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The Rise Of Millionaire Tourism

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Private jets, elite lodges, haute cuisine and watching the perfect sunset – luxury safaris and bespoke experiences can cost anything from $20,000 to $350,000. 


My greatest experience was standing in the Makgadikgadi salt pan in Botswana, which, as far as you can see in all directions is absolutely flat and white. Then the sun goes down. All of us have seen beautiful sunsets, and then there’s the glow and all of us have seen that. But then, there’s a kind of… grey pause. And then, the real sunset begins. It lasts for 35-40 minutes. The entire sky starts changing color and then the sun is long gone. But the sky lights up with all these fabulous colors that keep shifting all the way around you. We watched it every night,” says Christopher Beach, an American tourist describing a moment on his R3 million ($208,700) tour around southern Africa in May 2018.

This trip – a bucket list-adventure for the group of six friends and partners – was guided by tour company Luxury Africa Destination Management.

A 19-day excursion, this one-of-a-kind experience included private planes, luxury lodges and a full immersion in the sweeping landscapes of South Africa, Botswana and Namibia.

How is ‘luxury’ defined?

Is it a five-star stay at the Ritz-Carlton in New York, or a meal from a top chef at an elite restaurant?

For many top-tier, elite travelers today, ‘luxury’ isn’t about caviar and diamond-encrusted cutlery.

‘Luxury’ in travel has changed from a garish display of wealth to one about experiences, privacy, and unique memories all bundled into one bespoke package.

As Angama Mara Lodge co-founder, Nicky Fitzgerald, with decades of experience in decadent travel and top-tier lodges in southern Africa, explains: “There are different opinions of luxury. In the end, the stuff is just the stuff, and if you have enough money, anyone can have gold cups or build a beautiful lodge. But experiencing good game is unique, and having a talented guide and caring staff take the experience out of the ordinary. Luxury is bespoke care for each person. Luxury for the super-elite is watching the perfect sunset, and seeing the Milky Way from bed.”

The sunset on the Makgadikgadi salt pan in Botswana was such a luxury experience for Beach.

“It is more than a poetic experience. It’s a life-changing experience,” he says.

A regular traveler, he is the retired President and Artistic Director of the La Jolla Music Society in San Diego. For over 40 years now, he and his partner have traveled annually to Venice. A few years ago, Beach and his sister went on National Geographic’s 24-day ‘Around the World by Private Jet’ trip (costing a minimum of $82,950 per person and including destinations like Easter Island and Marrakesh). “[My partner and I] say to everyone – people know that we’ve spent 40 years traveling and we say to everybody – you have to trust us. [A trip to southern Africa] is the most transcendent travel experience of your life. I went on the National Geographic ‘Around The World By Private Plane’ trip a couple of years ago and it was great and it was first-class and all of that… But going on a safari exceeded anything we’ve ever experienced.”

According to Virtuoso’s annual Luxe Report, a luxury trip advisory service, “the desire for unspoiled natural beauty is continuing to motivate travelers”.

Their 2018 forecast listed Africa as one of the top five must-take trips. They said in the report: “From culturally-rich South Africa, which is also 2018’s top adventure destination, to the wilds of Botswana and Kenya, and to the souks of Morocco, Africa is one of the world’s most diverse continents. Virtuoso’s advisors say a safari is an integral part of the African experience, particularly with wildlife preservation a priority for today’s sustainably-savvy travelers.”

Though Beach doesn’t consider himself ‘rich’, his trip on the continent was certainly in the upper echelons of tourist budgets pouring into the continent.

As the Southern and East African Tourism Update website writes: “Millionaire tourism in Africa has been on the rise for several years. In 2016, a study by a Johannesburg-based research institution found that in a period of 12 months, around 43,000 individuals with net assets of $10 million or more visited the continent for a holiday.”

Stats SA backs up the importance of all tourism in South Africa: “The tourism sector directly contributed 2.9% to South African gross domestic product (GDP) in 2016.”

The lure of the bush and a chance to experience a complete immersion in landscapes unseen in the West, not to mention close encounters with animals, are hugely appealing to international visitors. Says founder of Famba Famba Tour Design Specialists, and winner of Gauteng’s Lilizela tourism award, Valentino Meirroti: “The tourism industry is growing. There is a growing market for luxury travel as air travel becomes cheaper worldwide. The super-wealthy are spending less money on material things and more on unique experiences.”

