The COVID pandemic has had a tremendous impact on traveller behaviour and expectations – and this impact extends to travellers from the United States, one of Africa’s biggest source markets. Below, we explore how the mindsets of travellers from the US have changed in recent times, what sort of experiences they’re after, and how travel suppliers can better reach these individuals going forward.
1. Demand for types of experience
The majority of Americans travel to Africa for the wide, open spaces, which has been the case for some time – long before the pandemic first hit. The market is also generally split between the Americans who visit the continent with the intention of relaxing as much as possible and those who come in search of adventure.
For the most part, Americans are feeling relatively confident about getting back to travel.
“There’s a huge portion who are dying to get back to travel and are taking action to make it happen. However, there are some who want to be a little more cautious and wait it out a bit longer. Generally, though, we’re definitely seeing a comeback. Africa is, after all, a very popular bucket list destination. US travellers who wanted to go before the pandemic still want to go now,” says Anne-Marie Callahan, Travel Advisor at Edgewood Travel.
“There is a slight hesitation regarding safety due to the fact that South Africa is a third world country and behind on rolling out vaccination programmes. But choosing to work with qualified tour operators when planning their holidays makes them feel confident that the highest safety precautions are being taken,” Anne-Marie adds.
The Americans’ confidence to resume travel abroad is further fuelled by the knowledge that they themselves have been vaccinated, according to Akash Baijnath, Regional Sales & Marketing Manager East & Southern Africa at Abercrombie & Kent:
“Being vaccinated makes US travellers feel better protected. They also know that Africa has wide, open spaces, making it easier to social distance.
2. Marketing consumption
It’s possible to reach Americans in lots of different ways when it comes to marketing. However, demographics play a huge role in determining marketing consumption. Based on insights provided by CrowdRiff, Generation Z is made up of ‘smartphone planners’ who consume their travel-related marketing via social media, and Instagram YouTube, in particular. Millennials with growing families are also quite heavily engaged on social media, with up to 64% claiming to use these platforms as a resource to plan their trips.
3. Travel behaviour
While confident about resuming travel, most Americans are still taking strict precautions to ensure their safety. As such, they seem to be travelling in smaller groups in recent times and are strategically selecting more intimate, boutique accommodation providers to allow them to remain in a ‘travel bubble’ and make the most of a more personalised experience. Furthermore, many are opting for exclusive-use bookings (i.e., where they book out an entire guesthouse or lodge for their exclusive use for the duration of their stay) and chartering flights to Africa as opposed to flying commercially.
Akash highlights how US travellers are typically visiting Africa with larger budgets since the start of the pandemic, having saved up throughout lockdown.
“They’re not hesitant to spend a bit more when visiting Africa as a bucket list destination because they want the adventure to be a truly once-in-a-lifetime experience,” he says.
Anne-Marie agrees, stating how US travellers don’t view Africa as a destination in which to be frugal.
“The general attitude of all our clients right now, especially amongst those who are travelling internationally for the first time since the pandemic, is that they want to do it right. After all, spending that little bit more often means the difference between a mediocre vacation and an unforgettable one.”
From a demographic’s perspective, Akash speaks about how a number of honeymooners are set to flock to Africa very soon, while Anne-Marie highlights how there’s been a steady increase in the amount of young travelling families. The latter insight is unsurprising considering the results of the 2021 U.S. Family Travel Survey, conducted by the Family Travel Association (FTA) in collaboration with the NYU School of Professional Studies. The survey revealed that nearly nine in 10 US parents (88%) are likely to travel with their children in the next 12 months.
When looking at statistics provided by wetu, an itinerary generating software, the drop in demand thanks to the pandemic is evident – and the will to travel again clearly visible in 2021. The graph shows positive growth in this source market for 2022.
4. Traveller preferences
As mentioned, US travellers most commonly decide to venture to Africa for the wide, open spaces. They enjoy safaris and love getting involved in other adventurous, outdoors activities, such as zip-lining, hiking, and hot-air ballooning. They also place high priority on service quality and hospitality, often going in search of ultra-personalised packages and treatment. This is yet another reason why small, boutique lodges are extremely popular right now.
“The guests only have a small number of people around them at any given time, enabling easy social distancing and offering peace of mind. The staff are also able to provide the guests with maximum attention, making them feel special and cared for.”
5. Planning to booking
Considering how quickly restrictions can change, it’s unsurprising that bookings from the US to Africa are now following the trend of shorter lead-times, with countless Americans making more last-minute travel decisions.
“Almost all travel bookings coming into Africa from the US right now are last-minute bookings. People are feeling secure enough to get back to travel and want to go right away to reduce the risk of having to deal with any disappointing postponements or cancellations,” says Anne-Marie.
6. Tips for adapting to the needs and demands of the US source market
According to Anne-Marie, nothing appeals to the US market more than travel suppliers going that extra mile to make them feel special and welcomed, particularly during times of uncertainty.
“It’s worth it to put the work in to make every client feel special. You can never do too much to make a guest feel welcome and as though they’re getting the best possible treatment. Speak to them on a first-name basis and go out of your way to help with the little things.”
7. Obstacles to reaching the US source market
For Akash, the main challenge of reaching this market is re-assuring these travellers of their safety. Communication regarding this matter needs to be regular and consistent.
“Every business within the travel and tourism sector needs to communicate to the US market that Africa is a safe destination. We need to drive the message home that we’ve got the experiences necessary to ensure an amazing vacation far away from the crowds, and everything required to meet their needs and desires,” he concludes.