South Africa - Pressure leads to better spread

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Friday, 30th September 2016

South Africa has had record arrivals this year, while increased demand is also driving up tourist spend

South Africa’s current value proposition bodes well for the safari industry, and encouraging demand is seeing an improved spread of tourists across the country’s various safari locations.

According to Suzanne Benadie, Sales & Marketing Director at Your Africa and SST, lodges in the particularly popular Sabi Sand Game Reserve, which borders the Kruger National Park, are high in demand, adding to availability pressure. “Our consultants are offering alternatives like Madikwe, Welgevonden and private lodges in KwaZulu Natal, all of which offer equivalent levels of good game viewing, luxury accommodation and service. We have recently secured a group series from the UK, which has confirmed its safari experience in Hluhluwe-Imfolozi [KZN].”

In the Greater Kruger vicinity, Timbavati, too, is taking in an increased number of safari tourists.  Andrew Marshall, Director of Sales of Makanyi Private Game Lodge, which opened for business in June 2015, believes there is an important shift occurring. “From talking with a lot of our operator partners, they are now looking at the Timbavati as a real alternative, or indeed a first choice, as against the Sabi Sand,” he comments.

For years Sabi Sand has always taken the majority of business but, as the market gets busier, and by all accounts it's not slowing down, says Marshall, space in the Sabi Sand is difficult to find. “Added to this, with the quality product that now abounds within the Timbavati, it's becoming a popular region for tour operators,” Marshall continues. “The prices are generally cheaper than most Sabi Sand lodges – certainly those of comparable quality, and the game viewing is often considered better as there are fewer vehicles traversing the same areas.  Of course there’s still a great product in the Sabi Sand, but now Timbavati is also coming in for a piece of the action.”

Madikwe, with some 20 lodges and camps, is also coming in for attention.  According to one of its game lodges, Tau Game Lodge, the reserve has just come out of one of its greenest winters, thanks to floods earlier this year, and has enjoyed great leopard and cheetah sightings.

Madikwe, which recently experienced one of its greenest winters, is gaining popularity as South Africa experiences record demand.

The Eastern Cape is now home to some high-quality game lodges, one of them being Lalibela Game Reserve which, with the acquisition of an additional 2 000 hectares, has enhanced its ability to breed and reintroduce endemic game species and ensure long-term sustainability of game numbers. The reserve is also allocating considerable resources to eradicate alien vegetation. “This is a very costly and ambitious undertaking but one that will rank among the more important conservation initiatives in the region,” says MD, Rob Gradwell.

A trend observed, particularly among senior travellers, is a desire to become involved in ‘giving back’ projects, says Jenman Safaris’ Marketing Content Developer, Mareike Pietzsch. The tour operator runs campaigns like Grow Africa and Pack 4 A Purpose, which support local projects and communities and have a low environmental impact.

Suzanne Bayly-Coupe, MD of Classic Portfolio comments: “We see our key trade partners seeking unique and different experiences not found on the Internet.  Multigenerational travel and celebration groups are looking for exclusivity and flexibility, with villa stays a very popular option.  Suppliers that give guests the flexibility to tailor-make their own experience are in high demand,” she says, naming the Ecca Lodge at Kwandwe in the Eastern Cape and the ‘Eco-nect’ activities it offers (kite building, range shooting simulation and scavenger hunts) as examples.

Kwandwe’s Ecca Lodge offers activities including kite building, a range shooting simulation and scavenger hunts.

Another one is Tanda Tula Field Camp, in the Timbavati, which Bayly-Coupe describes as “one of the most unique safari experiences in Southern Africa – a private camp just set up for you!”.   With a minimum stay of three nights and holding a maximum of only eight guests, she says the lodge anticipated patronage from families but has been astounded at the number of honeymooners paying the full camp rate for a truly exclusive safari where they can set their own pace.

Some South African lodges, such as those in the Sabi Sand and Mabula, have instituted conservation levies on their rates, to be paid by guests towards anti-poaching, conservation and community initiatives.  The funds have proved effective in the fight against poaching but an inconsistent implementation and the question about whether the fee should be voluntary or not, have caused confusion ( in the market.

Rob Dixon of Sanctuary Retreats raises one concern that has been a thorn in the travel industry’s side for well over a year now – the confusion and difficulty regarding travelling with children into South Africa.

New and trending

  • In mid-October Lalibela in the Eastern Cape opens a new 10-bedded camp.
  • Machaton Private Camp, Simbavati Safari Lodges' third and newest camp, opened on August 1.
  • The final phase of a multimillion-rand refurbishment at Simbavati River Lodge has been completed.
  • There are a number of new developments at Isibindi Africa Lodges. At Kosi Forest Lodge in the iSimangaliso Wetland Park in KZN the bedrooms and lounge have undergone a soft refurbishment; the dining area has been extended, the pool resurfaced and two new viewing decks built.  At Thonga Beach Lodge in the same park, decking has been replaced and décor upgrades made in the rooms.  Outdoor spa treatments are now offered.  Isibindi Africa Trails is a new product launched from Rhino Ridge Safari Lodge in the Hluhluwe-Imfolozi Park, in partnership with a local trails guide, Nunu Jobe. Plans are to extend these walking trails to overnight hikes. The group has launched a new website with six sub-domains for its member lodges.
  • Makanyi Private Game Lodge in the Timbavati has changed the names of its suites; Classic Suites are now referred to as Luxury Suites and the Honeymoon Suites are now Luxury Pool Suites. The lodge has kept the ‘stay for four nights, pay for three’ special in force for 2017.
  • All five Standard Rooms at Arathusa will be upgraded to Luxury Rooms on January 1, bringing the total to nine Luxury water-facing rooms and four Luxury bush-facing rooms. All rooms have private verandas, large open-plan interiors, full indoor bathrooms and outdoor showers. The water-facing ones have a view of Arathusa's signature feature – its waterhole. The bush-facing rooms have their own private plunge pools. Rates will also become fully inclusive, effective January 1. House wines, malts and spirits will be included in the daily accommodation rate.
  • Next year, Federal Airlines will launch flights linking Kruger Mpumalanga International Airport (KMIA) and the Phinda Private Game Reserve in KwaZulu Natal.
  • Airlink's Lodge Link System provides direct connectivity beyond Skukuza and KMIA (Nelspruit) airports to safari lodge airstrips located at Arathusa, Londolozi and Ulusaba in the Greater Kruger region.
  • Under its Safari Link programme, Unique Air connects some 27 lodges in the Sabi Sand to three other wildlife locations – Madikwe and Welgevonden and Marataba Safari Lodge in the Waterberg. In addition, Unique Air can do private charters to all the countries covered in this feature

Article and photos courtesy of  Tourism Update:

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