Close your eyes for a moment and tell me what comes to mind when you think of African tourism. Is it the tens of thousands of colourful cultures that pepper the landscape. Is the thrum of vibing cities where all is possible? Or is it that ubiquitous scene of a herd of elephants passing under a single acacia tree caught in a fiery sunset?
How has it come to be that tourism in Africa is so defined by the khaki-clad game-drive? How has it come to be that destinations that offer up such a smorgasbord of experiences have pushed and squeezed themselves into the confines of the Big-5 box? How has it come to be that such diverse destinations compete under the whitewashed banner of safari tourism when they have so much more to offer?
It boggles my mind completely. Which is why I have to ask the question: do we need to decolonise or re-africanise safari tourism?
Yes, I am well aware this is a complex conversation that cannot be resolved in a mere couple of hundred words. And my intention is not to attempt to present a definitive answer. My intention is to open the doors to conversation and interrogation of what safari tourism is and what it could/should be.
Safari tourism is in its essence a colonial construct. Think about it for a moment. The whole concept of a Big 5 arises from colonial hunters who gained extra kudos from being able to kill what were considered to be the most difficult and dangerous of animals roaming the savannah. We have an entire industry built off the back of this, offering the same cookie-cutter experience, replete with leather and animal print accented Stanley and Livingstone tents. An industry that focuses almost entirely on enticing international tourists with the thrill of following in the footsteps of the Great Explorers. And as uncomfortable as it is to point out... an industry that is still dominated by old faces and foreign brands.
One could argue that safari tourism needs to be decolonised on so many levels. But to what end I must ask?
I would like to argue that the reason we need to do this is so that we can create a more enticing, compelling and successful industry. The colonial safari product as it stands is stale. And yes I understand it is, or was, a million dollar industry. But the reality is, that it came to its knees during covid because of its colonial international blinders. It is an industry that is currently surviving on offering huge discounts in an attempt to attract the domestic tourists it previously ignored. But only as an interim measure as it counts down the days until its dollar and euro wielding international market returns.
Predictions are that this long-haul international market will only recover in 2023/2024. So unless the safari industry changes its tune, it has a long wait in stall for it. There is no doubt in my mind at least, that if the safari industry wants to survive covid, that it needs to decouple itself from its past and look at how it can redefine itself moving forward. The industry needs to re-africanise!
What does this mean?
This means that the industry needs to prioritise its African market moving forwards, not as an interim measure, but as its primary focus. It needs to move beyond the misconception that the African market is not as valuable as the international market. If it removes its international blinders the safari industry will see that the African market is its saving grace. Not because this market will fill beds in the interim, but because if the safari industry wants to truly capture this market it will need to innovate. It will need to step out of its stale colonial construct to unlock the myriad of opportunities it has to create product that is so compelling that African tourists will be willing to pay full price for it.
The re-africanisation of safari tourism will mean that instead of competing on price, destinations will be competing on what truly sells – amazing products and experiences that wow people.
Do you want to know what innovation opportunities exist? Or how to begin to re-africanise your product? Reach out to us here.
Do you want to read more about the thorny topic of decolonising tourism in Africa? Take a read of this.
Want to read more of my thoughts on the potential of tourism in Africa? You can find them here.