The team at Sense of Africa, South Africa is committed to rebuilding, reinventing and reigniting Southern Africa as a destination, with its sights set firmly on forward bookings.

This is the message from Sales and Marketing Director, Suzanne Benadie, who told Tourism Update that since the start of the pandemic, the team had been adapting its skillset to include contracting, negotiating, operations, quoting and booking, as well as staying in close contact with clients and stakeholders in the source markets.

“A lot of time and effort have gone into product and supplier review to ensure that terms and conditions meet the source market and consumer needs. Travellers want to know that they can book to travel, but also have the freedom to postpone or cancel if the situation changes quickly due to travel bans, lockdowns or surges in infection.”

She said travellers’ main requirements for during and after the pandemic were for social distancing, wide-open spaces, more responsible and meaningful travel experiences, as well as playing a part in rebuilding and reigniting the tourism industry. “There is no better destination to achieve this than through travel to Africa.”

The industry therefore needed to work in an aligned and unified manner to meet these expectations, Benadie added, especially as competing destinations were offering very favourable booking conditions.

“We are updating our tour operator partners on health and safety protocols, PCR testing details, travel entry requirements to the region, and our changing alert levels, especially where these impact international tourism. We provided incredible service to guests travelling in South Africa recently when the situation suddenly changed for them, and the true value of an in-country DMC was tested to the absolute limit.”

The company has launched a new itinerary builder on its B2B portal, facilitated by an expert who works on the front-end. “On our B2B system, agents can quote or book a travel itinerary for their clients and immediately download a digital itinerary that includes a complete overview of all the booked services, information on hotels, excursions and other services, images, climate information, videos and a route map with point-to-point directions.”

The team has also gone live with its refreshed 2021-2022 brochure, featuring updated touring products, accommodation and excursions. “We have supported our business development and contracting team, as they have been the engine room in terms of preparing our product for 2022 and beyond,” said Benadie.

Booking trends

With regard to booking trends, she said travellers were staying longer, with fewer changes to hotels and locations to avoid testing and infection risks, while also maintaining social distancing. “There’s a strong demand for private and secluded villa accommodation in the Western Cape paired with a compatible safari lodge that also offers a private villa or exclusive use. For the short and medium term, travellers are focusing on just one country, such as South Africa, and keeping their safari experience within the Eastern Cape, Greater Kruger or Madikwe.”

Her personal favourite in the updated brochure was the Eco Ranger tour, she said, as it was exclusive to Sense of Africa and offered a true wildlife and conservation experience, with just a few selected dates available each year.

“I’m also very excited about our newly launched 15-day motorcycle tour, another exclusive product that Sense of Africa is offering in English and German. It is a great way to experience the open roads, big skies and beautiful scenery while mingling with locals across the country.”

The business development team has also curated multiple-country itineraries, with hand-picked camps and lodges, offering the best of Southern Africa. The Sense of Africa touring product offers small-group touring, with all the health and safety protocols observed, giving options of a managed travel bubble, or a privately guided tour or self-drive option.

According to Benadie, the most active markets for FIT bookings at present included the US and Switzerland, followed by the UK for future bookings.

“I predict that when SA moves off the red list, we will see an influx of confirmations from the UK. In our group series from the US, UK, Ireland, Italy, Germany, Australia, Japan and Asia, there is a lot of positive planning for 2023 and 2024 to place allocations and get group departures on sale as soon as possible, provided PCR testing, isolation protocols and vaccinated staff in country can be guaranteed.”

She said Sense of Africa, South Africa campaigns on social media also continued to support the positive lobbying, tourism campaigns, conservation initiatives and social responsibility that relied so heavily on tourism.

Follow Tourism Update’s upcoming series of stories on source market recovery, as we take a look at positive updates, trends and challenges influencing some of South Africa’s main source markets for travel.