2020 is an annus horribilis for the travel industry worldwide, and especially damaging for African wildlife tourism. For reserves and parks, the disappearance of visitor income is not just a disaster for businesses and employees, but an existential treat to wildlife and habitats.
In South Africa, the mid-August lifting of inter-provincial travel restrictions has resulted in a surge of pent-up interest in getting back to national parks. Social distancing restriction rules mean the accommodation cannot yet be fully utilised, so “Level 1” can’t come soon enough.
It will be fascinating to see how peoples’ travel behavior changes in the coming time, and how the industry adapts. No doubt plane travel will be shunned in favour of road trips. Will South Africans who normally holiday overseas spend their money at home instead? Will that be enough to replace lost income from inbound international tourists?
One trend already evident is increased interest in walks and hikes. After all, what could be healthier than being out on a trail in a fresh breeze? From the Cape to the Kruger, There’s no shortage of splendid opportunities to stretch the legs. And a major asset for South Africa is its unequaled selection of walks with big game in national parks and game reserves. In contrast to self-guided walks, these are more akin to outdoor nature appreciation sessions, as they are always led by knowledgeable guides.
In February 2021, for the first time, park visitors will have some help in finding these walks, with the publication of Walking Safaris of South Africa. It will make planning walking trips a lot easier, spelling out what’s available in all of the parks that offer such walks, plus a few in eSwatini and Botswana.
As well as a practical guide to planning and booking a walking break, the book includes lyrical narratives by Hlengiwe Magagula, whose writing will be familiar to Wild Card magazine readers.
Like nature itself, the travel industry must adapt to new realities – or become extinct. In 2021, busy resorts, sardine-tin planes and buffet meals will be out. Small groups of family or friends, out in the wilds at cosy camps and lodges will be in. The publication of Walking Safaris of South Africa could not come at a better time.