Wholesaler Bench Africa is reporting a massive uptick in visitor numbers to Africa, fuelled by a strong Aussie dollar, more indirect flight options and travellers keen to explore other parts of the continent beside the favourites of South Africa and Kenya.

Bench Africa general manager Martin Edwards believes Africa has now become more of a mainstream destination, saying it’s “no longer that once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. People are considering second and third trips,” he indicated.

Australian travellers are making enquiries and reservations earlier than before in order to secure hard to get accommodation at boutique properties, particularly at camps and lodges in Botswana, which may have limited inventory or have their rooms blocked out by the American market, renowned for booking early.

“People used to book their African trips and travel within a few months, but now, certainly within the last year, Australian travellers are starting to book over five months prior to departure.”

Edwards said the movement follows education of travel agents that they need to inform clients to book early to get the best options, even if Bench Africa’s brochure and prices haven’t been released.

Botswana bookings last year soared 60%, bringing the destination on par with Bench’s East African destinations (Kenya and Tanzania), while sales to lesser frequented destinations like Namibia and Zambia — typically chosen by third or fourth time African travellers — have almost doubled.

“Namibia, especially for international travellers, is somewhere that is booming,” Edwards said.

Sales have also surprisingly spiked for Rwanda, despite Gorilla permits doubling in price from US$750 to US$1,500.

“To see such growth there is a little unexpected. We were prepared for growth in Uganda — where Gorilla permits are US$600 — due to the increases in Rwanda, and we have seen that too.”

“What’s helped us is having more flights, making the logistics of travelling around Africa a lot easier as well, with more internal flights and more Middle Eastern airlines flying into east Africa and southern Africa. Fares with Qatar Airways priced at around $1,400 to South Africa makes the destination a compelling offering,” Edwards concluded.

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