While the global economy sinks, we're seeing the glimmer of a silver lining in pervasive travel deals—particularly in Africa. To better understand the opportunities, we asked Africa Adventure Consultants president Kent Redding to fill us in on finding deals, travelers' roles in local economies, and why the bargain tide will change in 2010. (Find a top Africa tour operator with our 2009 adventure travel company ratings.)
How can a potential traveler find deals and discounts? Is it rude to just ask for one?
There are so many discounts right now, it can be a bit overwhelming—even for us. You can search the Internet until your eyes cross, but a better tack would be to find a knowledgeable travel professional to help. They can make recommendations on destinations, accommodations and activities and help you determine what is really the best value after all the discounts are taken. For example, we have a 10 percent discount on a 4-star safari, which is a great deal. However, we have a 33 perent discount on a 5-star safari which makes it even cheaper than the 4-star safari. Obviously, the 5-star safari is the better value and that’s what we’re recommending to our clients. I think in today’s economic environment, nothing is off the table. It’s not rude to ask for a discount—in fact, it’s the prudent thing to do, and people are doing it. Sometimes it will make sense for us to offer a deal, and sometimes it won’t, but you never know until you ask.
What Africa travel opportunities exist today as a result of the tanked economy?
There has never been a better time to go to Africa. Due to the world recession, a safari to Africa will cost you less now that it would have last year, or will next year. Some deals out there represent significant savings—the deepest discounts I’ve seen in more than ten years in the business—and others represent new or improved experiences that would not have existed otherwise.
For savings, my personal favorites in our company include Kenya Family Safari, which is now discounted 10 percent for adults and costs only $500 for the first child under 12 through the end of the year. Our Romantic Tanzania Safari, perfect for honeymooners and discerning travelers, has a $1,500 discount for travel before June 30, 2009. In Botswana and Zambia, as well as Kenya and Tanzania, we have wonderful packages that represent a 33 percent savings on some of the most exclusive safari camps and lodges in those regions.
And there are even some deals in South Africa, which is already a good value because the rand is so weak against the dollar. These deals all have some restrictions and most are not valid during peak travel months of July, August, and September. There are also fantastic airfare deals. South African Airways has a 2-for-1 in business and economy class, as does Ethiopian Airlines. The experiential bonuses are more subtle but significant—smaller crowds, more exclusivity, and better service—based on the fact that fewer people are traveling. I think people who take a quality safari in 2009 will find that they get a few extra surprises while traveling.
Have you seen many travel cancellations?
We haven’t had any cancellations by clients who have paid deposits. What we have seen for the past six months is that some people start planning a trip, but then abort the process because they run into financial difficulties, or simply don’t feel “right” about taking such a big trip. They’ve told us they feel guilty.
While we understand people’s concerns, we think they should be thinking just the opposite. We think people should feel guilty about not traveling to Africa because of the huge negative impact on the local people, land and wildlife. For many African countries, tourism is one of the top foreign income earners. Nearly every national park and private reserve in Africa is funded primarily by foreign visitors, the U.S. being one of the largest markets.
When a group decides not to travel that means lost wages and jobs for Africans, many of whom support up to ten family members. It means less money to pay ranger salaries, anti-poaching patrols, and road maintenance in the parks. It means that community conservation programs and charities must scale back or shut down resulting in fewer kids going to school, fewer underprivileged people receiving aid, and more women cutting down trees for firewood, etc. It’s really amazing how quickly things begin to unravel when tourism declines, so we hope Americans will consider this when worrying about traveling during these uncertain times.
On a more positive note, we are already seeing a shift. At Africa Adventure Consultants, we’ve seen a huge increase in demand since the first of the year. I think many people have realized that they still have their jobs, they have nothing on their travel calendar, and they don’t really want to stay home for the rest of the year.
What do you think will happen to travel rates in 2010?
I believe that the cost of African safaris will increase significantly in 2010. Flight prices will jump up and safari costs will rise as suppliers try to make up for a weak 2009. Some parks and reserves will boost fees to make up for revenue shortfalls. I really believe that this is the year to safari in Africa if you want reasonable prices and fewer crowds. And by the way, I’m putting my money where my mouth is and taking our family to Tanzania in May. To economize, we booked our tickets using frequent flyer miles and you can bet we will be looking closely at every choice of camp, activity, etc. to maximize our savings.
What trends are you seeing in consumer interest in African safaris this year?
Several distinct trends are emerging. Our clients are scaling back their budgets and often, the length of their trips. Last year at this time, we were selling a lot of 12-day trips that cost $10,000 or more per person, while this year we are selling more 9-day safaris that cost $5,000 per person. We’re seeing a greater focus on authenticity and realism—meaning our clients are talking about wanting to connect with people in Africa, which fits nicely with our company philosophy of giving back to Africa and creating fun and exciting safaris that also support sustainable tourism and tread lightly on natural ecosystems. We’re also seeing more interest from the younger segment of our demographic—clients in their 20s and 30s—who aren’t quite so worried about their retirement funds. They are saying they have their bags packed and are ready to travel. We’ve even had a few people who have lost their jobs begin to plan trips because now they have time to do it, where they never did before.
What's your most popular trip so far this year?
Our most popular destinations have not changed—they continue to be Tanzania, Botswana, Kenya, and South Africa, with Zambia rising quickly. Regardless of destination, anything under $5,000 is very popular, and the trend right now is away from super luxury toward more moderate, experiential travel. That doesn’t mean people are asking to stay in mud huts. It just means that whereas last year, they may have chosen the top-of-the-line camp and now they’re picking the one that’s just below that. There are still some guests who are booking at the most exclusive and expensive camps, and they are thrilled because they are going to have them more to themselves in prime game viewing season.