Excitement is the goal
The rise of Instagram-able holidays in SA
Change is sweeping the international tourism market, and it’s being driven primarily by millennials — those in the 20-to 30-year age cohort. “They are looking for new experiences instead of mundane sightseeing tours,” says Martin Wiest, CEO of Tourvest’s destination management division.
“SA has emerged as one of the best adventure travel destinations.”
Gone are the days when young adventurers set off on a globe-hopping journey armed with not much more than a backpack. “They now have money,” says Private Safaris CEO Monika Iuel.
Adventure tourism could spread SA’s tourism load beyond oversubscribed Cape Town.
“Young travellers shun luxury accommodation. They want to live like locals among people of their own age and would rather stay in a bed-and-breakfast or self-catering establishment,” she says.
Much the same goes for game lodges.
“They are not interested in super-luxury lodges,” says Iuel.
“They want to visit a game farm where they can go on walking safaris and help with things like game capture. It gives them bragging rights on social media sites such as Snapchat and Instagram.”
Beyond game farms there is no shortage of adventure tourism pursuits open to millennials, or people of any age group looking for something different.
“There is huge potential in adventure tourism,” says David Frost, CEO of the Southern Africa Tourism Services Association. “SA has 10 times as many products to offer compared with a country like New Zealand.”
Bungee jumping is just one hair-raising way to get the adrenalin pumping. SA’s premier offering is the jump off Bloukrans Bridge in the Tsitsikamma region of the Garden Route.
“About 70% of our visitors are foreign and we are seeing strong growth all year round,” says Thomas Ngomana of Face Adrenalin Sports, which manages the Bloukrans jump. “We do a lot of promotional work, including attending international trade shows.”
Young travellers want to visit a game farm where they can go on walking safaris and help with things like game capture. It gives them bragging rights on social mediaMonika Iuel
The attraction is the world’s highest bridge bungee jump. “The jump is 216m but with the stretch of the bungee people can fall quite a lot further,” says Ngomana. “It is perfectly safe. We have been operating since 1997 and have not had anyone with so much as a broken fingernail.”
The jump is for the young at heart as well as the young.
“The oldest person to do the jump was a 96-year-old man,” says Ngomana. “After the jump he went on to go skydiving.”
Bloukrans has only 111m jump at Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe,” says Ngomana. “But they charge R2,000 for a jump, payable in US dollars. We charge R990.”
Wiest says one of SA’s big advantages is the “extremely low” prices of adventure activities.
SA’s price competitiveness is also evident in what many would regard as an extreme adventure pursuit: dual paragliding.
“We charge R1,300 for a flight,” says Grant van Rooyen, co-owner of Cape Town-based Hi 5 Tandem Paragliding.
“It will cost you at least three times as much in a country like France.”
Hi 5, which has a flying staff of six and operates from Lion’s Head and Signal Hill, also draws about 70% of its clients from overseas. Not all of them are millennials. “The oldest person to fly with us was a 93-year-old [woman],” says Van Rooyen. “We have a 100% safety record.”
This is not by chance. “It takes up to eight years to get a tandem-rated licence in SA,” he says.
That companies such as Face Adrenalin Sports and Hi 5 are enjoying robust demand is unsurprising. SA is set to end the year with the number of non-African foreign arrivals up 18%, at about 3m. This will follow a similar increase in 2016.
In part this is a result of tourists running scared of terrorist threats in countries such as Turkey and Egypt. But it is not all just good luck.
“Local tour operators have done an exceptional job of promoting SA,” says Otto de Vries, CEO of the Association of Southern African Travel Agents.
However, to an extent, SA is now the victim of its own success.
“SA’s tourism infrastructure is stretched to the limit,” says Wiest.
This is particularly true of the country’s biggest foreign tourism drawcard, Cape Town. “All accommodation in Cape Town is booked for this festive season,” says Iuel. “You will be hard-pressed even to find a place to pitch a tent in a caravan park.”
What is needed is to spread the tourist load through other provinces.
Here adventure tourism can play a key role. “People looking for adventure tourism opportunities are far more likely to visit places off the beaten track,” says Iuel.