couples celebrating honeymoons, anniversaries, and birthdays. Single gay travelers tend to buy into pre-packaged gay groups, said Heiber, adding that he also sees singles traveling to South Africa to attend pride events.
Gay families are a growing segment. “The gay and lesbian family unit is becoming stronger and stronger by the moment. They’re traveling to South Africa because there’s a high comfort level there toward gay and lesbian people, and it’s an enormously popular family destination,” Heiber said.
Potential for agents: Both gay-focused companies, Gay2Afrika and Zoom Vacations, work closely with travel sellers; the gay market enjoys working through travel agents, Heiber said.
Also, “the gay and lesbian market talks,” Heiber said, and that makes its word of mouth impact particularly strong. If one couple in a social circle jets off to South Africa and stays at a fabulous game lodge, they’ll tell everyone about it. “All of a sudden, everybody wants to go to that particular spot. Just because it’s in and Ken went there.” This “bragging rights” phenomenon is more prevalent in the gay and lesbian market than in the mainstream market, Heiber said.
Tour choices: FIT vacations are preferred by 60% of the gay market, Heiber said. Gay travelers’ destination and activity choices mirror those of mainstream travelers – safaris and Cape Town – sometimes with Victoria Falls add-ons.
Vacations of 10 to 12 days are typical, with costs starting at $6,000 per person, or higher, Heiber said. Zoom Vacations’ 12-day pre-packed tour retails from $7,599, and many people extend their time, Cabrera said.
Caveats: Don’t look at the gay market as a cash cow waiting to be milked, Heiber cautioned agents. Agents need to brand themselves as either openly gay or very gay-friendly to avoid this perception, he said.
Agent education: A weekly online radio show called One Voice From Africa features Heiber’s insights into different aspects of South Africa vacations. Heiber will do special shows for individual agencies to educate its travel sellers.
Market size: “The African-American market is enormous,” said Heiber, whose parent company 2Afrika frequently arranges group trips for African-American groups. One upcoming group for the Christian Cultural Center of Brooklyn has 65 participants.
Who’s going: Groups and older middle-aged adults make up the bulk of African-American travel to South Africa, said Ndela Edwards, president of E-Z Tours. Cultural groups with church and fraternal organizations are most popular. Family groups are also popular, but not the reunion-style family groups often associated with African-Americans. Average age is 55 to 65, according to Edwards; children comprise just 4% of her passengers.
Potential for agents: The African-American market is a great niche for travel agents, Heiber said. “Few people have taken the time nowadays to go to the African-American market and remind them that you can afford a trip to South Africa, then put something together.”
Tour preferences: African-American group tours are typically culturally oriented and eight nights long, Edwards said. “Black Americans generally don’t travel just to see the big five,” she said. Popular tour destinations include: Johannesburg. Soweto and the Apartheid Museum; Cape Town and Robben Island; and the District Six Museum. Durban is also often requested, because of the Zulu people and the legend of Shaka Zulu.
Costs for an average E-Z African-American tour are about $3,500 per person, including air.
Market size: Multigenerational travelers are African Portfolio’s fastest-growing special interest market, according to Yvette De Vries, the destination management company’s senior consultant and African specialist.
Who’s going: FIT vacations for multiple sets of two generations (i.e. siblings and their kids, cousins and their kids, etc.) or three generations, with grandparents frequently paying to bring their kids and grandkids on safari, are most common.
Potential for agents: Safari vacations and South Africa’s large variety of activities, providing something of interest to diverse family members, make the destination a good fit for multigenerational groups, De Vries said.
Tour preferences: Because of budget constraints – one party often foots the bill – multigenerational tours tend to be slightly shorter than mainstream trips, averaging about 10 days. Budgets range from moderate to luxury.
Yvette De Vries
Tours that include two to three destinations are typical, with flex days built in, so individuals can pursue their separate interests. The first two destinations typically are safari game lodges and Cape Town. Third destinations vary by interest; options include: the Blyde River Canyon, the Garden Route or the Northern Natal coastal beaches.
Caveats: When choosing safari lodges for multigenerational groups, children’s ages must be considered, as some lodges don’t allow children and others are very child-friendly. Many require families with kids to pay extra for a private game vehicle.
Building flexibility into itineraries is key. “Itineraries have to be structured so that everybody isn’t doing the same thing every minute of the day, because grandparents don’t want to be stimulated all the time, and grandkids can’t stand to listen to 10 minutes of a guide explaining something of historical interest, De Vries said.”
Culinary and Wine Travel
Market size: Some 300,000 to 350,000 people (sourced globally) visit South Africa every year with wine experiences as a major reason for their trips, according to Darren Humphreys, president of Travel Sommelier.
Who’s going: Couples ranging in age from 25 to 49 predominate, while some older clients bring their families, Humphreys said. The 55-and-up market is also large for wine and culinary tourism, he added.
Few come for wine alone, but it is increasingly common to add on a significant number of days dedicated to visiting Cape Town and the wine region. “For these people, wine and culinary is not an addendum to a safari trip. It’s a bona fide goal of their trips,” Humphreys said.
Potential for agents: Wine and culinary travel is the biggest niche growth market in South Africa, in Humphrey’s view. South Africa’s wine region is one of the most visually spectacular wine regions in the world; it produces great wines, and the number of top-quality restaurants there is growing. “Visitors are just as keen to learn about South African food, as they are to eat. That means cooking classes and meeting chefs.”
Tour preferences: Ten days is the typical length of a Travel Sommelier itinerary, Humphreys said. Safaris usually constitute half to two-thirds of the trip, and Cape Town and the surrounding wine country the remainder. Wine-focused add-ons include VIP tastings, meet and greets with vintners and chefs, food/wine pairings, etc., and cost about $250 per person per day, not including accommodations.
Agent education: Exploring the Wines of South Africa website (www.wosa.co.za) is the best way to learn, Humphreys said. The site includes product information, marketing materials and more, and agents can contact the site directly for additional help.
Other Special Interest Markets
Photography: Photography, as an added safari element is definitely a growing trend. “Photography is becoming a big special interest trip. Most lodges are offering specialist photography courses while on safari or specialist photographic guides to help people get the most out of their equipment,” said Natasha Smith, Africa manager for Africa Answers, a DMC.
Luxury rail: Rail is another definite niche, said Trans Africa Safari’s Botha. “South Africa has two magnificent luxury rail experiences in the Blue Train and Rovos Rail. Both trains have a great reputation and are popular.”
Community engagement: Philanthropy and community engagement is another growing special interest, Botha said. “Clients are looking for life-enriching and educational experiences. It’s not just about the lovely hotels, lodges, restaurants and experiences, but also learning and interacting firsthand with the local, often impoverished, communities.”