Africa Travel Week

“Africa rises from the ashes but is it ready for the new shape of travel?”

The travel analysts at ForwardKeys have been kept busy monitoring and sharing the latest business intelligence in real-time as one by one, nations and regions start to taste travel reactivation. The first glimpses of a return to “Normality” took place in Central America and the Caribbean in 2021 driven by travel-hungry US travellers and Europeans. Now that hunger has a new focus: Africa and the Middle East.

And it could be the US outbound market to save the fragile tourism sector in Africa. The volume of flight searches from the US to South Africa has grown by 2% from January to February 2022. While the overall volume of flight searches to South Africa for the same period is up by 30%. Travel intent is strong but does this interest convert into bookings?

The good news is that international arrivals into Africa and the Middle East confirm this intent is translating into arriving tourists. International arrivals to Africa in Q2 of 2022 are at -33% compared to 2019 levels, above the total international outbound average of -45% and just behind the leading recovery region, the Americas (-27%). Last year this figure was at -64%, so this is a marked improvement.

The Ease of Doing Business Vs Direct Flights

During the investigative research for this analysis and upcoming presentation at WTM Africa, Shingai George, Africa Market Expert, stumbled upon a few interesting insights worth pointing out that connect back to the above graph – the ease of doing business and direct flights.

1. Best Performing Destinations for Long-Haul travel to Africa

For tickets issued between January 1 and March 18 for long-haul travel for any time in the future versus 2019 levels, the list was dominated by West African cities and countries: Ivory Coast, Nigeria, and Ghana.

The exceptions are the classic island destinations such as Zanzibar (+33%), Praia in Cape Verde (+10%) and Seychelles (-2%) – the typical sun and sea destinations made even more popular and in demand by the pandemic with people seeking more natural and large open spaces.

Most of the above-listed destinations also have more frequent direct flights (with the US) which are not only facilitating more travellers but attracting a more affluent class of travellers too.

2. The rise in premium cabin class travel and changing travel purposes

This is something that may surprise many, but there is a growing luxury market opportunity across Africa. “As we’ve seen taking place elsewhere in the world, the pent-up demand, need for more space and excess savings are driving a boom in Premium class cabin travel to Africa, just 24% under pre-pandemic levels,” says Shingai George.

Look which destinations appear again? In the case of déjà vu, these premium travellers report the purpose of their travel is 69% for leisure, 12% for business and 12% are Visiting Friends & Family (VFR.) Here’s an exciting market and opportunity for hoteliers, tourism boards and tour operators to tap into: “Bleisure.”

3. The role of the VFR market & remote workers

While Africa is finding its feet in the early phase of travel and tourism reactivation, it can not afford to overlook the influence of its local domestic tourism efforts and many VFR touching down across the airports of Africa.

Throughout 2021 it was the local tourism keeping the industry afloat as international travel was badly impacted by tough lockdowns and the impact of the Omicron variant. In 2022, despite the Omicron variant and conflict in Russia-Ukraine, international travel has restarted and is being pushed by VFRs the most, followed by leisure seekers. And they are staying longer than ever before!

The length of stay has increased by 7% in 2022 versus 2019, with 28% of issued tickets for 22 nights or more. The large bulk of travellers, 57%, plan to stay for 6 – 21 nights. Are the hospitality industry and local infrastructure ready for this? With travellers staying for a month or so, it could be down to flexible work conditions as remote working grows in popularity. Here’s that “Bleisure” opportunity ready to be seized.

Africa is on a trend upwards but there is still plenty of new opportunities to tap into and new source markets to reach in LATAM and the world to replace the loss of Chinese travellers. Let your decisions be led by data in 2022 – reach out to Shingai George or Luis Millan in Cape Town this April for a meeting or a demonstration.

SPECIAL WTM AFRICA OFFER! ForwardKeys is providing attendees and exhibitors of WTM Africa a 10% off any annual subscription for its suite of data solutions if you enquire before May 31, 2022, and quote WTMAfrica22. Email

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.