South African Tourism, the country’s national tourism marketing agency, is making a strong case for South Africa as the ideal destination for your first post-lockdown trip.
Travel to South Africa became possible again on Nov. 11, when South Africa opened its borders to all travelers, with safety requirements for entering the country. All entrants must show proof of a negative PCR (polymerase chain reaction) COVID test within 72 hours from the date of departure from their country.
It was welcome news on both sides of the Atlantic. “South Africa’s borders are now open to international leisure and business travelers,” said Jerry Mpufane, president of the North America Hub of South African Tourism. “When North Americans are ready to travel, our wide-open spaces and friendly people will be ready to warmly welcome them. The destination has globally-benchmarked health and safety protocols in place, and our wide variety of authentic experiences are the perfect match for travelers who are ready to plan their next adventure abroad after being at home for so long.”
Most market research that is currently available was conducted before the vaccines started to become available, and when the uncertainty of the election was still hovering over the market. But studies were already showing signs that the market is beginning to unfreeze.
In spite of a cruel second-wave rampage of COVID, reasons for hope are increasing. Millions of Americans who are practically losing their minds from confinement are starting to make plans for their first post-lockdown trips.
Established Safety Protocols
In addition to vaccines, the use of contact tracing, adherence to safety protocols such as masking, distancing, and hand washing can stop the spread of the Coronavirus. These techniques were employed to eradicate small pox 40 years ago. Public health officials used contact tracing to isolate the virus, and when it was eradicated they ended up throwing out the unused vaccines.
It can be done, and it will be done. Meanwhile, adherence to the safety protocols empowers us to move about safely in the world. We now know how the virus spreads and how to prevent it. After literally millions of cases and the analysis of available data, a few reliable safety guidelines have been established, such as the following.
- Outdoor environments where the breath dissipates into the atmosphere are safer than indoor environments where numbers of people gather.
- The fewer people you are exposed to the less risk you take.
- You can establish a bubble of a few people you know to be uninfected that you can safely associate with.
- Adherence to masking, distancing and basic hygiene practices can greatly reduce risk and slow down the spread of the virus.
Based on these considerations, it’s clear that remote environments where you are only exposed to a few other people are among the safest places to be while COVID is raging. Those who are familiar with South Africa can see that the country’s tourism offerings line up almost perfectly with the safety requirements of the late COVID period.
A South African safari takes you out into the great African wilderness where the lions, leopards, cheetahs, elephants, giraffes, and rhinos can be observed in their natural states. On a safari, you stay at a wilderness lodge in separate cabins or tents.
You dine in the open air. You are never forced into close proximity with strangers. Strict safety protocols are followed at the lodges throughout the country. You are way out in remote country, far from the cities and towns of the world where the virus has been able to spread.
At RepFest, a virtual travel trade event Oct. 28-9, Justin Barnette, head of marketing and communications North America for SAT, presented the agency’s case that South Africa is ideal for travel when safety from the Coronavirus is still paramount, and showed that the market is almost ready for it.
Barnette was armed with an arsenal of recent market research. According to findings, most travelers are not yet ready to travel internationally and are postponing or taking domestic trips for now. But a Mintel study done before the announcement of the arrival of vaccines showed that 75 percent of travelers had already started planning their next trips.
Who Will Travel First?
MMGY’s travel advisor report showed that 25 percent of inquiries are for long-haul travel. SAT looked over the stats on what travelers are most likely to travel first, and found that it lined up well with South Africa’s offerings.
Younger travelers, who are statistically less vulnerable to COVID, will be the first to fly again.
The couples vacation is the kind of package most widely considered now for the first venture out.
Those who have the resources and have not been too badly harmed financially by the pandemic will be among the first to resume traveling.
What Travelers Want Now
Next, SAT looked at what the first post-lockdown travelers will be looking for.
The first consideration of prospective travelers today is, not surprisingly, safety, a concept which has developed a whole new meaning in 2020. Travelers want to travel to a place where the appropriate safety protocols are in place to reduce risk of the spread of COVID.
Travelers want to know that if conditions change, and they change their minds about traveling, that their investment will be protected.
Among those who will be first to travel, outdoor travel and private touring are high on the list of preferences. Luxury travel will be the first tier to come back, with privacy as the new luxury.
According to Barnette: “This is really about paying for peace of mind – investing in private tours and accommodations. We have an abundance of boutique and smaller hotels and properties, where guests can comfortably stay distant from others.”
Because of an extremely favorable currency exchange rate for Americans traveling to South Africa, private luxury accommodations are highly affordable in South Africa.
Wellness and Mental Health
An American Express study that showed that Americans are acutely missing travel, and that the confinement of the pandemic period has taken a toll on the psychological health of people across the demographic spectrum.
In the study, 48 percent of respondents said that the inability to travel is causing them to feel anxious and stressed. Seventy-eight (78) percent cited travel as one of the activities they long for most at this time.
In the Age of COVID, the connection between wellness and travel has been strengthened. According to the Mintel study, the second most-cited reason they want to travel is “to feel normal again,” after the top reason, which was “to see loved ones,” an indication that family travel in private groups, will be a prime market as travel resumes.
The packaging of “wellness vacations,” Barnette said, “should be more holistic and really address mental and emotional health components.”
When it comes to the kinds of experiences that promote mental, and physical, health and well being, Barnette said, South Africa has unequaled offerings.
“In South Africa, of course, we have amazing wellness offerings – fresh air, wide-open spaces, beautiful landscapes everywhere you look. And, of course, those of you who know our safari offerings well, know that they have always offered a sort of built-in form of social distancing, with personal dining options and fewer people per game drive vehicle.”
South Africa is uniquely equipped to offer not only the outdoor safari adventure experience, but with its first-world cities and infrastructure, the country offers world class urban adventures as well. And with the extremely favorable exchange rate, an American can travel like royalty in South Africa.
Resonating with Travelers
Additional market research indicates that the word about South Africa is getting out to prospective travelers.
Virtuoso, the luxury travel advisor consortium, reported that South Africa is the number 1 pick for travel in 2021 and beyond.
Condé Nast Traveler readers recently ranked South Africa number 8 on their list of favorite countries in the world for 2020.
Lonely Planet placed South Africa’s Cape Winelands in its Top 10 “Best Value Destinations to Visit.”
On a personal note, South Africa has been at the top of my list of recommendations for many years before any of us ever imagined the kind of situation we’ve been seeing in 2020.
So now, I can add to the long list of reasons I highly recommend South Africa. It includes the safari experience; the astonishingly beautiful and diverse landscapes, from oceans and beaches to mountains, veldt, rainforest and desert; the richness of the land and the food it produces; and the best part of South Africa, the people.
That includes the great diversity of cultures imported from all over the world, and the melding of it all into a unique national culture in the image of Nelson Mandela, one of the greatest leaders of the 20th Century. The great vibrance of that culture, the styles it produces in art and music and fashion. The warmth of the regular South African citizens you meet in your travels, whatever they are. It’s all that and more for me.
And yeah, it’s also one of the safest destinations during the time of COVID.
David Cogswell is a freelance writer working remotely, from wherever he is at the moment. Born at the dead center of the United States during the last century, he has been incessantly moving and exploring for decades. His articles have appeared in the Chicago Tribune, the Los Angeles Times, Fortune, Fox News, Luxury Travel magazine, Travel Weekly, Travel Market Report, Travel Agent Magazine, TravelPulse.com, Quirkycruise.com and other publications. He is the author of four books and a contributor to several others. He was last seen somewhere in the Northeast U.S.