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April 7, 2015

Sub-Saharan Africa: Taking South African Luxury Experiences to New Places

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In 2015, as South Africa and many other countries look to China not only for investments but also to grow the interest in their tourism offerings, luxury brands and unique experiences may just be the answer. According to a recent article by Andiswa Maqutu in Business Day Live, China has moved from being South Africa’s ninth-largest tourism source market to the fourth-largest in 2013. Over 98 million Chinese tourists travelled abroad in 2014, making the nation the “number one source market in the world” for international travellers.

South African diamonds are one of the luxury products that the Asian market flocks to, says Michael Jones, Co-Founder of AfricaCreate, a company promoting African brands in China. “The Chinese believe that SA is the source of diamonds so they should be cheaper here. They are doing the same in Italy and London with, for example Louis Vuitton bags. The Chinese have become the number one consumer of luxury goods around the world,” he explains. He goes on to say that Chinese travellers also spend the most, often forgoing expensive tour packages in favour of shopping at their destinations.

In March, the Global Business Travel Association’s educational and research arm, the GBTA Foundation, released its latest GBTA BTI Outlook – China Report, which showed that total spending on Chinese-originated business travel grew an estimated 16.6% in 2014, while the growth in both leisure and business travel demand has led hoteliers to significantly increase their presence in China over the last decade. Incentive travel is also on the rise, according to reports from M&IT India. “Incentive travel is one of the fastest-growing segments within India’s outbound MICE movement,” says Chang CheePey, Executive Director for South Asia, Middle East and Africa at Singapore Tourism Board. “Many Indian companies organise annual incentive travel as a business too to reward and motivate top-performing employees as well as external channel partners to drive top live sales.” Experts also say that the Indian market has the same potential as the Chinese market segments.

In the same way that the number of Asian travellers is growing, the number of hotels in the Middle East and African regions has grown to supply the demand for accommodation. According to the EIBTM Trends Watch 2014, 628 new hotels were under contract, totalling 147,454 rooms. Trade shows, too, have been playing their part in bringing Africa’s luxury offerings to the fore, with INDABA 2015 and We Are Africa partnering under the banner of “Two Shows, One Africa”, and World Travel Market (WTM), ILTM Africa and IBTM Africa taking place in one location in mid-April.

Trends in the Luxury Industry

Skift Travel IQ released a report called The 14 Trends that will Define Travel in 2014. In it, writers Rafat Ali, Jason Clampet, Dennis Schaal and Samantha Shankman cite the rise of the silent traveller as one of the trends. Although human interaction is less important to this demographic, they say that “big data and personalisation offer a way for travel companies to offer that invisible pillar of support.” Skift goes on to say that the blurring of business and leisure travel is increasing, while the role of hotels has evolved over the last decade during “the boom of interest in experiential travel. Guests arrive to hotels with a wealth of previously researched information and demand more from their stay.” As a result, a number of independent and branded properties promote themselves as a ‘travel experience’ rather than a mere place to lay the head.

Aviation is also beginning to deliver on self-service, an increasingly popular form of travel especially for Millenials. From do-it-yourself check-in and print-at-home baggage tages to self-serve Global Entry, flyers are spending more time on their own while in the air. “All of this means that experienced travellers are able to move through the airport faster without waiting on staff to direct them,” Skift says, “In the coming year, we’ll see airports saving money on ground personnel by replacing officers at security exit gates with glass portals.”

Finally, the report cites a continued rise in Chinese Independent Travellers, despite outbound travel in China still dominated by group tours. “Chinese travellers top almost ever list of tourist superlatives,” the study concludes, “They are now the world’s biggest spenders on shopping while abroad and the most numerous overseas arrivals at global airports…a new generation of affluent Chinese consumers has come of age that is more global, educated and consumption driven than their parents. Their habits are different, too. Instead of just shopping malls, younger independents are more interested in the modern culture of their destinations.”

Cape Town remains an incredibly popular destination for luxury travellers seeking a unique experience. According to Africa Panda, a Hong Kong-based tourism marketing company, Cape Town is one of the most popular cities for Asian tourists visiting South Africa, mentioning adventure tours such as sandboarding, abseiling from Table Mountain, mountain biking, hot air ballooning and shark-cage diving as welcome pursuits.

Another unique luxury experience is the ‘glamping’ phenomenon – glamorous camping. Says Kate Rau of SouthAfrica.net: “There is no shortage of glamping holidays in South Africa. Travellers looking for luxury tented accommodation can rest assured there are plenty of glamorous options from which to choose, as well as less-traditional glamping venues such as tree houses, five-star trailer parks and lavish bungalows.” Rau goes on to explain that places like Gorah Elephant Camp and Marataba Safari Lodge are ideal for glamping, while Knysna’s tented tree-house resort is both environmentally friendly and set in a pristine forest of the Garden Route National Park. The Chalkley Treehouse at the Lion Sands Game Reserve offers lavish outdoor living, while the Airstream Rooftop Trailer Park at the Grand Daddy Hotel, or the Santos Express’s train carriage rooms in Mossel Bay offer fabulous, one-of-a-kind experiences.

Other favourite places for visitors from Asian markets include Wine farms – especially those with a courier service enabling visitors to order wine and send it home – as well as private game lodges, helicopter tours, and the penguin colonies. Sun City continues to be a popular destination.

SA Tourism has been working hard to boost both regional and international tourism to the country, and one of the ways it’s doing so is through innovative technologies like Oculus Rift. Besides this, Bradley Brouwer, SA tourism’s President for Asia Pacific, says that the department is looking to grow the number of tourists from China significantly. Brouwer goes on to say that small efforts could help move this growth along, such as making tourists feel at home – writing notices in Chinese, or South African businesses linking up with Chinese bank card Union Pay. South African Airways will also be raising the number of direct flights to Beijing from August this year.

The World’s Top Luxury Hotel Brands

According to an index by Geneva-based Digital Luxury Group, Chair of Luxury Hospitality of Ecole Hôtelière de Lausanne (EHL), Professor Samad Laaroussi, the Hilton Worldwide received the most interest last year, followed by Starwood Hotels & Resorts and Hyatt.

The World Luxury Index Hotels 2014 is based on data from 485 million online searches on 70 brands in 20 markets. The index suggests that global interest in high-end accommodation has grown by 7.7%, with the biggest rise in interest in the Luxury Exclusive category. The major growth rate comes from China (+39%), with Chinese consumers getting closer to the level of interest of the UK market – the second-largest market for the sector.

“Such a significant increase in interest for luxury hotels from China can be attributed to a few things. Firstly, numerous western hotel brands are opening in second, third and fourth-tier cities, building brand awareness in parts of China where wealth is increasing and overall luxury hotel awareness may be low. This could mean that – after experiencing a particular brand in their home country – Chinese tourists are now seeking out this brand when they travel abroad,” says David Sadigh, Founder and CEO of Digital Luxury Group.

Here are the top ten hotel brands for 2014:

  1. Hilton

  2. Sheraton

  3. Westin

  4. Four Seasons

  5. Ritz-Carlton

  6. Hyatt

  7. Renaissance

  8. Embassy Suites

  9. InterContinental

  10. Hyatt Regency   

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