Africa Rising

written by | Posted on December 10th, 2012

Kenya is Home to Cottar’s 1920′s Safari Camp.

Pliny The Elder Knew What He Was Talking About Back In A.D 77 When He Said, “Ex Africa Semper Aliquid Novi.” Which Translates As “Out Of Africa, Always Something New.”

For years, the continent has offered ample opportunity for travelers seeking adventure, culture, and a brush with wildlife as well as foodies and architecture buffs. And 2012 was no different, with a trove of new lodges and itineraries popping up, additional countries welcoming tourists and a plentiful supply of travel agent tools and training for those unfamiliar with the destination or just looking to learn more.

uber-luxe kenya
In Kenya news, there were a number of new lodge openings in 2012 across the country’s vast, wildlife-rich plains. Included in these are the Impala Eco Lodge (impalaecolodge.com) on the shores of Lake Victoria, Segera Camp in Laikipia (segera.com), and Ekorian’s Mugie Camp (bush-and-beyond.com) in the Mugie Sanctuary near Mount Kenya.

Other notable lodge openings included Mara Toto Camp, which set up in November on the forested bend of the Ntiakitiak River in Kenya’s famous Masai Mara Game Reserve. The camp is designed to cater to independent travelers and is perfectly situated for optimal game viewing with traversing rights of both Mara North Conservancy and the Masai Mara (greatplainsconservation.com).

Last but not least, Richard Branson is in the process of building a Virgin Limited Edition property called Mahali Mzuri (mahalimzuri.virgin.com) on the Motorogi Conservancy in the Masai Mara, slated to open in early-2013. Mahali Mzuri, which means “beautiful place” in Swahili, will feature 12 tented suites and includes daily game drives within the Olare Orok and Motorogi Conservancies.

And there are high hopes for Hemingways Nairobi (hemingways-nairobi.com), a luxury boutique hotel in the exclusive suburb of Karen, which opened on Nov. 17. Each of the hotel’s 45 spacious suites include valet service, plus access to the property’s wellness center, pool, gym, spa and dining room, whose head chef, Barry Tonks, is the only Michelin-starred chef in East Africa. The hotel, a member of the prestigious Small Luxury Hotels of the World, offers sweeping views of the lush valley before it and the Ngong Hills. Representatives from luxury tour operator Abercrombie & Kent (abercrombiekent.com) who visited the property this fall compared it to the exquisite Saxon Hotel in Johannesburg.

Aside from new property openings, a few well-known existing lodges have received significant refurbishments or additions. Governors’ Private Camp (governorscamp.com), for example, has recently updated its look with new soft furnishings in six tents and a new bar tent on the oxbow overlooking the Mara River. In addition, Cottar’s 1920s Safari Camp (cottars.com) has opened the exclusive Cottar’s Private House bordering the Masai Mara and with views of the Olderekesi Hills. The house was built by Kenyans with the use of indigenous and eco-friendly materials. With more than 9,000 sq. ft., it includes five en-suite bedrooms, a large living room, dining room and viewing deck. As owner Calvin Cottar says, “Cottar’s Private homestead represents the best of all of our experience over the last hundred years and meets traveler’s modern needs and safari expectations.”

Kenya is Home to Cottar’s 1920′s Safari Camp.

uganda & tanzania developments
Due west in Uganda, the Uganda Wildlife Authority lowered gorilla permit prices to $350 (that’s $150 off the regular price of $500) for foreign non-residents last month and will do so again in April and May 2013. For your clients who’ve been yearning to track mountain gorillas (a must on many people’s bucket lists!), this is the ideal time to do so. The reduced permit price combined with the fact that Marasa Africa (one of the largest diversified private sector investors in Uganda) has just added Silverback Lodge (silverbacklodge.com) to its portfolio of quality tourism products in East Africa will make this an easy sell.  Silverback is located in the Buhoma section of Bwindi Impenetrable Forest, a UNESCO site and home to half of the world’s remaining population of mountain gorillas.

Moving south to Tanzania, increased air access from the U.S. has played a significant role in the steady stream of American tourists visiting the country. Qatar Airways (qatarairways.com/us), which already flies to Dar es Salaam from the U.S., has recently added Kilimanjaro Airport to its schedule, which will increase direct access to the famous destinations of Kilimanjaro, the Serengeti and Ngorongoro Crater. In addition, Four Seasons (fourseasons.com) just added its name to the list of American companies that began operating in Tanzania this year. (It doesn’t hurt that Tanzania offers some of the best game viewing on the continent.)

