Travel is – by definition – a dynamic industry. It’s the antithesis of standing still, so perhaps we shouldn’t be too surprised that travel trends also change. We’ve canvassed opinions (we’ve always had a thing for canvas) among travel thought leaders (okay, our friends, but they’re pretty clued up when it comes to predicting the next big thing in travel), and now we’d like to share our travel trends for 2018.
Speaking of sharing, this is a massive driving force in travel today. Humans are social animals, and there’s only one thing better than an awesome travel experience, and that’s one you’ve shared with the people who mean the most to you. Then there’s also the Instagram type of sharing (after all, why go somewhere beautiful if no-one knows you’ve been there?). When it comes to unique photo opportunities, Africa is easily the most ‘grammable’ content. After all, our ancestors were posting pictures of wildlife on their (cave) walls millennia ago.
The best type of sharing, however, is the kind that happens when you experience something magical, even transformational, in the best possible company. Multigenerational travel continues to be huge, although with the pressures of modern life, we’re also expecting to see cases of grandparents travelling with grandchildren, while Mom and Dad remain chained to their desks. Family tents at many of our camps give related travellers their own private safari houses, while private vehicles let families adjust the activity schedule to suit the most senior – or junior – members of the group.
For true safari aficionados, Zimbabwe never really went away. However, years of political and economic uncertainty saw Zimbabwe slide down the priority list for many travellers. The recent political changes in the country seem to have been positive, and will no doubt contribute to a renaissance in Zimbabwean tourism. Zimbabwe’s spectacular national parks have escaped the turmoil largely unscathed, in part thanks to the decision by Wilderness Safaris (and other operators) not to abandon them.
There has never been a better time to ‘discover’ Zimbabwe and trace the route of the mighty Zambezi from Victoria Falls through the iconic Mana Pools region. With new camps in the pipeline, Zimbabwe is gearing up to welcome discerning safari travellers once again. We’re already seeing a lot of interest in Zimbabwe safaris for 2018, which is great news for a country that’s slowly finding its feet again after a decade-long stumble.
Travel doesn’t just involve a change in location; it can also have more profound and lasting impacts. It’s impossible to travel without being changed in some way: new experiences, different people and unfamiliar places all contribute to making us who we are. We’re seeing more people look for vacation experiences that cause transformations – whether to their inner landscape (how they feel and see themselves as a person) or their exterior landscape. For years, safari companies aimed to offer ‘zero-impact’ travel, but not only is this a myth, but it’s also a wasted opportunity.
Every holiday represents a chance for a positive impact by the traveller on their destination – both while they are there (think meaningful cultural interchanges, or opportunities to actively contribute to conservation), and when they return home (as ambassadors for their new favourite place on Earth). After all, transformation is not merely change for change’s sake – it’s the kind of improvement (in many different lives) that only travel can truly effect.
Travel with Purpose
In recent years, there has been something of an ‘arms race’ between safari operators, each seeking to offer more opulent and luxurious accommodations, bespoke experiences and superlative service. As a result, the best safari camps can now match the world’s top hotels in many ways. However, doubts have begun to creep in – not least from travellers themselves. Of course, we all like a glass of great wine or a having a butler on standby, but is it really the reason people travel?
Or do they rather seek opportunities to participate in social or environmental programmes and to make a meaningful contribution to conserving habitats, ways of life and landscapes that have endured for aeons but are under threat in the Anthropocene epoch? Bisate in Rwanda is perhaps the stand-out example of this – guests can plant a tree as a way of getting their hands dirty and restoring a damaged ecosystem, and contribute to efforts to protect more land and provide a larger, more viable habitat for the Critically Endangered mountain gorilla.
Bucket List Travel
The best thing about a bucket list is that for every experience you tick off, you can add a new one or two. Whether your primary goal is to see primates, or you’ve set your sights on a safari, the idea of having a dream – and achieving it – is a powerful driving force in international travel. Bucket list travel is entirely aligned with the movement towards experiential travel – after all, most of us have more than enough stuff, and people are finding that they get far more fulfilment – and lasting memories – from the stuff that dreams are made of. Buyer’s remorse often kicks in after a shopping spree, but we’ve never heard of anyone suffering from safari remorse. Except, of course, when you wish you’d booked a few extra days in Africa.
Walking with elephants at Abu Camp, tracking desert-adapted black rhino in Namibia, or falling asleep beneath a celestial canopy in a Star Bed modelled on a bird’s nest – only Africa offers once-in-a-lifetime experiences like this.
Watch the news too often, and you could be forgiven for thinking that the world is an increasingly hazardous place and that many parts of the globe are simply too dangerous to visit. This growing sentiment has contributed to a rise in demand for travel to ‘safe havens’ – that is, countries and regions that are perceived has having low crime rates, and which have remained unaffected by terrorism or disease outbreaks. People are increasingly choosing to visit more remote, pristine wilderness areas where they can enjoy thrills without any danger of spills.
As the French wildlife photographer Laurent Baheux commented, “I feel less danger to photograph animals free and wild than to live among men”. Countries like Botswana and Namibia are known for friendly hospitality and for offering a welcome sanctuary to harassed city dwellers. Far away from the lights and the traffic, with only megafauna and predators for company, you’re likely to feel a sense of safety and wellbeing that no urban area can compete with.
To see which of these trends reach a tipping point in 2018, watch these wild, open spaces – or better yet, visit them.
Written by Nick Galpine