South Africa is hoping to attract a lot more U.S. travelers in the year to come, tapping into an increasing desire among Americans for experiential travel.
According to research conducted by Mariette du Toit-Helmbold, owner of destination marketing agency Destinate, U.S. vacation planners are increasingly looking for trips that offer instant and total immersion. She said that South Africa should capitalize on the fact that it can offer these experiences throughout the year and at a reasonable price thanks to the current exchange rate, roughly 15.6 rand to $1.
Du Toit-Helmbold cited the Stellenbosch Experience as the perfect example of a campaign that will focus on the tech-savvy American market in 2016. The Stellenbosch Experience increasingly uses online engagement through the hashtag #visitstellenbosch to educate U.S. travelers about the nonsafari side of South Africa.
The South African government has also recognized the potential of diversifying the image of the country’s tourism offering. Tourism Minister Derek Hanekom recently launched the Donkey Tracking Route in Wupperthal through the scenic Cederberg Mountains in South Africa’s Western Cape.
The Department of Tourism established several amenities that tie in with the hiking and outdoor lifestyle. Bridges and footbridges were constructed to improve access for tourists, campsites and backpacker lodges were developed to provide overnight accommodation and shaded picnic sites were built. Tourists can book rides on traditional donkey carts, owned by members of local communities along the route.
“Tourists are attracted to South Africa, not only as a destination with diverse sightseeing opportunities, but also to experience a different perspective,” Hanekom said. “The Donkey Tracking Route offers these experiences in great measure.”
However, tour operators argue it would be foolish to move away from safaris entirely. Craig Drysdale, general manager of global sales for Thompsons Africa, said that distancing itself from safari promotions would be “tourism commercial suicide.”
“We have far too much invested in this sector,” he said. “It is and will always be a great part of who we are as a destination.”
The key, according to Drysdale, is to find a balance between safaris and selling other products and services. “I think all marketing campaign activations going forward should focus on all that South Africa has to offer, not just focus on safaris.”
Julien Perreard, general manager for Southern Africa Travel, added that travelers may initially be drawn to South Africa by world-famous wildlife reserves, but what they soon discover is a diverse destination with beach-lined coasts, magnificent wine lands and cosmopolitan cities.
“Now, between game drives you can visit inspiring community development projects in nearby villages, take part in a yoga class or visit the on-site photographic studio to edit your wildlife images and print them on canvas,” he said.
Mareike Pietzsch, marketing content developer for Jenman Safaris, said that most Americans love the idea of cultural interaction, but at the same time, they don’t want to forgo a certain level of luxury.
“It’s important to never forget what the traveler expects and wants, and that is to be very, very comfortable,” she said.