When To Go

When To Go

Everyone in sub-Saharan Africa is gearing up for an expected surge in tourists in just a few weeks. Oh how they’ll be disappointed.

The uncertainty of airline schedules, the flux in which European airports in particular continue to alter their in-and-out rules, much less the reliability of lodge and hotel services following more than 14 months of closure will make those travelers who actually have booked early departures balk before stepping on the plane.

Tourism to sub-Saharan Africa will likely start up again by the end of the summer and reach third to half levels by the end of the year. The impatience of both the traveler and the vendor is understandable but unfortunate, because it’s easily avoidable.

Nothing’s ready to go yet!

Let’s not restart an amazing destination with less than stellar experiences. Early travelers who get rerouted all over the place on their journeys to and from home, mix-ups with PCR tests that are either not approved or missed, and services that just aren’t up to snuff will absolutely result in miserable vacations.

One of the oldest and most reliable chains in East Africa, Sopa Lodges, blasted tens of thousands of agents with a simple email this morning indicating the gate was open and the flood was coming!

But in a more honest reference on their website, they caution that “Whilst we are delighted to be able to make this announcement, and commitment, it isn’t without risk and understandably a level of trepidation on our part.”

Another big East African company, albeit following their bottom feeding during the pandemic, Elewana is providing all sorts of incentives for early bookers.

Like virtually all companies I’ve surveyed prices are being held at the last published 2019/2020 levels, although with dire warnings in many cases of significant increases by 2023.

All companies offer free nights after every two or three paid nights. Elewana, however, cuts to the chase and simply offers attractive percentage discounts after a certain number of nights. This strikes me as a more mature promotion that will appeal to the more sophisticated clientele.

Elewana and other companies like Nomad and a bunch of southern African companies are all offering “exclusive use” at no price increase. In other words a small family or party can get the whole place to themselves!

Doesn’t take a rocket scientist to decipher this one: nobody’s coming.

(Elewana’s collection of properties is now very impressive and I hope that it has similarly upgraded its property management which until now has been its principal detraction.)

All companies are continuing at least for a while the airline policy of being able to change your booking without penalty. Unlike the airlines, however, a time-window of usually 15 days before arrival is invoked.

I find this rather disingenuous. EWT has never had a problem postponing or otherwise rescheduling a trip with virtually every vendor we’ve worked with… forever. We didn’t publicize this, as I’m sure other similar companies didn’t, because offering it encourages it. But it existed nonetheless and so for companies like the respected Sanctuary Retreats to tout it as something special is very bad form.

Finally, as a number of companies imply on their website, make a reasonable offer for last-minute bookings and it’s likely to be accepted.

There’s really not integrity of anything quite yet, much less integrity of pricing. If all these lodges and hotels actually gear up to open in a few weeks they’re going to need some cash flow however little.

And with so many now announcing these early openings, it begins to reflect badly on those who hold back. That’s a terrible dilemma because opening too soon and failing is about the worst thing that can happen.

So should you go?

Not for a while. When something looks too good to be true… Let others become the mistakes. Wait for the connecting European capitals to stabilize. Wait for a vaccine passport and most of all, wait until you’re absolutely not among the first to return. All sorts of horrors await those folks.

When might it be OK?

This ever-changing date does get earlier and earlier but today I’d say August for southern Africa and October for East Africa.

Let me know how it goes!