What a difference twelve months can make. And never has this been truer than when looking at Australian travel trends for 2017 according to Michael McCall, Sanctuary Retreats’ Director of Sales Australia, NZ & Asia. Here are some of the key trends that Sanctuary Retreats is seeing in the luxury travel end of the market.
The New Star Performers
“There is no doubt that Australians love to travel, and are continuing to head abroad in record numbers,” he says. “But over the past few years, people have certainly been more hesitant about destinations like Southern Africa and Egypt. More recently, however, concerns about things like terrorism and political instability in Europe have contributed to a real resurgence in the popularity of ‘safe’ destinations in both Africa and Asia. And of course it also helps that many of these are relatively accessible to many Australians”.
With 14 camps and lodges throughout southern and Central Africa, Sanctuary Retreats has been well placed to benefit from an upswing in popularity of countries like Kenya and Botswana. “Our bookings for Kenya have bounced back in a big way in 2016,” says Michael, “ and are up about 60% on 2015. We are seeing strong forward bookings for 2017 and we are fully expecting this trend to continue into the foreseeable future.”
“Likewise in Botswana, we’ve experienced a 28% year on year increase in bookings, prompted by a surge in interest for the country this year as it commemorates the 50th anniversary of its independence, as well as the unveiling on our refurbished flagship property, Sanctuary Chief’s Camp in the Okavango Delta.”
Let the wildlife come to you
A subtler shift away from the traditional safari, Sanctuary Retreats has also seen a rise in the number of guests who don’t want to chase around after the wildlife in a jeep, but would rather let the animals come to them. Says Michael, “We are incredibly fortunate that our camps and lodges are located in some of the best spots in the South Luangwa, Okavango Delta and Tarangire National Parks, for example, where this happens routinely. For an increasing number of people, the pool, the spa, the bars and restaurants, and even just relaxing around the lodge or camp, is the perfect bush experience. Sanctuary Chief’s Camp now also has dedicated Kids Room, Orientation Room and a Gym. So there’s plenty for guests to do without stepping into a safari jeep.”
Another sustained trend observed by Sanctuary Retreats has been the unprecedented level of interest in responsible travel. Michael believes this has coincided with people’s desire to “get away from run of the mill holidays in favour of travel experiences which are unique, authentic and meaningful”. In addition, he sees the rise of philanthropic programs and ‘volun-tourism’ as an indication of people’s increasing desire to give back to the communities they visit. This twin demand for unique and ethical experiences has placed increasing pressure on tourism suppliers like Sanctuary Retreats to improve their social and environmental responsibility.
According to Michael, this is something, which Sanctuary Retreats has always addressed very effectively. “The company has always strived to build long lasting relationships with rural communities in the areas in which it operates, making a point of identifying and supporting long-term, viable and self-sustaining projects,” he says. “Our aim is to ensure that all projects are supported by our staff and guests and we work closely with communities to identify their needs so we can deliver projects that really have an impact.”
Michael also points to a marked upswing in “green” awareness, particularly regarding the utilisation of captive animals for interactive experiences like lion cub feeding/petting and elephant back safaris. “Many of our clients are more interested in our hunting policies (there is no hunting with Sanctuary Retreats) and how the game in the reserves are managed. At Sanctuary Retreats we don’t offer animal petting or hunting, and we’re proud of our ‘shoot with the camera not the gun’ ethos that we have adhered to right from the outset”.
Luxury travel was once largely defined as marble, gold taps and silver service, but Michael says that what Sanctuary Retreats’ clients now really value are access, exclusivity and experience.
“Travellers generally, are much more discerning than they used to be, and definitely more knowledgeable. They know what they want and who can offer it to them, which has seen operators at the luxury end of the market particularly, place much greater emphasis on delivering an uber luxury experience.”
“Perhaps the best examples of this within our portfolio include Egyptian private charter, the Sanctuary Zein Nile Chateau, river cruise vessel, Sanctuary Ananda in Myanmar, or the luxury suites at our newly rebuilt Sanctuary Chief’s Camp.”
The new 620m2 Geoffrey Kent Luxury Suite offers the utmost privacy and superlative comfort, sleeping up to six guests – with each treated like royalty. Guests can expect characterful interiors as well as a kitchen, indoor lounge, private boma and secluded deck areas. Included in the perks of this luxurious suite is superb service, which includes your own vehicle and dedicated guide, as well as a personal chef, waiter and a housekeeper. Says Michael, “Since the re-launch of Sanctuary Chief’s Camp the suite has been in great demand, and the biggest problem at the moment is finding availability for guests wanting to book it.”
Sanctuary Chief’s Camp is priced from US$1,180 per person per night twin share for up to two nights, with discounts of up to 40% for stays of 8+ nights at one or more Sanctuary Retreats African camps and lodges.