A weak rand is making South Africa a bargain for Brits. There has been other good news for UK travellers wanting to head south. To mark its return, Virgin Atlantic, after a seven-year break, resumed flights from Heathrow to Cape Town. According to the Times, since take-off in November, the Virgin route has exceeded expectations, with flights about 80 per cent full and premium cabins selling out first. According to Stats SA, the leading overseas country in terms of the number of tourists visiting South Africa in December 2022 was the UK, with a whopping 518% annual increase in visitors in 2021.
So, who is filling the seats, and how can travel managers better sell SA to this market?
Leah Lockett, a luxury travel designer and founder of The Jetset Lifestyle Group, says UK-based travellers to South Africa are looking for a mix of experiences but typically combine a safari with a relaxing beach stay. Multi-stop trips are popular.
“Many of our clients choose to hop around regions to immerse themselves in the culture, nightlife and wine country,” says Lockett. Trips range from seven to 14 days, says Lockett. While leisure travel is consistent, she says she is seeing a rise in corporate clients and an increased demand for wellness tourism. “We are seeing British travellers slowing down and immersing themselves in physical, mental and spiritual wellbeing while holidaying.”
Millennials are showing a strong interest in visiting South Africa, preferring to spend money on “experiences over material things”, says Lockett. The high-income traveller from this demographic usually leans towards unique and bespoke trips with a focus on experiential travel to include things like wellness, adventure and safari.
Multi-generational groups are frequent visitors, but Lockett says they are also seeing some demand for small corporate groups for incentive travel coming through for SA as a destination.
Social media is proving to be a strong travel influence for both the Millennial and Generation Z markets.
Tips to attract UK travellers
Social media marketing and targeted mailshot features highlighting a particular destination are winning strategies, says Lockett, but personalising the booking experience is key. “We know what our clients like and would like out of their trips, and therefore we can ensure they are getting something bespoke that encompasses every element of what they require,” she says.
Highlighting experiences and destinations that may not be on their radar is an opportunity to engage with them, but this requires having a depth of knowledge about the destinations they sell and a “great DMC on the ground to assist”.
“Our clients usually give us free rein with their trip, so we need to know that we have the right people on the ground to make sure their trip goes as planned and to their preferences,” she says. Having direct relationships with the properties and destinations they are selling also makes a difference, Lockett says.