Luxury travellers in Africa are getting more adventurous all the time. They want new experiences in more remote destinations, multi-destination trips across several African countries and a chance to get hands-on with conservation, culture and sustainability. Luxury travel in modern Africa is all about the add-on.
At least that's what the experts tell us. We caught up with a couple of specialists to discuss emerging trends in the expanding market of Africa, where growing demand is opening up the continent to luxury travellers hungry for new experiences and destinations.
Ingram Casey founded his own luxury African tour operator in 2003 and created award-winning adventure experience company Escape+Explore in 2014.
Private travel designer Justin Huxter is co-founder of luxury travel consultancy Cartology Travel, who create personalised itineraries for bespoke trips across Africa.
Ingram says his Africa business has seen 100% year-on-year growth in the last couple of years, with increasing demand from clients wanting “a real adventure”, while Justin reports increased demand across the continent, with South Africa more popular than ever and “significant growth for Namibia, Kenya and Tanzania too”.
But what’s fuelling this increased demand? According to our experts, it’s a combination of upgraded infrastructure, more flights, better specialist expertise from travel professionals and higher general standards of luxury across the African continent, which has led to a host of new luxury properties and experiences emerging.
“Africa doesn’t seem so difficult to reach anymore,” says Justin, who points to improved flight access from Europe and the USA as well as more connecting flights within Africa, led by rapidly expanding regional carriers like Ethiopian Airlines and RwandAir.
Luxury travellers are more educated about Africa, thanks to increased expertise from travel professionals. This is fuelling demand to visit countries which may have been perceived as difficult a few years ago, such as Rwanda, where gorilla trekking is a huge draw.
There’s also been a general growth in high-end luxury across Africa. Justin points to big players like Singita and Wilderness Safaris opening luxury safari lodges in more remote places across several African countries and a host of high-end gorilla trekking operators emerging in Rwanda and Uganda.
The traditional idea of African luxury would be a private villa safari experience at a super-luxurious safari lodge in South Africa or Botswana. But Ingram and Justin both say that high-net-worth individuals now want more than just a high-end place to stay. They’re becoming more adventurous and their ideas of luxury are changing too. Increasingly, luxury is the ability is to get away to somewhere remote where they can disconnect from daily life or head out into the bush for a real ‘pioneer-style’ adventure.
“Much of Africa is still uncharted to commercial travel,” Ingram says, so it’s possible to create genuine, first-of-a-kind adventures for discerning clients, “from wooden dhow sailing safaris to moonlit bike rides through the vast and almost completely uninhabited Namib desert.” For Justin, the height of luxury is taking clients to their own private camp in a reserve they’ve never heard of, where they can switch off completely from their normal lives: "Real luxury is a genuine adventure in a remote part of the world.
According to Ingram, “The secret to selling Africa is to combine a bucket-list item with one of its many hidden gems.” His suggestions include combining the Great Migration in Kenya and Tanzania with a camel safari in North Kenya or a walking safari with local tribes in the southern Serengeti, or to match gorilla trekking in Rwanda with hiking in the volcanoes of the Virunga Mountains, or a trip to one of Africa's truly iconic natural wonders.
For most first-time visitors, the safari is still what Africa is all about, but new experiences are emerging all the time. Justin highlights Odzala Discovery Camps in the Republic of the Congo, “one of Africa’s last pristine wilderness areas with true remoteness, beauty and biodiversity.”
Beyond the safari, he points to the remote, two-island nation of São Tomé and Príncipe off the coast of West Africa, with forests amongst the most biodiverse in Africa and species of wildlife found nowhere else on earth, remote resorts in Mozambique like the White Pearl on the Lagoon Coast, and a host of new luxury lodges in the otherworldly wilderness of Namibia, such as Shipwreck Lodge on the Skeleton Coast.
Luxury travellers are looking for a more authentic experience with a deeper meaning – whether that be conservation, sustainability or human and cultural interactions.
More people travel with conservation in mind. “There’s a real interest in getting more hands-on with wildlife,” Ingram says, “Such as by taking part in animal censuses, rhino relocations or lion collaring.” Justin says his clients “want to understand the culture of the countries they’re visiting much more; and get involved in projects where they feel like they’re giving back.”
Vets giving a lioness her check-up. Image: Wilderness Safaris
There’s growing interest in experiencing what lodges and operators are doing ‘behind the scenes’ to encourage sustainability and conservation. While on safari, luxury travellers can see lodges boosting sustainability by growing their own produce, farming their own livestock and investing in solar power. “There’s much more interaction with local communities too,” according to Justin. Lodges want local communities to benefit more from tourism, while tourists want to interact on a more human level with people in very different cultures.
Cape Town has been a big benefactor of improved access and increased flights. “It used to be an ‘add-on’ but it’s now a must-see destination by itself,” according to Ingram. With direct flights or easy connections to Namibia, Mauritius, Mozambique, Botswana’s Okavango Delta, Victoria Falls and Kruger National Park, Cape Town is the hub for people combining a remote beach experience, a city break and a safari adventure in the same ten or fourteen-day holiday.
When people first visit Africa, Ingram and Justin both say it’s the sheer diversity of landscapes, wildlife, experiences and cultures in Africa that blows people’s minds. But modern Africa’s food, wine, music and art scene may surprise people too. “Today’s African chefs, musicians and artists are creating something bold and new,“ according to Ingram. Justin highlights the excellent food too, but also points to the “amazing warmth and friendliness of people throughout Africa”.
Our experts both agree that the height of luxury in Africa is exclusivity, whether that's staying in your own private luxury safari home or embarking on a rugged private adventure. “You can have pristine wilderness completely to yourself and be at one with wildlife without human interruptions,” Ingram says. “In today’s cramped and busy world, nothing offers a more luxurious experience than this.”