In April I had the opportunity to attend the WTM Africa conference in Cape Town, South Africa. It was both my first time in Cape Town and at WTM Africa, and neither was a disappointment.
The Cape Town International Conference Center was the perfect location to explore the city and surrounding mountains during our downtime but the event itself was amazing. Over 6,000 travel industry professionals came to connect with others in the sector and to learn from a series of inspirational speakers. During the three days of the conference, sessions covered everything from “The hottest travel tech trends for the travel industry”, “Why Adventure Tourism is the next big thing for Africa” to “Coping with climate change – adaptation & decarbonisation.”
Through our work with South African travel clients such as Go2Africa, I get a front row seat to some of the most interesting shifts and trends in the African travel market. Here's three things I've taken away from this conference.
1. Luxury and adventure travel is leading the bounce back of the industry in South Africa
Tourism is hugely important for the South African economy and thankfully tourists are returning, making it a top destination in the global tourism market once more. Its appeal lies mainly in the variety it offers, particularly for luxury and adventure-seeking travelers.
The global adventure tourism market is estimated to grow to over $1 trillion by 2028 with land-based adventure tourism - for which South Africa is renowned - growing at a faster rate than either air or water-based adventure tourism. What’s more, we know that 87% of luxury travelers are willing to spend more money on vacations this year and that for a single trip this summer/fall they’re expecting to pay, on average, $5,798.
This group of travelers defines “luxury” in many ways, including staying at five star hotels, partaking in the best culinary experiences, having once in a lifetime experiences or taking bucket list trips. What is great for the recovery of the travel industry in South Africa is that the country can offer all this and more.
2. Sustainability and conservation is key for the future of travel
Throughout the travel industry there is a recognition of the impact that travelers and tourism have on the environment and local communities. More and more, both business travelers and tourists are recognizing that they have a part to play, and are demanding sustainability from their tourism operators. They are demanding a responsible and environmentally-friendly approach to travel that aims to preserve a destination's natural and cultural resources, benefit the local community, as well as provide a positive experience for the traveler. It is operators who embrace this - whether it’s by offering electric vehicles for safari trips, employing people from local communities or demonstrating how the carbon footprint of business flights are being offset - who will thrive.
3. Travel companies are looking to streamline manual processes using AI and other technology, while maintaining a white glove approach to the guest experience.
While guests and passengers are now flocking to destinations across the globe, staff have not returned with the same enthusiasm, and competition for talent is fierce.
For travel businesses, understaffing can have a significant impact on customer service levels with their ability to meet (let alone exceed) guest expectations drastically reduced. This is where Artificial Intelligence (AI) and other technology could be leveraged more in the travel industry, as it has already in many others.
While there are concerns that the use of AI will reduce the level of human contact that is the very basis of the tourism industry, if technology is used to undertake repetitive processes such as booking, check-in/out and other low-contact interactions, staff could find they have time to devote providing guests a personalized service, something they really value.
There are other ways technology can automate parts of the guest experience, and free up staff time for more important matters. Our client, Go2Africa, a specialist provider of tailor-made safari experiences, spoke on stage about how they have leveraged technology to enhance their customer experience with fantastic results. From using technology to improve their booking and payments process, through to providing travelers with current itinerary and cost information via their own easy-to-view dashboard, they spoke about how technology-driven enhancements have resulted in significant growth.