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Mixing wildlife with luxury : A rising niche among adventurous Indians

With South Africa recording a growth of 122 per cent in Indian footfall in the last five years, it is no surprise that the country’s most sought after tourism product, game reserve resorts, are making every effort to attract travellers from this growing source market. Paying for luxury accommodation and unique experiences seems to be of no consequence to the high -end Indian embarking on these safaris. While speaking with five of the popular game reserve resorts in Africa, we discovered that, in addition to an increase in footfall from India, there has also been an increase in demand for top end resorts and services, as well as an increase in the resorts’ efforts to woo Indian customers.

 
Exceptional experiences

As per a recent survey by South Africa Tourism (SAT), Indians tend to enjoy the different ways that a safari can be conducted. This indicates an uptake in interest shown in wildlife and safari activities not limited to just spotting the Big 5. Safaris in an open vehicle, on foot, from a hot air balloon, the back of an elephant etc. The unusual safaris include Big 7 Safari in the Eastern Cape, Stargazing, Veterinary Safari, Golfing safari, Spafari, Yoga, Turtle watching, Frogging safari, Cosmetic safari and Little 5 safari, among others.

The Shamwari Group, which operates 16 unique lodges around Africa, specialises in catering to the luxury FIT segment, especially small groups and families. Highlighting some of their unique offerings, Joe Cloete, Group General Manager, Shamwari Group stated that the Group’s resort in Sanbona Wildlife Reserve near Cape Town offers tented and explorer camps which feature walking tours and boat excursions; their Nyungwe Forest Lodge, which is the only five star lodge in Rwanda; the Gorilla’s Nest Lodge offers Gorilla trekking; and, last but not least, the Shamwari Reserve near Port Elizabeth and Sanbona are the only malaria-free area and hence popular among families.

The high end luxury resort Singita, which boats 12 lodges across Africa and half a million hectares of land, is highly popular among the Indian elite. According to Jaco Ehlers, Sales Manager, Singita, while Indian numbers are very small at their resorts, contributing about 1-2 per cent to the total 70-75 per cent annual occupancy the resorts enjoy on average, the Group does deal with key partners in India and has witnessed an increase in interest from here. Ehlers revealed that families and honeymooners are the largest segment from India.

According to Rodney Wyndham, Managing Director, Sabi Sabi, each of the lodges under the game reserves offers a unique service, making it extremely popular among the high end Indian travellers. Bordering the Kruger National Park, Federal Air offers charter arrival services twice a day from Johannesburg to Sabi Sabi, with a pick up arranged from the air strip. Their unique offerings include photography trainings with professional guides and equipments for hire.

Sabi Sabi’s Bush Lodge features a children’s education centre for constructive programmes to cater to families. Wyndham further revealed that the availability of Indian cuisine adds to its appeal in the market. Furthermore, their Little Bush Lodge features the Amari Spa and outdoor Jacuzzis and is popular among honeymooners.

40 per cent of the Morokuru Family’s annual business is fuelled by Indians. Offering pickups from the air strip, much like Sabi Sabi, Morokuru’s lodges come with an additional service of nannies and butlers for each unit to cater to family travellers. Their resort also offers Indian cuisine, adding to its populairty.

Jacqui Hemphill of Londolozi stated that, while the Indian footfall to all five camps under the group is very low, a small number of family travellers have been welcomed to their pioneer camps. Londolozi, too, offers photographic safaris as well as educational camps for children at the two camps that allow children.

 

Importance of India

Reflecting the growing popularity of another facet of Africa’s wildlife experience among Indians is the steady increase of footfall at the continent’s top end luxury lodges. While the contribution of the Indian market to the resorts’ annual business is still small, it is undoubtedly gaining attention and appreciation among the Indian travellers who can afford it.

India is the 20th largest source market for Shamwari, which saw 369 room nights from India in 2012, a 20 per cent increase from the numbers registered in 2011. The Group has been marketing in India for the last three years through SAT’s annual roadshow, with fruitful results. “Indian bookings at our reserves are definitely on the rise, with an increasing demand from Indian families. We, hence, offer several family activities. In addition, our chefs have experience with Indian cuisine preparation, and our Shamwari Lodge has an Indian chef,” Cloete said.

Highlighting India’s importance as an emerging source market, Wyndham said, “India is our fourth largest market and is continuously growing. 4-6 per cent of our annual booking in 2012 was from India, which is a 5 per cent increase from our bookings numbers in 2011.”

“India and Brazil are among the important source markets for the resort and Londolozi plans a huge drive over the next couple of years to tap these markets further. The resorts’ owning family recently spent three weeks in India understanding the market and strategising our next move,” Hemphill concluded.

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