Interview

Ingram Casey: African luxury is all about the adventure

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August 5, 2019

We catch up with Africa experience specialist Ingram Casey to discuss trends behind the growth in African luxury travel.

Ingram has been in tourism since 1998 and founded his own luxury African tour operator in 2003 before setting up award-winning adventure experience company Escape+Explore in 2014.

UK native Ingram worked for a large tour operator in London before resigning to go on a three-month adventure across Africa, where he discovered a collection of unique experiences and properties before settling in Cape Town, where he’s been ever since.

Have you seen an increased demand to visit Africa in the past few years?

Our business has seen 100% year-on-year growth in the last couple of years, with increasing demand from luxury clients wanting to experience something unique - a real adventure.

Africa offers countless bucket-list wildlife experiences including the Great Migration, gorilla trekking and ‘big five’ safaris, as well as natural wonders like Victoria Falls and Table Mountain. We’re working with operators and agents to help them stand out from the crowd by combining these bucket-list items with unique adventures and experiences not found in standard itineraries, to create genuine once-in-a-lifetime holidays.

What African destinations or experiences are becoming more popular?

We’re seeing high-net-worth individuals wanting a lot more than just a luxurious place to stay. People are becoming more adventurous. They’re looking for a more authentic experience with a deeper meaning – whether that be conservation or human and cultural interactions.

One of the biggest growth trends we’ve seen is for multi-destination and multi-country travel within Africa, which has been made possible by better internal infrastructure and the increasing number of DMCs and genuine travel specialists both in Africa and internationally who are confident in putting together multi-destination trips that make planning travel to Africa less daunting.

Cape Town has been a big benefactor. It used to be seen as an ‘add-on’ but it’s now a must-see destination by itself, with direct flights or easy connections to many of sub-Saharan Africa’s most popular destinations, including Namibia, Mauritius, Mozambique, Botswana’s Okavango Delta, Victoria Falls and Kruger National Park. People visiting Cape Town can now combine a remote beach experience, a city break and a safari adventure all in the same ten or fourteen-day holiday.

Victoria Falls

Africa has gone far beyond a safari destination. For the luxury market, it has some of the biggest ticket items in the world in terms of price and experience. It’s an untapped frontier of travel.

The 54 countries of Africa only get around 5% of international tourist arrivals - about the same as visits Italy. If you think how iconic African wildlife is on its own, it shows Africa’s potential to be one of the biggest future growth destinations for luxury travel.

What ‘hidden gems’ do you recommend to clients visiting Africa for the first time?

The secret to standing out when selling Africa is to combine a bucket-list item with one of its many hidden gems – its lesser-known destinations and unique experiences. You could combine the Great Migration in Kenya and Tanzania with climbing Mount Kenya, a camel safari in North Kenya or a walking safari with local tribes in the southern Serengeti.

The Great Migration, Maasai Mara, Kenya

You can combine gorilla trekking in Rwanda with hiking in the volcanoes of the Virunga Mountains. In Cape Town, you can be on top of Table Mountain in the morning and stand up paddle boarding with penguins in the afternoon.

The list goes on, but for a first-time visit to Africa wildlife is likely to be the top draw. The secret is to pair Africa’s iconic wildlife events with lesser-known but equally mind-blowing experiences that match the client’s interests.  

What themes or trends emerge when your clients ask about Africa?

I’m seeing more and more people travelling with conservation in mind. There’s a real interest in getting hands-on and working alongside conservation experts. Some examples are taking part in animal censuses, rhino relocations, lion collaring or setting up photo traps to study leopard movements.

Up close and personal. Image: Wilderness Safaris

Hands-on family travel is on the rise too. Africa is the ultimate real-life Disneyland. With the increase of technology and screen time, getting out in the wilds of Africa offers parents a back to nature experience that is often lacking. Kids can learn wildlife ranger skills from animal tracking to outdoor survival, or get outdoors with an adventure guide to go hiking, cycling or surfing.

What would surprise us about luxury travel in Africa?

The key surprise is the sheer diversity of guided experiences Africa offers. You can be on safari in the morning watching a lion kill and be surfing one of the world’s best point breaks by the afternoon.

Modern Africa’s food, wine, music and art scene may surprise people too. Today’s African chefs, musicians and artists are creating something bold, unique and new. Even for people who have experienced the best the world has to offer, Africa offers something refreshing.

Africa has long prided itself on having the world’s top nature guides. Through the work we are doing at Escape+Explore I’d like to think we’re creating a new breed of African private adventure guide. These multi-talented storytellers have opened up private guiding far beyond the safari and can introduce clients to African food, art, music, culture and adventure sports as well as wildlife.

Escape + Explore Adventure Guides

What is the best VIP experience in Africa?

It has to be creating your own ‘pioneer-style’ trip. Much of Africa is still uncharted to commercial travel, which means it’s possible to create genuine, first-of-a-kind adventures, from sailing safaris on wooden dhows, camping on deserted Mozambique islands, to moonlit bike rides through the vast and almost completely uninhabited Namib desert. There are very few places left in the world where you can still be a pioneer. For me, that is pretty special.

What is the height of luxury in Africa?

The height of luxury is exclusivity, such as staying in your own private safari home, on a private Indian Ocean Island or an island in the middle of the mighty Zambezi River. You can have pristine wilderness from the bush to the beach completely to yourself, and be at one with wildlife without human interruptions. In today’s cramped and busy world, nothing can offer a more luxurious experience than this.

What does luxury mean to you?

Luxury to me is this magical exclusivity – being able to reach a remote location where you can have a majestic stretch of river, an epic coastline or a patch of pristine wilderness entirely to yourself.

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