It’s starting to become obvious that just about everybody loves South Africa—first-timers to Africa, honeymooners and now soccer fans. But most importantly—travel agents—because for the fourth consecutive year they have selected the country as the Best Selling Destination in Africa and for the eighth consecutive year, as the Sexiest Romance/Honeymoon Destination in Africa in Recommend’s Readers’ Choice Awards.
“I think what has happened when your readers have recognized South Africa as the best selling destination, is that it speaks to the great work that our travel partners have been doing, because we are a destination that is primarily sold by tour operators to first-time travelers to Africa—some 65 percent of travelers from the U.S. are first-time travelers to Africa,” explains Sthu (pronounced Stew) Zungu, president, South Africa Tourism, North America. “Therefore, that means they’re relying on the word of travel agents and tour operators and from our perspective, confidence in the great work that agents and tour operators have done in helping us sell South Africa.”
But South Africa’s popularity as an African destination isn’t just a one-sided situation, Zungu points out, explaining that the country itself has put a lot of resources and effort into making agents and consumers alike aware of all of the positive and diverse aspects of tourism there. “We’ve also done a lot of work in training and educating agents through the FUNDI program we’ve put together. That’s taken off very well,” she says. “And just recently—in March—speaking about agents and tour operators, we hosted the biggest ASTA IDE in South Africa. So all of these things that we’ve been doing with the trade, has clearly been paying off.”
But with all the recognition from the trade and the industry in general, continuing to sell South Africa comes down to delivering to the consumer the kind of unique and diverse vacation experience that the country has become famous for—certainly as one of the most diverse tourism attractions on the continent.
“South Africa is, after all, a very compelling destination and I think it’s encouraging to see that people are finally realizing how compelling South Africa really is and that the products we’re offering as a destination are our wildlife, it’s our beauty—it’s a country that’s so exotic in terms of a destination,” Zungu says with more than just a little bit of pride. “We find more and more that North American travelers are looking for a variety of experiences and I believe there are no countries that can compete with us and offer the variety South Africa does—whether it’s the beaches, the culinary experience, whether it’s the adventure, the vibrant cities or whether it’s the fact we’re one of the biggest countries in the continent of Africa. I think it’s also the open culture and the mix that people will be comfortable with when they come,” she adds. “It’s still an adventure, but not too far out of the way that people will feel it’s too foreign.…”
There’s no doubt that compelling nature also has a lot to do with South Africa’s popularity as a romance/honeymoon destination. After all, a honeymoon is supposed to be an unforgettable and defining experience in what will hopefully be a life-long relationship. And certainly, as Zungu points out, there are some unforgettable experiences awaiting visitors to the country—honeymooners or not. But surprisingly, despite its popularity as a honeymoon destination and the eight consecutive years it’s garnered the top spot for that segment in Africa, Zungu says South Africa really doesn’t sell itself as a honeymoon destination.
“We don’t necessarily sell ourselves as a honeymoon destination, but I think the compelling depth of the experiences available in South Africa is perfectly in line with the idea of the ‘dream trip,’ the experience that we offer,” she says. “Just the romantic idea you’re going to this exotic country that’s on the southernmost tip of the African continent, that offers some of the most incredible experiences you’ll find in the world, that offers some of the most incredible food and wine—I think it’s for honeymooners looking for a full range of experiences. It’s just the whole experience—the rustic life of the Dutch cottages in Cape Town, the Zulu life in Zululand or it’s the Kruger National Park and the variety of animals you’ll see in South Africa’s national parks.”