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BBuilding Off Insights from Africa’s Travel Indaba, South African Tourism Outlines Key Experiences African American Travellers Are Seeking
Durban, South Africa: South Africa, a destination with a rich history, diverse cultures, stunning landscapes, and vibrant communities, holds tremendous appeal for travellers seeking a profound and transformative experience. “African American travellers, in particular, seek to reconnect with their ancestral roots and explore the continent as a powerful journey of self-discovery,” noted Jerry Mpufane, President of South African Tourism North America. “A key opportunity to attract African Americans lies in festivals and events, cultural experiences, and sustainable tourism that emphasises giving back and leaving a positive impact following a trip.”
The US market was South Africa’s second-largest overseas market pre-pandemic in 2019 with 373,694 arrivals and the second highest overseas market for tourism pre-pandemic spend in South Africa with R7.8 billion. The US market has grown significantly since then, with R8.3 billion (6% above the 2019 spend) in tourism spend in 2022 which was the number one spending market in South Africa despite remaining the second market in terms of arrivals behind the United Kingdom. The recovery in 2022 was at 70%, however in the first five months of 2023 the US market reached 94% of the arrivals in the same period of 2019.
South African Tourism has compiled the seven key experiences African Americans seek when visiting South Africa based on insights presented by Stephanie M. Jones, founder and CEO of Cultural Heritage Economic Alliance, Inc. during the recent USA Market Access Workshop held at Africa’s Travel Indaba.
- Explore Cultural Diversity and Interact with Locals
African American travellers represent a growing tourism market with a total leisure travel spend of US$ 109 billion in 2019, of which US$ 20 billion was spent on international trips1. Further to that, according to insights from Mandala Research, Black American “cultural” travelers represent the highest average spend per trip and have a vested interest in engaging with Black history and traditions2. As a melting pot of diverse cultures, languages, and traditions, South Africa is uniquely positioned to attract Black American travelers by tapping into their desire to engage with local communities and cultures. Among Black Americans, the desire to engage with local communities, attend festivals, and participate in cultural activities are key enablers of their journey to embrace their own heritage and gain a deeper appreciation for the vast cultural tapestry of South Africa.
Jones said, “Black travelers may consider taking guided tours of townships to gain insights into South Africa's urban communities, culture, and history. This can be a meaningful and educational experience.” And she added, “Black travellers often seek experiences that connect them with their cultural heritage, seeking to explore and learn about various ethnic groups, traditions, and languages. They visit sites of historical significance, such as museums, landmarks, and communities.”
This desire to engage with local communities is especially prevalent amongst younger generations, as reflected in the latest American Express Global Travel Trends Report which indicated 79% of Gen-Z and Millennial respondents have a profound desire to experience the daily life of a local3.
- Marvel at Natural Beauty and Take Part in Wildlife Conservation
South Africa is blessed with breathtaking natural landscapes that captivate the soul, with natural wonders that are awe-inspiring. Most American travelers (55%)4 say they want to leave the places they visit better than when they arrived, and 84%5 plan to reduce their waste and recycle plastic when visiting a destination. Exploring South Africa’s diverse ecosystems, going on safaris, or embarking on adventurous hikes will leave travelers with unforgettable memories while remaining aligned with the values of Black Americans as responsible consumers.
“Black American travelers often engage in community service activities and volunteer work during their trips. They actively seek opportunities to give back and support local initiatives in the destinations they visit,” Jones pointed out.
South Africa is home to iconic species and is a prime destination for wildlife enthusiasts and conscious travelers who prioritize sustainability and eco-tourism. Participating in responsible wildlife conservation initiatives and engaging with local conservation organizations allows Black Americans to contribute to preserving Africa's unique biodiversity and learning about the importance of conservation efforts firsthand.
- Experience Warm Hospitality and Taste the Culinary Delights
The purpose of leisure travel ultimately lies in a desire for the traveler to relax and delight in new experiences, so it should come as no surprise they place an emphasis on warm hospitality and delectable cuisine: two things which are certainly not in short supply in South Africa.
