African Travel, the 40-plus year old Africa specialist tour operator of The Travel Corporation, rolled out its 2019 selection of tour and safari offerings, including eight new itineraries and several programs with enhancements to accommodate the evolving market. In total, the company is offering 31 itineraries in its new brochure, mostly in Eastern and Southern Africa and one in Egypt.
With much travel being sold today from the standpoint of immersive experiences, African Travel has brightened up its tours with more eye-catching inclusions and alluring experiences, such as: a helicopter ride over Victoria Falls, walking safaris in Zambia, canoeing in traditional mokoros, gorilla treks in the mountain rainforest, dinner in a traditional African boma, a dinner cruise on the Zambezi River, immersion in urban culture in Cape Town, and of course, game drives — delivering an array of opportunities for wildlife viewing in many diverse environments across the region.
The elements of cultural immersion are being strengthened in the programs because, according to Sherwin Banda, president of African Travel, most travelers go to Africa the first time for its unique wildlife, but return for other things. As the market evolves more and Africa attracts more first-time visitors, many are also returning for additional experiences.
“People would always say, ‘We are going for the wildlife. We want to be able to see Africa’s Big Five and experience a safari,’” said Banda. “But something else happens when they are in the destination. They fall in love with the local people. And many times, when you ask people upon their return if there is any feedback they can share, they often tell us, ‘We went for the animals, but we definitely will be returning for the people.’”
Repackaging the hits
In a new brochure, the company selected some of its “absolute perennial favorite itineraries,” said Banda, and bundled them with air. “We wanted to make it as easy as possible for travel agents, and for travelers to see the experience on the African continent.”
One of the most popular itineraries is “Southern Explorer.” Banda said: “It’s one of the top itineraries for a first-time visitor to South Africa. It begins with a stay in Cape Town, the Mother City, with a diversity of experiences for everyone at every age. After experiencing Cape Town, then they go on a safari at Kruger National Park, which is the size of the state of New Jersey, and there is an abundance of wildlife to see there.” The trip culminates at Victoria Falls on the Zambezi River, which forms the border between Zimbabwe and Zambia.
On the “South Africa’s Natural Wonders” journey, the operator takes people behind the scenes to observe conservation activities up close. After visiting Cape Town, visitors stay in two nature reserves: Grootbos Private Nature Reserve and Shamwari Private Game Reserve.
“Born Free is located on the Shamwari reserve, and recently the Born Free organization rescued a lion that was held in captivity in Europe,” said Banda. “His name is King. They rescued him to be roaming in his own space at Shamwari Game Reserve. You get to see how Shamwari works with animals to prepare them to return to the wild. You have a front-seat view, really coming close to these amazing animals. These are the kinds of experiences that we are able to create for clients.”
This year, to enhance the “Southern Explorer” program at no additional cost, the company has included a sunset dinner cruise on Zambezi and a scenic helicopter ride over Victoria Falls.
Beyond the beaten path in Botswana
Another of the enhanced, repackaged favorites is “Best of Botswana with Victoria Falls,” which offers a very different view of Africa from the more popular destinations.
“One of the reasons I love Botswana,” said Banda, “is because the government of Botswana has curbed the size of private camps. They want to be sure that the savannah does not become saturated with tented camps, for example, because at the end of day, it is animal habitat and that’s what they want to protect. So, you couldn’t have huge camps in Botswana — like Kenya or even perhaps in South Africa — because the government wanted to ensure that wildlife is the focus rather than having many people in the savannah. They wanted to limit the human footprint.”
Also unique about Botswana is the water safari experience in the Okavango Delta. “You can traverse many parts of the Delta and really come close to the wildlife on the river channels,” said Banda. “In the floods after the rain, you can see crocodiles on the river banks from a different vantage point because their behavior changes around water.”
The Botswana/Victoria Falls program also includes a scenic helicopter ride over Victoria Falls and a sunset dinner cruise on Zambezi. “On the cruise on Zambezi River, you can experience the rainforest around Victoria,” said Banda, “which is absolutely amazing. It has its own ecosystem around the Falls because of the thunderous splash. What looks like a plume of smoke is water going back into the air and landing on the banks, and because of that, it really feels like rainforest. You can be standing in your very own rainbow.”