Honeymooners Learn and Grow in South Africa

It’s not hard to understand why South Africa has been named Sexiest Romance/Honeymoon Destination in Africa for the ninth year in a row—think balmy nights in a luxury safari camp, beautiful beach resorts on the Indian Ocean and one-of-a-kind romantic dinners in Cape Town—and with a reputation as the “first” destination for travelers to Sub-Sahara Africa, being named Best Selling Destination in Africa for the fifth year in a row isn’t much of a surprise either.

“Honeymooners, they want to do what’s not typical—they want to do something unusual—so the distance is not a problem, especially because people plan carefully for their honeymoon trips. South Africa has always had this allure, the sense that it’s a once-in-a-lifetime destination even though many people who travel there wind up going back,” explains Sthu (pronounced Stew) Zungu, president, South African Tourism, North America. “Certainly for that special event—the honeymoon or an anniversary—it fits just right…. You can lie on the beach if you really want to relax and then you can get up and get going because there’s so much to see, there’s so much to do and there’s such diversity. The safari, that’s the real drive and the romanticism of it—being in the bush with nature, seeing animals close up and the adrenaline rush of seeing a lion stalking its prey.”

But she also points out there’s plenty of romance just being on the southernmost tip of the African continent. “I suppose for that first trip together as a couple, people want to step into a new territory and find a destination that will change them, grow them and let them learn and grow and be enriched together,” Zungu says. “Whether it’s in our cities or our cultures or the food and wine that we offer, South Africa has it all and that’s why I think it fits so well within the honeymoon space.”

But what makes it the best selling destination in Africa? Many would say—for 2010, at least—that it was the fact they hosted the World Cup event. And Zungu would agree, to a point. The World Cup, she points out, did give them the opportunity like never before to connect with a great mass of travelers, some of who may never have considered going to South Africa. And certainly, the games did give the country some incredible numbers, but it was also the global media coverage South Africa received that brought the country to front of mind among literally millions of potential travelers and they’re already seeing evidence of that attention.

“June and July were our strongest months with June numbers running at 99 percent over the previous year, almost double, and with July coming down to 10 percent over the previous year as the World Cup wound down on July 11,” Zungu says. “But the month of August—which was post-World Cup—we grew by 35 percent over the previous year. That was actually encouraging because that confirmed what a lot of our tour operators told us, which was, ‘I don’t see any of our clients coming to us for the World Cup because our clients aren’t the kind of traveler who are going to come for the World Cup.’ But they did tell us that their people are holding back for the end of the World Cup and we saw those August numbers regroup to 35 percent, which was phenomenal and we’re hoping that we’re going to be able to sustain that growth until the end of the year,” she says hopefully. But the numbers are looking pretty good for South Africa overall, with a total of 26 percent increases year-to-date at Sept. 1, 2010.

The World Cup, she says, validated South Africa’s ability to manage big events and that’s exactly what they’re focused on for 2011. “One of the big imperatives as a destination—not only in the U.S. but also globally because that’s the way we market ourselves—is looking very strongly at big groups because obviously now with all the infrastructure development that’s taken place, we are well placed for 2011 and beyond.”