South African cuisine is a delightful fusion of flavors, spices, and traditional cooking techniques. The country’s gastronomy offers a tantalizing array of experiences that go beyond the consumption of food and wine. Black travelers are especially keen to explore local markets, try traditional recipes, and engage in culinary tours to fully immerse themselves in the local culture, people, and food. The best way to experience a culture is through the food and savoring traditional South African dishes is an experience that can help Black travelers feel more connected to their heritage. As Jones notes, “Black American travelers often seek connections with the African diaspora.” And gathering at the table is arguably one of the best ways to bridge connections.
The people of South Africa are often recognized by tourists for their warm and welcoming nature, which ensures that tourists feel embraced and at home. From the moment the tourists arrive and set foot on South African soil, they encounter its people’s genuine kindness and hospitality. Building connections and forming friendships with locals will enrich the travel experience and leave a lasting impression.
- Support Local Economies
Most US travelers (96%)6 say that it’s important that their travel dollars make a positive impact on the local places they visit (compared to 68% globally). Traveling to South Africa provides an opportunity to contribute to the economic growth of local communities. By staying in locally owned accommodations, dining at family-run restaurants, and purchasing handmade crafts from local artisans, Black Americans can directly support the livelihoods of individuals and contribute to sustainable development in Africa. 77%7 of American travelers say they want to be more conscious about supporting small, local businesses when going on vacations, and Black travelers are no different. During her presentation Jones noted this is especially important for Black travelers visiting places on the African continent or in the Caribbean.
- Challenge Stereotypes and Expand Perspectives
By immersing themselves in African cultures, engaging in meaningful conversations, and challenging preconceived notions, Black American travelers can dismantle stereotypes and broaden their perspectives. On sharing their experiences upon returning home, they can also foster a greater understanding and appreciation of Africa's diversity and complexity within their own community.
Tracing their ancestry can be challenging for many Black travelers, due to the disrupted and incomplete history. Traveling to South Africa offers an opportunity to reconnect with their roots, visit historical sites, and explore the cultural heritage that forms an integral part of their identity.
American Civil Rights leader Martin Luther King junior drew parallels between apartheid in South Africa and the experience of Black Americans, particularly those in the southern U.S., so Black American travelers often find they feel a connection to the history of the South African people. Visiting historical sites, museums, and memorials to learn about South Africa’s fight for freedom provides these travelers with an opportunity to gain a more in-depth understanding of the systems of apartheid and learn more about iconic figures such as Nelson Mandela.
The history of Black Americans is intertwined with the history of Africa. Learning about the struggles, triumphs, and contributions of African civilizations can provide a broader understanding of the African diaspora experience and the resilience of African-descended people.
- Safety and Well-being in All Contexts
Black Americans and South Africans have both faced historical and contemporary struggles against racial discrimination and oppression. Amongst Black American travelers a majority (71%) indicated that safety is extremely influential in their vacation planning decisions.1 Visiting South Africa can foster a sense of solidarity and a shared understanding of the ongoing fight for equality and justice. A trip to South Africa can be a deeply transformative and provide a healing experience for Black Americans. It provides an opportunity to confront the painful legacy of slavery, gain a sense of closure, and embark on a personal journey of healing and reconciliation and imagine life differently as they are in the majority while in South Africa.
“Black travelers may encounter unique challenges and concerns related to safety while traveling. Researching travel advisories, understanding local customs, and being aware of potential biases can help mitigate risks.” Noted Jones; and added, “They have a desire for personal growth, independence, and the freedom to explore new destinations on their terms.”
Visa requirements: travelers visiting South Africa on USA or Canadian passports require no visa to travel to South Africa however, if they are not citizens of the USA or Canada, they may need to obtain a visa. It's essential to check the visa requirements and apply in advance if necessary9.
- Building a Lasting Legacy
A trip to South Africa is the trip of a lifetime and will inspire younger generations and serve as a powerful educational experience. By exposing children and teenagers to the continent’s wonders, Black travelers can instill a sense of pride in their heritage, promote cultural exchange, and encourage curiosity about the world.
Birthright AFRICA, a non-profit organization that provides free travel to Africa for youth and young adults, notes that 100% of its participants thus far have considered their trip to the continent “life changing” with 98% reporting they “have more resources, clarity and self-belief” as a result of their visit. Furthermore, 100% plan to visit Africa again and it’s safe to assume they’ll be bringing their family to Africa in the future as well10.
