‘Indian tourists have shifted their focus from just seeing to experiencing South Africa,’ reveals Hanneli Slabber, Country Manager India, South African Tourism

With six years of rich experience as Country Manager, South African Tourism in India, what, according to you, is the uniqueness of the India market? Being in the Indian market and seeing it grow has been a spectacular experience. India is relatively youthful, and is ageing fairly slowly. Indian travellers have become more adventurous with activities. Bungee jumping off the Bloukrans Bridge (the world’s highest commercial bungee) is becoming a much sought-after activity. Also, recent times have seen skydiving becoming one of the most inspirational activities and extensively on demand by many Indian travellers visiting South Africa. Shark-cage diving, croc-cage diving and hot air balloon rides now feature prominently on Indian itineraries. This makes complete sense when we look at arrival demographics out of India. The number of 18-34 year-old holiday makers has increased over last year and more than 50% of our holiday traffic is younger than 44. Also, the market is definitely moving towards experiential travel, that is, there has been a marked shift from seeing to experiencing. Experiments with food have continued to surge far beyond demand for authentic, local cuisine to also include boma dinners (an idyllic outdoor dining experience, most often held at a game park, with traditional drum performances for entertainment) and visits to local vineyards, complete with pairing-focussed meals. This, alongside, fairly widespread availability of vegetarian food coupled with an understanding of Indian culinary requirements, has further propelled destination South Africa’s equity in the holiday consideration set for Indians. Another interesting fact that has emerged is that we’re seeing a growth in lesser visited provinces like Mpumalanga and the Northwest. This definitely points to a more explorer mindset – a lot of these are repeat visitors. Essentially, there has been a shift from staying in big metros, to smaller towns of South Africa – Plettenberg Bay, Knysna, Oudtshoor, etc, which are not only exquisitely beautiful, but offer proximity to more experiences and are not too heavy on pockets either.

What products are popular with the leisure travel segment? The standout point for Indian travellers is that they can’t be categorised – there are no specific adventure travellers or foodie travellers. Rather, Indian travellers showcase wide areas of interests and don multiple hats – while today they might be adventure travellers, tomorrow foodies and the day after, art connoisseurs! But for all of them, South Africa has something – from the country’s magnificent wildlife, adrenaline pumping adventure activities, spectacular and pristine beaches to its world-class cities, shopping, nightlife, food and wine. South Africa also offers one of the world’s best adventure opportunities that have also been highly soughtafter. South Africa offers the adventure enthusiast countless exciting activities – on land, air and underwater – including numerous cycling, hiking and running trails, surfing, sky-diving. From bungee-jumping off the Bloukrans Bridge, which is the highest commercial bridge in the world, to abseiling off Table Mountain, diving with the great white sharks to snorkelling with sea horses in Knysna, South Africa has been a one-stop destination for the Indian adrenaline junkies. The spectacular scenery and breathtaking views of the natural landscape with thousands of miles of glorious coastline, pristine beaches, soaring mountains and peaks, dense forests and rolling flower fields and grasslands have also continued to capture the interest of this segment. A growing number of Indian business leisure tourists, who have valid driver’s licenses, are also opting for self-drive tours along various scenic routes.

South Africa’s wildlife lodges and camps offer legendary luxury experiences. How well has the Indian visitor taken to them?

At these lodges and camps, Indian travellers revel in the sheer variety of animal, bird and plant life; the diverse landscapes ranging from grassland plains to rocky outcrops, creating an ideal habitat for the free roaming Big Five and all the little creatures that contribute to a magical wildlife experience they’ll never forget. Indian travellers can also be reassured of finding the cuisines and flavours from all over the world, including many Indian restaurants. While South Africa is justifiably famous for its own cuisine and fresh produce, a full range of delicious Indian-styled food is available in these opulent lodges, making eating easy for non-vegetarian, vegetarian, vegan and Jain visitors. Besides the array of options offered by lodges and camps, what Indian travellers love are guided bush walks, horse trails, eco adventure trails (quad bikes), morning and afternoon safaris in open 4 x 4 vehicles and the presence of Indian-origin hospitality staff on the property to make Indian visitors feel at home. From gritty experiences in the bush to opulent luxury in a private lodge, tourists can choose from a number of National Parks spread across the country, including Kruger National Park, Pilanesberg and those along Garden Route.

Which new products do you plan to introduce to the repeat traveller in the year ahead? We have extensively taken to promoting SATSA, which is a member-driven association that offers inbound tourism service companies the highest level of quality in the tourism industry. Via SATSA, travellers are being assured of service. The traveller is also assured of service of the best quality, because SATSA members are subjected to stringent checks. Also, our grading council promises you that anything that has a star grading is neat, clean, of the highest hygienic standards and safe. Thus, this gives the traveller a fair idea of all amenities and offerings, which they can choose from depending on requirement and purpose. We have a fresh new adventure activity called Cango Caves Zipline, close to the Cango Caves, which is double zipline (two people can go together at once) in Oudtshoorn and De Rust areas. Also, on the anvil are the Historical Tour walks in the CBD area of Oudtshoorn. The walk will cover the beautiful sandstone buildings in town, like the museums, ostrich palaces, etc. Port Elizabeth / Nelson Mandela Bay is still somewhat of an unknown in the market and the only big 7 safari options in the world is a combination of our very special Marine Safari and the famous Big 5 safari. One could complete it all in one day. The Marine Safaris are normally 3 to 4 hours and start in the morning allowing visitors to get back, have lunch, and then depart to either Addo Elephant National Park or a private game reserve. Moreover, our focus for the year will be bringing to life our new “South Africa – Wow in every moment” campaign, which will help travellers get a better virtual feel of the destination, thus converting intent to travel.