The desire to travel within “bubbles” and limiting the risk involved when sharing aircrafts, vehicles and accommodation has given rise to renewed interest in exclusive-use offerings.
But in Africa, the trend towards sole-use travel wasn’t a particularly new one, but rather something that had been gradually growing in popularity as an increasing number of families or groups of friends sought to travel together, having full run of the properties they chose to stay at.
In an African Travel Week Virtual panel discussion, powered by ILTM Africa, a group of experts gathered to discuss their opinions on whether exclusive-use travel was a fleeting trend, or something we should expect to stick around long after pandemic.
Back in 2019, before Covid disrupted the world, Angama Mara took the decision to open a sole-use offering in Kenya’s Maasai Mara. Explaining the decision, Kate Fitzgerald Boyd, Head of Business Development for Angama said: “We noticed demand from our trade partners to look into a villa-style accommodation offering for multigenerational families and groups of friends travelling together long before anyone had heard the term ‘social distancing’.”
It was therefore purely coincidental that Angama Safari Camp opened in 2020 amidst the pandemic, just as the concept of travel bubbles started to hit the headlines. However, Fitzgerald Boyd believes that there is something more substantial driving the trend towards sole-use. “One thing that has been very apparent during Covid is that being together with friends and family and taking it slow has become more important than ever. We have seen a big uptick in requests for exclusive-use, but it’s not so much about being nervous about Covid, otherwise you probably wouldn’t have gotten onto that first international flight – but it is really about spending time together at a gentle pace in a beautiful place that’s completely on your own terms.”
Approaching exclusive-use from a completely different perspective, Nicky Coenen, Group General Manager of Last Word Intimate Hotels & Safari Camps, points out that her business predominantly focuses on FIT or per room bookings – but as the properties are all small, the opportunity arose to shift into an exclusive-use model, although this is not their mainstream business. While traditionally demand for full run of house came from specific European markets, the USA and South America, Coenen noted that there has been significant demand from South Africans. “They want to travel locally as a family or group of friends, but want it to be five-star, fully catered and with all the bells and whistles,” she says.
Maija de Rijk-Uys, Managing Director of Go2Africa agrees and says she expects that this trend of South Africans opting to spend more of their travel budgets locally will linger after the pandemic. “I expect that South Africans that may have allocated their travel budget on an international skiing trip, for example, will be more aware of what South Africa has to offer, and rather spend it on an exclusive-use family trip here instead,” she says.
While de Rijk-Uys believes that exclusive-use bookings only amounted to less than 10% of business pre-Covid, she adds that the trade have an important role to play in drawing attention to these properties. “We can make the experience so much better by looking at bookings in a slightly different way to create a super-optimal experience that surprises and delights the customer,” she says.