And, Tanzania is the home of the famed Great Migration in the Serengeti, a safari highlight for most visitors to East Africa. In fact, in our November 2012 issue we highlighted Tanzania as a must-visit for your clients for 2013 (African Retreats in Tanzania) and Moira Smith, general manager of Africa and the Middle East for Goway Travel, said in that article, “No other destination in the world offers such incredible diversity of game viewing opportunities.”

The development of infrastructure in the Southern and Western circuits of Tanzania have also spurred growth to the country. Newly paved air strips, such as at the Mpanda Airport, and the newly constructed Songwe International Airport in Mbeya, now provide increased access to hidden gems such as Katavi National Park and Kitulo National Park, known as the “Serengeti of flowers.”

Niche itineraries such as The Africa Adventure Company’s 8-Day Culinary Safari to Tanzania (africa-adventure.com) have also been created, showcasing the best of Tanzania’s organic gardens and coffee plantations while allowing visitors to indulge in a thrilling wildlife safari.

Of course, we cannot mention Tanzania news without noting that in August 2012, the illustrious Singita opened Singita Serengeti House (singita.com) in Tanzania, an exclusive-use homestead housing up to eight guests. Set on Sasakwa Hill and surrounded by 347,000 acres of game-rich savanna, Singita Serengeti House (which includes a lap pool, a private tennis court and a dedicated house team) was converted from a manager’s former residence using environmentally friendly practices.

Restaurant in the Garden of the Seidelberg Wine Estate, Cape Wine Route.

southern africa continues to grow
In other “green news” on the continent, South African Airways (flysaa.com) joined an internationally accredited carbon offset program in October, giving passengers the opportunity to make voluntary contributions in the global effort to offset the effects of climate change. The program allows SAA customers to offset a percentage of flight emissions by purchasing carbon offset credits together with their air tickets in a single transaction on flysaa.com. Credits generated through the program will fund projects which will assist communities to limit their impact on the environment, slowing the pace of climate change.

And South African Airways (SAA) has expanded its route network considerably in the last year. Adding or expanding codeshares with Qantas, TAP Portugal and Air China, SAA began operations from Johannesburg to Kigali, Rwanda and onwards to Bujumbura, Burundi last January while expansion in Benin, Ivory Coast and The Republic of Congo have also been added. This year also brought increased frequency of Airlink (flyairlink.com) flights between Johannesburg and Pemba in Northern Mozambique, with the addition of Monday and Friday flights to its weekly schedule starting in late-August. Airlink also started running daily scheduled flights from Johannesburg, South Africa, to Maun, Botswana in June of this year.

A bit farther south in South Africa, tremendous infrastructure improvements (which have been ongoing since the World Cup) have added to the flow of holiday-makers wishing to visit the country. According to CNN, Cape Town was the ninth most loved city in the world in 2012. New trains and buses are part of the story for the city this year. This fall, the Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa announced that about 700 new trains (equipped with onboard messenger systems and accessible toilets) will be running on South Africa’s tracks within the next two years. What’s more, Cape Town has expanded the MyCiTi (Bus Rapid Transport System); tourists can benefit from the fact that the Sea Point station links the Cape Town Business District to the Waterfront as well as the glorious beaches of Clifton, Hout Bay and Camps Bay.

Property-wise in South Africa, Pezula Resort & Spa (pezularesorthotel.com) joined the Conrad Hotels & Resorts’ portfolio in November. The hotel has 78 suites housed in detached villas, and five larger family villas. Other luxury amenities at the property include an award-winning spa and health club, an extensive wine cellar and the hotel’s award-winning restaurant, Zachary’s.

In other property news, the renowned Sun International (suninternational.com) opened its first hotel in Johannesburg in December 2012, a four-star accommodation with 267 rooms located in the heart of Sandton, Johannesburg’s financial district, near the Stock Exchange.

In Zambia, the well-regarded Norman Carr Safaris (normancarrsafaris.com) announced that it is building a sustainable bush camp, called Chinzombo, in Zambia’s game-rich Luangwa Valley. Notably, the camp is being designed by Silvio Rech and Lesley Carstens, the architects behind the uber-luxurious North Island Resort in the Seychelles and Vumbura Plains in the Okavango Delta. The property will comprise six spacious villas with decor made of timber, copper, raw linen and handmade crockery nestled amongst ancient trees on the Luangwa River. There is a spa and fitness center as well. The property is set to open March 1, 2013.

