Post-outbreak travel to Africa tourism is rebounding strongly, with key destinations including South Africa experiencing significant visitor growth, outpacing global arrivals in 2023.
African tourism was “one of the hardest-hit sectors” during the pandemic, said Patricia de Lille, South Africa’s minister of tourism, speaking at the Africa Travel Indaba conference in Durban, South Africa this past week.
South Africa’s arrivals reflect the continent’s fast-growing visitor numbers. The country hosted the third-most travelers of any African country in 2022, according to data analytics firm GlobalData, with 6.8 million visitors, trailing only Egypt and Morocco.
“In 2022, we reached 70 percent of our 2019 arrivals,” said Neesha Pillay, head of insights for South Africa Travel. “It is a great recovery rate considering that the global recovery rate was around 63 percent.”
“This market has been performing very well. We expect [it] to reach 2019 levels next year,” Pillay said. “So [U.S. travelers] is one of the fastest-growing markets locally.”
Airline capacity dedicated to Africa is up by 65 percent when compared with last year, Pillay said, as both United and Delta have added flights to Cape Town in 2023.
Airfares are around $1,300 [for United] and $1,700 [Delta], which have added 25 percent more capacity than in 2022, Pillay said.
South Africa is poised to gain even more airlift as South African Airways (SAA), the country’s national flag carrier, will lease six new aircraft, commencing long-haul flights to previously served destinations, according to the Simple Flying website.
SAA will also increase seat capacity for its regional and domestic destinations.
Black travelers driving visitor growth
The African continent’s growing arrivals are increasingly driven by African American travelers seeking “homecoming” experiences, part of a larger trend of greater overall interest in Africa travel among consumers seeking cultural experiences.
“In recent years there has been increased interest in exploring Africa in general,” said Laurence Pinckney, CEO at ZenBiz Travel LLC.
“Tourism boards from South Africa and Ghana and their commercials and promotions have made a significant contribution to this awakening,” Pinckney said.
Pillay said Americans book Africa travel four to 11 months in advance and stay 12 days on average, spending $1,888 on the ground while in the country.
The main spend is around shopping, food, accommodations and transportation,” Pillay said. “The top activities are eating out, shopping, wildlife and visiting natural attractions,” she said. “[Americans] are a very high-value market for South Africa, a lucrative segment.”
When crafting an itinerary for an American traveler, “The number one thing is safari,” Pillay said. [Safari] is one of the key reasons for travel to South Africa. The second reason is to fulfill a dream. In all the markets we work, the U.S. market is the only one that uses [these] words,” she said.
However, Pinckney said “Africa is so much more than safaris. It is the people and culture for my clients as well.”
Pillay confirmed this assertion, saying that after safaris, “The second reason [to travel to South Africa is to fulfill a dream.
She agreed U.S. travelers “are very passionate about South Africa [and] love to explore culture and history. Both urban and rural experiences are appreciated in itineraries.”
Brian Major is Managing Editor for Digital Publications & Guides/Caribbean.