Travel to Africa holds a unique significance for Black Americans due to historical, cultural, and ancestral connections. South Africa remains the premier destination on the continent offering a transformative experience. South Africa's diverse cultures, stunning landscapes, and rich history have the power to inspire and captivate travelers from the diaspora, offering them a deeper understanding of our shared humanity.
Understanding what Black travelers seek out when they travel is critical for understanding how to market to them. Furthermore, it’s also important to understand how to reach this audience.
How to Reach Black Travelers:
- Be on the Right Platforms
Jones emphasized the impact of this audience on social media, “Black American travelers play an active role in shaping travel trends through social media platforms. They share their experiences, provide recommendations, and inspire others to explore new destinations.”
Working with Black travel influencers, for example, can create an opportunity to reach Black American travelers with unique and insightful content.
- Carry the Right Message and in the Right Tone
It's important for travel industry professionals to demonstrate cultural sensitivity and inclusivity. Creating welcoming environments and providing diverse representations in marketing materials can help attract and cater to Black American travelers11.
South Africa offers various adventure activities, such as bungee jumping, shark cage diving, hiking, and surfing. Black American travelers can participate in these thrilling experiences while enjoying the country's natural wonders. Socializing with locals, immersing in cultural history, and experiencing the nightlife and culinary experiences are all important elements of the ultimate Black American trip to South Africa.
Black travelers have a special connection with the destination, and there is ample opportunity for businesses to implement marketing strategies that target these travelers.
ABOUT SOUTH AFRICAN TOURISM
South African Tourism is the national agency responsible for marketing South Africa as a preferred leisure and business events destination. From breathtaking beauty and sun-soaked coasts to wildlife and adventure to vibrant urban energy and the incredible warmth and cultural diversity of its people – South Africa is a traveler’s dream! Destination South Africa offers a wide variety of experiences, including safaris in 19 national parks, breathtaking diverse scenic outdoor spaces, vibrant modern designer cities, an amazing 2,500-kilometer coastline with Blue Flag beaches, inspiring heritage and cultural journeys as well as active adventure experiences and vacation offering impressive value for time and money at any budget.
Authored by Strategic Insights Contact:
Mbongeni K. Dhliwayo, Regional Insights Specialist: Americas, South African Tourism
North America Media Contact:
Justin Barnette, Head: Marketing & Comms North America, South African Tourism
List of Sources:
a Statistics South Africa - Tourism and Migration Report
b South African Tourism - SA Tourism Annual Tourism Performance Report
c South African Tourism - SA Tourism Arrivals Analysis
1 The Black Traveler: Insights, Opportunities & Priorities Report by MMGY Global – https://www.mmgyglobal.com/news/new-international-study-shows-u-s-black-travelers-are-more-influenced-by-concerns-about-safety-and-representation-in-marketing-than-european-black-travelers/
3 American Express Global Travel Trends Report - https://www.americanexpress.com/en-us/travel/discover/get-inspired/Global-Travel-Trends
4 Mintel Sustainability Travel – US -2022 - https://store.mintel.com/report/wellness-travel-us-2022
5 Booking.com - 2022 Sustainable Travel Research Report - https://globalnews.booking.com/download/1161485/booking.comsustainabletravelreport2022final.pdf
6 American Express 2021 Survey on 2022 Travel Plans - https://www.americanexpress.com/en-us/travel/discover/get-inspired/Global-Travel-Trends
7 2022 Kind Traveler Impact Tourism Report - https://www.kindtraveler.com/content/2022-kind-traveler-global-impact-tourism-report
8 The Martin Luther King, Jr. Research and Education Institute at Stanford - https://kinginstitute.stanford.edu/encyclopedia/apartheid
9 US State Department - South Africa Travel Advisory - https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/traveladvisories/traveladvisories/south-africa-travel-advisory.html
10 Birthright AFRICA Impact- https://birthrightafrica.org/impact/
11 Travel + Leisure - This Is the Future of Black Travel, According to Industry Leaders https://www.travelandleisure.com/the-future-of-black-travel-7106405