Clients headed to Zambia can expect very unique experiences, including as Chris McIntyre, president of Expert Africa, told us for our March 2012 story, From Zambia to Zimbabwe, “boating safaris in the Lower Zambezi National Park or walking safaris in Zambia’s South Luangwa National Park.”

online tools for agents & social media exposure
The year 2012 was a banner year for online tools and social media in the realm of selling African travel. In 2012, Cape Town Tourism (capetown.travel) announced a new online toolkit for the travel trade that allows agents to select elements and package information in order to put together custom Cape Town itineraries using Cape Town Tourism collateral. The program has been designed with attention to Cape Town Tourism’s new marketing theme, “You don’t need a holiday, you need Cape Town!” Travel agents can use this marketing campaign to promote their packages through marketing materials such as online banner advertisements and promotional postcards.

Another unique online campaign for Africa this year was undertaken by the Namibia Tourism Board (namibiatourism.com.na), which in the spring of 2012 launched a 6-week Facebook campaign called “Conservation Destination.” The campaign’s components included stories of the country’s conservation heroes (including Dr. Laurie Marker of the spectacular Cheetah Conservation Fund), as well as engagement by the North American travel trade: tour operators and travel agents were able to syndicate a conservation splash page to promote their itineraries and stimulate demand for Namibia using their Facebook accounts. When the campaign ended in June 2012, the “Conservation Destination” effort had reached more than six million people, many of them travel agents.

Still one more online initiative impressed the trade this year: the International Association for Travel to Africa (IAFTTA) launched a series of online seminars (which are recorded so they can be consulted at any time) designed to educate, inspire and guide travel agents as they sell travel to Africa (experts4africa.com). The travel agent “boot camp,” as it is being called, includes an overview, history and general information. It addresses safaris, culture, and customs and includes a range of destinations including Botswana, Tanzania, Kenya, Rwanda, Uganda, Namibia, Ghana and Madagascar.

“The market is gradually coming back. We have tourists who won’t stop going to Egypt. We recently hosted a FAM trip with eight Virtuoso travel agents and they came back with very positive feedback.”

Mohamed Hegazy, Tourism Director, U.S. and Latin America, Egypt Tourism Authority

nigeria enters the tourism market
And finally, there’s even news for travel agents in Nigeria, the West African coastal nation with the largest population. Nigeria, which offers beautiful beaches, one-of-a-kind flora and fauna and vast open spaces of wilderness including rainforest, mountains and savannah, is on a kick to bring in visitors, as is evidenced by a 9-day Nigeria Tourism road show that took place in August of this year. The road show brought the director-general of the Nigeria Tourism Development Corporation and several key delegates from Nigeria to the U.S. in early August, stopping in Jacksonville, FL, Los Angeles, and Washington, D.C., to meet with representatives from U.S. media, sports and travel organizations, including travel agents, tour operators Cox & Kings and African Travel, and the National Tour Association. Through an integrated marketing campaign that includes an educational component for travel agents, Nigeria Tourism is especially promoting the theme, “Nigeria: Our History is Your History.” (Visit tourism.gov.ng for more information, including a list of travel providers serving Nigeria.)

hopes for stabilization in north africa
It is no secret that unrest across the Middle East and North Africa this year has affected travel to the region. In late-August, the U.S. State Department lifted a travel alert for Egypt that had been in place since the end of March 2012.

Pamela Lassers, a spokeswoman for Abercrombie & Kent, says, “It’s important for travel agents to put the situation in perspective. More than 150,000 North Americans visited Egypt in the last year. These were politically aware travelers who wanted to show support for the democracy movement, returning guests who wanted to be among the first to see the newly restored Avenue of the Sphinxes in Luxor and first-time travelers attracted by the exceptional values.” Lassers says that Abercrombie & Kent USA actually added 14 additional small group departures in 2012 to the 34 previously announced to accommodate the increasing demand for travel to Egypt.

Despite a rough patch, Mohamed Hegazy, the tourism director, U.S. and Latin America, for Egypt Tourism Authority (egypt.travel), says, “The market is gradually coming back. We have tourists who won’t stop going to Egypt. We recently hosted a FAM trip with eight Virtuoso travel agents and they came back with very positive feedback. We are optimistic.”