Destination trends

Small is beautiful for Southern Africa group tours

A safari gets tourists closer to nature in small groups
Wikinger Reisen
A safari gets tourists closer to nature in small groups

Demand for Southern Africa tours in small groups enabling tourists to get closer to nature is rising on the German market, prompting tour operators to adjust their portfolios.

Group tours have traditionally been the main way to visit South Africa, Namibia, Botswana and Zimbabwe but the days of coach trips with up to 40 people appear to be over, judging by the success of specialist tour operators. Instead, tours with only about a dozen participants are becoming more and more popular.

For example, SKR Reisen, whose group tours have a maximum of 12 people, reports a 25% rise in customer numbers for South Africa, with revenues for the destination up as much as 30%. These figures are in stark contrast to an overall fall in German visitor numbers to the country between January and April, according to South African Tourism.

The trend is similar at Chamäleon Reisen, which offers small-sized tours with just six participants or a maximum of 12 people. Chamäleon managing director Ingo Lies, who claims to have created the ‘small is beautiful’ trend, said the specialist has a 10% rise in customer numbers for South Africa, 6% for Namibia and 8% for Botswana this year.

But major tour operators, who have traditionally worked with much larger tour groups of up to 40 participants, are also seeing this change in customer demand. “Small-sized tours are in demand at DER Touristik,” confirmed the group’s Africa director Ines Batz. In response, Dertour and Meier’s Weltreisen have reduced the size of their groups for the region.  

Thomas Cook is seeing similar trends, said Doreen Vasicek, senior product manager Africa, although the company’s ‘Big South Africa tour’, which has no maximum number of participants is also strongly booked. For its part, TUI now has a wide range of group tours for Southern Africa, ranging from traditional coach trips for up to 40 people, mid-sized groups with 20-25 participants, and small groups with a maximum of 12 people, according to product manager Martina Horter.

This clear change in customer demand is not a surprise for Ury Steinweg, head of TUI’s study tours brand Gebeco. “With small groups it’s possible to have particularly intensive contacts with local people,” he explained. Visits to exclusive restaurants and overnight stays in boutique hotels are also easier to organise with such groups, he added.

But traditional tours are unlikely to disappear completely from tour operator brochures. “Tours in large groups are still booked by many first-time visitors to South Africa,” pointed out Ulrike Schäfer, FTI’s product manager for Africa. The lower prices made possible by larger groups are particularly attractive for customers with smaller travel budgets, she underlined.

Regardless of whether German tourists to southern Africa will visit the region in larger or smaller groups in future, they can certainly look forward to stable or lower prices in 2020 thanks to advantageous currency effects. Chamäleon will reduce prices by up to 5% and Studiosus by 6%, while FTI will increase some hotel prices by a single-digit figure but some tours will be cheaper.