“There is a call for an experience rather than a room!”
Those are the words of John Addison of Wild Frontiers when discussing African travel trends for 2024. He said that while comforts like a good meal and bed remain available anywhere, Africa is one of the few places on Earth that can promise irreplaceable experiences like witnessing the milky way and hearing a lion’s roar up close.
Addison’s words sum up the defining 2024 Africa travel trend predicted by experts: a surge in demand for authentic, immersive travel centered on transformative experiences.
This trend translates into new perspectives on destinations. As Wendy Walker of luxury Virtuoso affiliate Quintess Vacations said: “As more travelers are looking for wild, remote regions where they can experience an authentic, immersive adventure, destinations such as [Zimbabwe’s] Mana Pools and Hwange National Park will start to shine.”
Walker added that travelers are happy to give up some of the luxury for a more remote region and immersive safari experience. “They are flying into the Okavango Delta of Botswana or the floodplains of Kafue National Park in Zambia along with many other less-traveled regions. There the safari experience is wild with not much human interference,” she said.
The goal is total immersion, engaging with nature, wildlife and cultures first-hand. There is a conscious effort to travel intentionally, focusing on meaningful participation that benefit both local communities and conservation.
A desire to make a difference
According to Beks Ndlovu, buying behaviors are definitely shifting from consumption to adding value.
“It’s becoming less about consuming and more about how one is adding value in a meaningful way through how they participate and travel. Guests are consciously thinking about how their buying behaviors, travels and stays while on a safari in Africa are contributing to the local community, the environment and conservation,” he said.
Adrian Kaplan, executive head of marketing for Singita, agreed, and saying that travelers now “have a better appreciation for journeys that not only open their eyes to new perspectives and cultures but restore their entire being — body, spirit, and mind. The modern traveler is intent on using their travel spend to make a positive difference.”
“I think many travelers are aware of the impact they can have in Africa, good or bad. They come home talking about the wildlife, yes, but also the communities they learn about from staying on conservancy land or in places staffed by locals,” said Theresa Jackson, a Travel Experts affiliate in Allendale, N.J.
For Ryan Powell, AndBeyond’s COO, Africa is the kind of destination that will get under a traveler’s skin and give them the urge to explore further, deeper, and return with a desire to journey to the less crowded and remote wildlife areas on the continent.
With this new drive for authenticity, the previously popular “staged” cultural and wildlife interactions are becoming a thing of the past as travelers are now looking for more authentic experiences, says Jacada’s Africa product manager, Sarah Jackson.
Photographers now focus on tourism
Embodying this travel evolution are indigenous guides like Musa Habimana and Gary Nkusi, founders of the Green Safari tour company in Rwanda. Their unique backstories illuminate the country’s culture and history for guests seeking meaningful connections.
As orphans raised in the wake of Rwanda’s 1994 genocide, Musa and Gary have a unique story. They were both just 9 years old when they were given their first cameras to document life at the orphanage in Rwanda where they grew up. Imbabazi Orphanage in northwestern Rwanda was set on a flower plantation, which was once the home of Diane Fossey. The orphanage was founded by Fossey’s friend Rosamond Carr.
Carr invited American photographer David Crandall to teach photography skills to children at the orphanage starting in the late 1990s. Musa and Gary were among 18 orphans selected to participate. Their images offered a unique perspective into life after the genocide, attracting international attention through exhibitions.
Through their photography and interaction with international tourists and volunteers at the orphanage, Musa and Gary developed strong English and guiding skills from a young age. They even helped lead tours of the orphanage for visitors. This instilled in them a passion for tourism and sharing Rwanda’s incredible yet sobering history with outsiders.
Now as tour guides, Musa and Gary share these one-of-a-kind viewpoints with Green Safari travelers on a nine-day “gorilla experience” itinerary. Their trips incorporate sites related to mentor figures like Fossey and Carr who impacted their early years, recounting their interwoven influence. Their mission is to provide travelers an authentic, in-depth experience in Rwanda, one that tells the full, interconnected story of gorilla conservation, genocide recovery, and local ingenuity.