The ultimate niche

Luxury tourism is the most highly prized specialist market

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Cape Town as a home to big city tourism is well known — after all, Table Mountain, the natural beauty of the beaches and surrounds and the variety of things to do form an attractive prospect for visitors. Some visitors save up for years to make the most out of a bucket list trip to the city, but, for those to whom the cost is less important, it’s a fantastic place to experience that most niche market of travel — luxury tourism. In addition, Cape Town has been named as Luxury City Destination of the Year for the second consecutive year in the Luxury Travel Guide Africa & Middle East Awards 2016.

Although there are some luxury experiences that are so discreet many wouldn’t even know that they’re happening, there are also plenty that are well-known. For instance, it’s possible to have a private diamond viewing experience, or to take a quick helicopter flip across the peninsula to land at Groot Constantia wine estate for an exclusive wine tasting session.

There are beautiful spas, stunning hotels, chauffeurs, private butlers, concierges and protection officers all available for the super wealthy.

More than that, the best hotels can offer those introductions to exclusive events and places.

The Cape’s reputation as a place to eat and drink was cemented recently; in Condé Nast’s Reader’s Choice Awards, Cape Town took the honour as the number one food city in the world. All across town it’s possible to enjoy every kind of cuisine imaginable, prepared by renowned chefs and served with award-winning wines.

There’s a shift in tourism, however, that is affecting even the luxury market: from backpackers travelling light or the world’s elite with an entourage helping with their luggage, they want to travel like locals.

Experiential travel is a trend that is growing in popularity across the globe. Visitors no longer want to be tourists, but rather they want to experience destinations as travellers, having an immersive experience that is unique and intimate, doing things that other visitors haven’t. It involves getting to know the hidden gems of the destination and finding out where the hottest, newest and most rewarding experiences are, from pop-up restaurants to tiny art galleries.

For luxury travellers this is particularly true, after all, anyone with wealth can do the most expensive things, but not everyone will have the capacity to uncover the unusual, so that they can take home bespoke memories.

Customised tours work best when they bring visitors into contact with locals who can let you in on the secrets. Conversations can lead to off-brochure places no traveller has ever heard of, and it’s in these experiences that the visitor finds the greatest rewards, wonderful, intimate experiences.

Cape Town is open for tourism business like never before: with increased capacity at the cruise ship berths and at Cape Town International Airport, there’s more room for arrivals. Add to this the favourable exchange rate which makes luxury tourism affordable to even moderately affluent individuals and you have the perfect place for a holiday that will rival any other.

The Cape’s entrepreneurs have grabbed this opportunity be creating innovative packages and connected trips that allow for these experiences to be accessed and enjoyed. It doesn’t matter where you go in the world, every destination has this in common: those working in tourism must constantly refresh their products to ensure that there’s always something new on offer. It’s this that keeps the industry buoyant and also ensures that visitors return for more.

Privacy is valued by luxury travellers, and they don’t want their exclusive experiences (in the case of the very famous) to be shared by paparazzi. Discreet tour operators will ensure that their guests are cared for without compromising their privacy while on holiday.

Somewhat surprisingly, even wealthy travellers know the value of experiences and don’t like to be overcharged. While this has happened on occasion, when businesses seek to maximize the benefit of having elite visitors, those businesses then lose out on the opportunity for return visits and also the benefit of word-of-mouth advertising. Over-pricing also has a negative impact on local tourism as those businesses price themselves out of the local market. Cape Town Tourism spearheaded the ‘Fair & Responsible Pricing Policy’ before the 2010 FIFA World Cup, as a measure to ensure that the tourism industry does not unfairly exploit tourists and locals.

The figures

Over R15bn is spent on tourism-related businesses every year
Cape Town has experienced steady growth in tourism numbers with direct tourism spend increasing by R1.5-billion from 2012 – 2014
City of Cape Town statement: research conducted by Grant Thornton showed that direct tourism spend increased from R14.4bn in 2012 to R15.6bn in 2014.
Of 1 745 300 foreign arrivals to the Western Cape, just over 94 percent (1 645 469) chose Cape Town as their holiday destination
Domestic spend on day trips to Cape Town in 2013: R3.2bn, the first time this has been identified). This was not calculated based on accommodation, but on the city’s attractions, restaurants, local transport, and shopping, among others. At R3.2bn per year, this is a significant contribution to the economy of Cape Town.
There are so many elements that contribute to the city’s success as a destination, from the natural beauty of the award-winning beaches and the character-filled mountain range down to the vibrant cultural experiences. As the Gateway to Africa, Cape Town is home to a wide variety of nationalities from across the continent, each bringing their own cultural flavour. It’s also home to communities representing any number of countries, including Germany, France, the US, the UK and China. Each community has different ways of expressing their traditions within a local context, so all of these add up to a lively cross-section of cultural expression.

For visitors from the Middle East, the city offers an alternative to the luxury experiences of Europe as well as a mild climate that is a welcome alternative to the searing heat of the desert. In addition, Cape Town is well known as having Halaal-friendly tourism, providing restaurants, mosques and places of interest for Muslim visitors.

There’s something for everyone, and entrepreneurs within the sector are constantly applying themselves to innovative solutions. It’s not enough to simply hope that Table Mountain will entice people, there must always be advancements in what’s on offer. Take, for example, the forthcoming Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art at the V&A Waterfront. This celebration of art is going to be a showcase of art, architecture and design, and it’s going to be a welcome addition to the city’s portfolio of remarkable places to visit. It’s set to open its doors at the end of 2016.

Continuing with the cutting-edge theme, digital tourism is driving change in the industry. Apps and other software are providing a more seamless planning and purchasing experience, and luxury travellers benefit from this ease of access. Data also aids in generating customer profiles that can assist in recommending experiences that the data predicts the customer will enjoy.

Across South Africa tourism professionals are scrambling to provide bigger, better experiences, and this competitive response to the demand is raising the standard for the industry.

It’s a healthy approach to the sector, and tourists of all kinds, luxury or budget, are discovering that South Africa is the place to be.

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