Africa Travel Week

A Belgian in Africa

Isabelle Dechamps

Isabelle Dechamps was born and bred in Antwerp, Belgium but has been living happily in Cape Town, South Africa, for over 22 years. She is happily married with two sons aged six and ten. Isabelle has been in the industry for the past 30 years and has never regretted it. About 13 years ago, she started her own company, BELAFRIQUE and has found it the most amazing experience, on a professional and personal level.  

Isabelle loves getting creative and believes it’s the food for our souls.    

“Anything which is bespokely made takes time, effort and passion, whether it’s a painting, a knitted scarf or a tailor-made safari. If it’s what you want but too expensive for your wallet, rather save up a bit longer, but buy quality. Buy a product made with love and intention. If you follow this philosophy throughout your life, I think it would make the world a better place, so that’s what I strive for.”  

Where did your love for travel start?  

Growing up in Belgium, more specifically in Antwerp – a cosmopolitan city right in the centre of Europe, travel was just part of my DNA. I loved having friends from different corners of the world and being able to “hop” to London, Paris or Amsterdam for the weekend; this is something I only realise now, what an incredible privilege it was.   

Why do you enjoy working in the industry?   

I like planning & organising. I’m good at it. I juggle a lot of balls in the air. I love it. I NEED the excitement and challenge to function – Being a behind the scene’s person, making sure our guests go home with a whole lot of extra luggage, full of incredible memories, makes my heart skip a beat.   

What is your favourite destination/place to visit and why?   

I don’t have a favourite. It all depends on what the aim of the trip is (and of course budget):   

  • Diversity on all levels = South Africa  
  • Vast, ever-changing landscapes & quietness = Namibia  
  • Exotic beach holiday = Mozambique  
  • Pure safari = Botswana  
  • Friendliness & overall beauty = Zimbabwe  

I can go on & on and on…  

Tell us about one of your most memorable travel experiences and why it stands out.  

I think it was on one of my first trips to Zimbabwe. It was an organised trip on a small bus, everything was planned. It was amazing. We did Vic Falls, Kariba Lake, and Mana Pools.   

Then we got a call from the airline, our return flight to Belgium was cancelled. We had the choice of going home a day earlier or staying four nights longer. Obviously, I didn’t tell my boss that there were actually two options.   

Our little group of friends decided to rent a car & explore the rest of the country. We drove to the eastern highlands, down to Great Zimbabwe and Matopo Hills, and to Harare again.   

It was gorgeous, unexpected and fabulous.   

We got the most beautiful smiles on the way, and I felt like the world was my oyster! In retrospect, it also so typically describes “Travel to Africa”. Unexpected things might happen- you need to embrace that change in plans and include it as part of the journey.   

Very often, these “unexpected curveballs” turn out to be the most memorable memories for you to take home.  

Please give us a travel tip you don’t think anyone else offers. Or that isn’t given enough.    

Do your safari, eat delicious food, reconnect, do the adrenaline stuff, anything you planned.   

However, make sure you don’t just tick boxes and rush through everything. Allow time to immerse yourself. That’s when the unexpected, life-changing chats happen with the lady from the local lodge or shop. These are the moments where Africa connects with you.   

Based on the five senses and thinking about travelling, what do you…  

Like to see: vast beautiful landscapes  

Like to taste: local foods    

Like to feel: connection  

Like to hear: early morning tweeting of the birds  

Like to smell: the bush or any specific smell to a particular area like the sea air at the beach.  

Suggestions on resources for other travel and tourism stakeholders. Any websites, publications, podcasts, thought leaders you recommend, or newsletters we should sign up to?  

It depends on where you go, but the bottom line is to find that perfect travel planner, that aficionado of the destination. I don’t believe that this can be a big company driven by commissions and or targets. It gets a bit cluttered. Word of mouth by like-minded people that you trust is your best resource. Communication with your travel planner, open-book philosophy both ways. Passion, honesty and integrity…. that’s what it is all about.  

Tell us something about yourself that no one else knows.   

I’m more of an introvert than people think.  

Lastly, what do you love about Africa Travel Week (WTM Africa), and what are your sentiments on the evolution of trade shows being part virtual?   

I love everything about it. The fact that it goes partially virtual is a natural progression. Travel is about people and connections, and we’ve seen the importance of the “IN-PERSON” connections over this COVID period, so this can’t disappear entirely.   

I personally do shy away a bit from bigger gatherings, though – not COVID related; I just prefer the quality of smaller gatherings and 1/1 meetings which usually also happen around the same time. 

Africa Travel Week

Africa Travel Week (ATW) focuses on inbound and outbound markets for general leisure tourism, luxury travel, LGBTQ+ travel and the MICE/business travel sector as well as travel technology. Shows include: ILTM Africa, WTM Africa, EQUAL Africa, ibtm AFRICA, Travel Forward, Sports & Events Tourism Exchange and African Tourism Investment Summit.