Sherwin Banda, president of African Travel Inc., is a trend watcher. As a specialist in travel to the continent of Africa, Banda has a close-up view of what travelers are doing in some of the most adventurous travel destinations in the world. Travel Market Report recently approached Banda and asked him to share some of the trends he has been seeing from his front-row seat overlooking the adventure market, the African market, and the luxury market.
Besides closely monitoring his own company’s sales, and those of African Travel Inc.’s sister companies in The Travel Corporation, Banda has also been watching whatever market research he can get his hands on. African Travel recently partnered with Virtuoso, the luxury travel consortium of which African Travel is a preferred supplier, on market research in the luxury travel space, focusing on the most highly valued demographic in the travel industry.
Drawing on data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor statistics, Banda said: “While Americans who earn more than $100,000 income only make up 20 percent of the U.S. population, they account for 51 percent of travel-related spending. Given the spending power of this group in relation to its size, it’s no surprise that travel brands are highly interested in catering to these affluent travelers.”
What kinds of experiences?
Feedback from travel advisors who predominantly sell adventure indicates that the most popular activities of adventure travelers in 2019 are: whitewater rafting, horseback riding, mountain biking, snorkeling, ziplining, and kayaking.
But this just scratches the surface of the adventure traveler. Banda is interested in getting beneath the skin and trying to figure out what makes these customers tick, what turns them on and what they are looking for.
“These are people who are adrenaline junkies,” he said, “who are wanting to experience activities of this nature. When we look at what makes up the interest for people who are looking to do adventure, Africa is perfectly suited for that kind of adventure.”
Underlying the specific activities, the fundamental experiences that adventure travelers are seeking are: being close to nature; wildlife experiences; and sustainable give-back opportunities.
Of the modes of travel that are currently surging in popularity, said Banda, the top three are: multigenerational travel, active or adventure trips, and river cruising.
“Experience is the new luxury,” said Banda. “More people are prepared to pay more for those experiences that allow them to be truly immersed and transformed by travel. When we look at the destinations that are becoming more popular, we can see that what travelers are looking for is getting off the beaten path, or going into journeys that are less traveled. That is becoming more popular and more interesting for people who are wanting to explore the continent of Africa. So, we are seeing an increase.”
Banda is observing the growth of popularity of specific regions in Africa in 2019.
Egypt is definitely back for African Travel, Banda said, as it is for other operators across the industry. “The demand for Egypt and the experiences that Egypt offers are very popular in 2019,” said Banda.
Rwanda is also in the spotlight. “Large numbers are taking an interest in gorilla trekking, and particularly with Rwanda,” said Banda. “The increase of luxury lodges in Rwanda has really made that destination popular with luxury travelers. I’m very proud of this stat and I repeat it quite a lot: In recent months, the gorilla population has surpassed the numbers it has ever reached for the last 30 years, which has made gorilla trekking so interesting and exciting, particularly in light of the sustainable efforts that have been happening on the ground.”
The world population of the rare, endangered mountain gorilla surpassed 1,000 last year for the first time in many years. In danger of extinction from attacks by poachers who kill animals to sell their body parts, gorillas have survived largely through protection financed by tourism.
“Another destination that is rising in popularity in 2019 is Botswana,” said Banda. “The reason for that is that the government of Botswana has limited the size of the camps, so you have smaller numbers of people out in the wild in Botswana. In my view, that makes it a high-touch, low-volume destination. Also, in regard to the experiences available in Botswana, there is more than the typical land experience. There is also the absolute excitement of water safaris, which are very popular.
Another rising trend noted by Banda is celebratory travel. “At African Travel, we like to think life is a celebration and needs to be celebrated regardless of a milestone event,” said Banda. “More and more people are getting married later … [and] they don’t need more commercial commodities or personal items because they have acquired that in life.
“Travel now has become a way to really enjoy and celebrate experiences with the person you love or with a group of like-minded people traveling together. So, in lieu of gifts, more people are wanting to celebrate with friends. And more people are giving travel as a remarkable gift for people who are wanting to go and experience the world.”
In 2018, African Travel saw an uptick in terms of celebratory travel and the use of gift registries that included travel.
“When we look at romance, travel allows guests to reach their travel goals in lieu of getting stuff. That’s been really exciting for us to see. As a dad of a young child, I would much rather spend my time and money having experiences during which we could impart life lessons that would stay with our child way beyond the age or moment in time. I would much rather collect moments than things.
African Travel can “provide travelers with a travel gift registry where friends and family can contribute to a holiday instead of buying gifts you don’t need.”
Sustainability is a key buying factor
One thing that has changed significantly in recent years is the importance of sustainability to travelers. “What was very interesting, particularly in regard to sustainability,” said Banda, “is that travelers are more in line to buy from brands that have a tried-and-true ethos of sustainability, and they are prepared to pay more for it.
“When you look at trends, sustainability in past years was much lower on the list. Now it’s on the top of their list. It’s one of the key buying decisions for what we like to refer to as the enlightened traveler.”
Though the importance of sustainability has increased across the board, travelers approach it in different ways.
“Sustainable travel means different things to different people,” said Banda. “The more we live in this world, the more we are becoming conscious of discarding plastic, for example, in the oceans, or running water unnecessarily.
“There are three pillars that African Travel will incorporate as part of the itinerary for people who want to have a full-on philanthropic experience, but then there are those who just want to know that the travel style contributes or means good to the local places that we visit.”
The first focus is people. Banda said: “We are committed to encouraging cultures and traditions and arts of the local communities where we visit, for those people who want to have a deeper cultural experience. That can be weaved into a style of travel.”
Second, “Wildlife is the reason most people say they would go to Africa,” said Banda, “although when they come back and you ask them again, they would often say because of the people.”
And third is the planet. Banda noted: “Obviously for the planet, we are taking steps to decrease carbon emissions, and decrease products such as plastic as part of an itinerary, to join the effort to make sure that the planet remains vibrant for future generations.
“So our philosophy is that we want to ‘tread right’ as we travel through Africa, and that contributes to the trend of sustainability that you see in our business.”
Traveling to spark joy
Banda also gathered insights from the book publishing world. Referring to a philosophy of “sparking joy” from the best-selling book called “Spark Joy” by Marie Kondo, Banda said: “What sparks joy is not necessarily things like traveling first class or staying in luxurious properties. Experiences that spark joy are things that make us feel better about ourselves, and things we know make other people feel better about being part of this great universe or planet. What I took away from it was the sense of inner peace when we have warm hospitality, great service and immersive experiences. That’s what luxury means to me.”