2024 travel trend insights for South African travel providers

What 102 South African travel providers told us about their business.

The vibrant “Rainbow Nation” of South Africa has a stellar reputation for unforgettable experiences and the warm reception travelers can expect from locals. From dusty savannahs, lush vineyards, and lofty mountains to historically important locations and cuisine to attract the choosiest of foodies, South Africa has broad appeal. There is so much to see and do that many travelers return again and again.

South African tourism is experiencing a remarkable recovery, mainly thanks to increased intra-regional African travel. Over three quarters of all inbound arrivals came from an African nation, with Zimbabwe and Kenya showing remarkable growth. Outside of Africa, the United States, United Kingdom, and Germany are also nations that top the South African international arrivals list.

Flywire surveyed 400+ travel providers about trends in the travel industry, customer demands, and their experiences of (and expectations for) business growth, 102 of which were from South Africa, and this is what they said.

More of them reported an increase in bookings than their counterparts in other countries (86% vs 82% (Italy), 77% (Australia) & 33% (Japan), and South African travel providers are also the most optimistic in terms of growth in the next five years. Nearly half (43%) are expecting 11%-20% growth and 32% are expecting their business to grow by more than 20% (vs 20% (Italy), 13% (Australia), and 3% (Japan)).

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1 in 3 South African travel providers expect their business to grow by >20% in five years.

Experiences and slow travel in demand, sustainability critical to travel sector survival

Travelers choose South Africa for many reasons; to see the “Big 5” on safari in Kruger National Park, experience the culinary delights and world-class wine of the Cape Winelands, hike the iconic natural landmarks of Table Mountain, Lions Head, or the Drakensberg Mountains or, perhaps, to learn about South Africa’s rich history, the legacy of Nelson Mandela and cultural diversity. But, whatever the reason, it usually boils down to the experience South Africa can offer. 86% of South African travel providers have seen increased consumer demand for experiential travel. And increasingly, travelers want to take more time to fully immerse themselves in the experience and absorb them instead of rushing from place to place. It makes sense, then, that 86% of travel providers in South Africa say they have seen an increase in demand for slow travel, with a third seeing “a lot more” (vs Australia (22%), Italy (22%) and Japan (8%)).

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78% say slow travel is something that will grow, and so will demand for sustainable trips

A core tenet of slow travel is the idea of a more sustainable way of traveling. With travelers becoming increasingly aware of the environmental impact of their travels they are consciously making choices to limit that impact, whether that be choosing providers with great sustainability credentials, choosing to stay in one place for longer, or, if movement is needed, choosing more environmentally friendly transport (i.e. rail as opposed to flying). Slow travel transport options can be considered an experience in and of themselves.

87% of South African travel providers have seen an increase in customers looking for sustainable options when it comes to travel, and 49% say that travelers are asking for sustainable options when they are booking accommodation.

South African travel providers have certainly seen sustainability become more of a business-critical issue, and 94% said they have already implemented sustainability-focused policies or products in response. But there’s room for improvement – some 9/10 travel providers acknowledged. Less than a third (29%) said they have implemented a large number of improvements.

Positive view of AI and customers asking for digital tools, payments critical

Artificial Intelligence (AI) can be a divisive topic, particularly in the travel industry, where personal touches are valued. However, in South Africa, most travel providers think that AI will have a positive impact (95%), and they think it will have the biggest impact on:

  • areas that are time-consuming for either customers or staff-trip research (50%)
  • trip scheduling (44%)
  • real-time communications (33%).

Most say they are seeing more interest in generative AI (ChatGPT) from their customers (83%), and their customers have been asking for more digital amenities or tools (82%).

Having the ability to take payments is perhaps one of the most critical digital tools travel providers can give their customers. Thankfully, 8 in 10 South African travel providers say their payment capabilities are digital-more than any other country in the survey (3 in 4 - Italy & Australia and 1 in 3 - Japan). Nearly half (48%) say their payment capabilities definitely are, and a third say they are close to being fully digital.

This is not to say there are no issues with taking payments for South African travel providers. Almost all recognize that, when paying, their customers have pain points. Only 4% said otherwise, and these pain points include:

  • security concerns (55%)
  • concerns over unexpected fees/confusion about exchange rates (54%)
  • not being able to pay in their local currency (46%)
  • not being able to use their preferred credit card (37%)

South African travel providers believe that solving these payment issues would improve the payment experience. With 92% recognizing that the payment experience they offer is an extension of their brand, there is also the recognition that solving payments, making it easy, would improve the customer's overall view of the provider brand.

88%South African travel providers think the easier it is for their customers to pay them, the happier those customers will be.
83%think if it were easier to accept payments in guests’ own currencies, those guests would be more satisfied.

Outgoing payments are an issue that South African travel providers would like to see solved. 3 in 4 wish it were easier to make outgoing payments to their vendors and commission payments to their agents.

South African travel providers believe their operations, bottom line and, ultimately, their growth prospects would be improved if they had a better way to handle payments.

  • 86% believe they would save time
  • 77% said they would save money
  • 86% believe that their business would grow if it were easier to accept payments in their customer's currency

Demand related to work flexibility embraced by South African travel providers, increased occupancy possible

Across the world, the rise of remote working has changed traveler demands, and it is no different for South African providers. 91% of South African travel providers say they have seen an increase in customers wanting accommodations for remote working.

Furthermore, half say their customers ask for business amenities when booking accommodation.

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91% of South African travel providers say they have seen an increase in customers wanting accommodations to allow for remote working.

Half of the South African travel providers surveyed say they have embraced this demand, and have already changed their packages to accommodate a 4-day working week or remote working. The other half are planning to do so. Adaptation to working patterns could result in increased occupancy levels-42% of South African travel providers say that flexible working arrangements will mean more trips planned in advance and a third say that it will encourage more last-minute trips. Over a third (37%) believe that work flexibility will encourage more back-to-back trips, with travelers moving from one destination to another while maintaining their work schedule.

In terms of the impact of work flexibility on traveler demographics, nearly half (49%) of travel providers in South Africa believe it will encourage more family vacations and over a third believe there will be an increase in solo travelers and couples trips.

Flexible working is also impacting traveler requests; 50% of South African travel providers said that they have seen an increase in requests for business amenities, and what is more, early check-in is the top customer request received by South African travel providers (57%), and requests for late check-out aren't far behind (41%). Whether it is to accommodate work, take advantage of cheaper travel, or simply maximize their vacation time, this increased desire for flexibility is something to be mindful of.

What is clear is that offering packages to attract tourists is only half the battle. Ensuring a smooth and consistent customer experience from the very first interaction and utilizing appropriate solutions to make it easier to do so will greatly improve profitability.