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November 10, 2016
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Sub-Saharan Africa: Buckle Up for the Adventure of a Lifetime


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Adventure tourism is a fast-growing industry with adrenalin pumping activities and experiences to die for – quite literally. From white water rafting down the Vaal to shark cage diving, bungee jumping, abseiling, there really is no end to the possibilities. According to Johan Radciffe, Owner of Dirty Boots, a renowned marketing platform for adventure products, these activities go through cycles of popularity. “One of South Africa’s most popular adventure activities is still shark cage diving,” he explains, “even with all the controversy surrounding it, they are still seeing huge numbers of tourists, local and international.  2016 saw the launch of a great new product in Cape Town called scootours – basically an off-road scooter that you start at a top of a path and ride down with – with franchises in all the major tourist areas around South Africa already.”

shark cage diving
Photo by ludex/iStock/Getty Images Plus/Getty Images

Overall Health of the Sector

The adventure industry has been very innovative over the last decade, with over 100 activities available in the country. According to a 2014 Dirty Boots industry survey, the sector is worth roughly R4.6 billion and shows no sign of slowing. It has been the largest growing sector in the travel industry for the last few years, with SA Tourism and the Department of Tourism even taking a keen interest of late. “Tourist no longer just want to sit in a bus and visit historical or cultural attractions most tourist local or domestic will partake in at least one activity while on vacation,” Johan says. “All this growth and demand is busy creating a very professional and competitive adventure industry.” He adds that part of the appeal is its ability to allow the client to feel as though they have achieved something with an element of risk attached. 

Barbara Futter, Co-Owner of Adventure Works, says adventure tourism is alive and well. “Over the last 20 years Southern Africa has seen the birth and rapid growth of a dynamic adventure tourism industry. There is huge demand for adventure, both from international visitors and locals alike and this will only grow. I see townships as the next area of growth in this industry.”

Trending Adventures

Not everyone is willing to risk their neck to get the experience of a lifetime. Sarah Drew, Director of Active Escapes, says hiking tours and ‘slackpacking’ – where catering, guiding and luggage support is provided – have increased in demand. “Our biggest market is, in fact, people who still want a challenge but also want to sleep in a comfortable bed, not have to worry about cooking for themselves, and organising the logistics,” she says. “We recognise a growth area as the family market increasingly looking for more ‘active holidays’.”

The flagship product of Gravity Adventures is the Orange River Gorge wilderness rafting trip. According to Marie-Louise and Andrew Kellett, this has been most popular with families and is a perfect combination of adventure and relaxation. “The logistics of running a multi-day rafting trip in an extremely remote wilderness area are complex but we have been doing this for a long time and our systems are excellent,” says Marie-Louise. “We are especially well known for our delicious on river catering!” She adds that adventure tourism is the way of the future because although it is a form of ‘experiential tourism’, it occupies the intersection between conservation and commerce.  “When done right, it is empowering for travellers, employees and the cultural and natural environment. As a traveller, inform yourself of the current issues in your chosen destination and make an informed choice of which operator to give your hard earned money to. Think specifically of issues around ethical animal encounters as well as human rights and safety and standards.”

Keeping up with current trends and issues is not only a traveller’s responsibility, but a tour operator’s too, says Barbara. “We have clients who have been with us for over 16 years so the pressure is constantly on to come up with bigger and better events. We strive to stay current with the latest trends and incorporate these into our activities.” Adventure Works has seen cook-offs as their most popular activity, while their Urban Adventure – a history lesson, discovery of Cape Town city centre and an Amazing Race-themed treasure hunt all one – has really taken off in 2016.

And if that’s not enough to persuade you to book your own exciting trip, here’s a final bit of encouragement from Johann: “In my opinion there is no time or money better spent than on quality time with friends or family doing some awesome adventure activity.” 

Special thanks to Active Escapes (www.active-escapes.co.za), Adventure Works (www.adventureworks.co.za), Dirty Boots (www.dirtyboots.co.za)  and Gravity Adventures (www.gravity.co.za) for their insight. 

Adventure Tourism Ideas

Southern Africa has many adventure tourism operators in the region. Here are some of the best adventures you can book in our adrenalin-pumped region.

•    Aerial adventures such as zip lining, Tarzan swings and canopy tours 
•    Hiking, canyoneering and rock climbing experiences 
•    Big 5 safaris, game drives, 4x4s, quad, cycle, motorcycle and overland tours 
•    Extreme sports on land such as bungee jumping, abseiling, paragliding, gorilla trekking, hot air balloon rides, sky diving, archery, paintball 
•    Extreme water sports such as kite boarding, white river rafting, shark cage diving, ocean safaris, snorkelling, tubing 

A Breakdown of the Industry

•    The most common adventure experience offered by tour operators is horseback riding, followed closely by scuba diving and quad biking
•    The highest income generating activity is shark cage diving 
•    The adventure tourism industry in SA was worth R4.6 billion in 2014, and this excludes safaris and cultural trips
•    The majority of international adventure tourists come from Germany (27.1%), followed by the UK (25.1%), and the Netherlands (16.1%) 
•    The average age of an adventure tourist is 35 years
•    Adventure companies spend between 7-10% of their turnover on marketing, and 4.3 hours a week on social media marketing
•    The SA cycling industry is estimated to be worth between R700 million to R1 billion per annum

All information courtesy of Dirty Boots SA Adventure Industry Survey 2014

 


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