The private villas, the haute cuisine, the sundowners, and the private jets aren’t the draw cards for the super-elite traveler, Meirroti explains. The biggest appeal for these luxury tourists is the chance to experience the raw beauty and these special moments in relative privacy.

Angama Mara Lodge, a 30-sleeper villa is perched on a hill overlooking Kenya’s Maasai Mara, with these needs in mind. In peak season, during one of the world’s most phenomenal sightings – the Great Migration – guests will pay $1,650 per night per person. The lodge’s co-founder Fitzgerald, describes: “We have a heart-stopping view from our position over the valley. We’re absolutely packed in high season. We’re very, very high-end and visitors find that visiting us on a safari tour and witnessing the Great Migration at such close quarters is a huge highlight.”

Beach describes it as well: “This is like being on earth millions of years ago in the garden of Eden. You are invisible in your jeep. The animals ignore you. They are acclimatized to you. You’re not a threat, you’re not something to eat.”

Patrick Siebel, founder of Luxury Africa Destination Management, has a whole business built around creating bespoke, luxury tours.

Most people using his services spend a minimum of R300,000 ($20,877) for two weeks, but on his most opulent trip, six people spent R5 million ($348,000) on a 15-day trip. He says he has serviced, amongst others, Russian oligarchs, American businessmen and CEOs, and super-wealthy families.

Says Siebel: “Last year, I had a guy, he wasn’t even planning to visit South Africa I guess. But he had a super yacht with the tallest mast in the world. While he was here having their main sail fitted on, he ended up going up to Johannesburg and bought a whole safari camp. Fascinating people.”

This type of travel is also falling into the enlarging wellness travel industry.

This billion-dollar section of luxury travel feeds another, equally important part of the luxury traveler’s needs – relaxation and enrichment.

Skift quotes Joss Kent, CEO of andBeyond: “Health and wellness are an increasingly larger part of travel, but these can mean different things to different people. We’re seeing that guests are traveling, not to escape their daily lives, but to enrich them.”

Fitzgerald agrees: “It seems outrageous but people who like luxury travel have more of an issue with time than money. Some guests have no clue what they paid for their accommodation. There is so much money for people to do beautiful travel.”

Meirroti adds: “Our guests appreciate exclusivity, and a combination of complete relaxation while having a unique experience. People are happy to spend money for a bespoke experience that is well-organized and guided by knowledgeable guides.”

Perhaps Beach says it best: “When I travel to Africa, I want a place that is private, private, private, and you walk out in the morning and you are the only person in the world looking out over a vast horizon. It feels like you’re in Discovery Channel. And though African safari costs are some of the most expensive trips I take over the world, they are life-changing.”

  • Samantha Steele 

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A Solution To Improve Madagascar’s Local Economies

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Madagascar is a priority country for conservation and preserving Earth’s biodiversity riches threatened by a rampant rate of habitat destruction. Ninety percent of the natural habitat of Madagascar has been destroyed and 91% of the lemur species are critically endangered, endangered or threatened.

Since the political turmoil of 2009, coupled with security issues and illegal extraction activities, the conservation situation has worsened. The presidential election that took place in January offers hope that this new regime will make preservation of the unique wildlife of Madagascar a priority.

President Andry Rajoelina ran on a platform of eliminating poverty for his people.

Ecotourism is good for the economy, but there are doubts if it is enough. Our conservation teams in the Ranomafana region are hoping that we have a solution for improving local economies.


Patricia Wright is a Distinguished Professor of Anthropology at the Stony Brook University in the US and Founder of Centre ValBio Research Station, in Ranomafana, Madagascar. Picture: Supplied

Centre ValBio (CVB), a 30-year-old research center, is nestled overlooking the Ranomafana National Park rainforest near Fianarantsoa, and is an eight-hour drive from the capital Antananarivo.

CVB is a hub of modern science with laboratory equipment to study genetics, infectious diseases and mapping from satellites.

Substantial efforts by scientists have led to an improved understanding about taxonomy, species distributions, the evolution, behavior and population size of the flora and fauna, and the impact of habitat loss on Madagascan biodiversity.

READ MORE | Putting land To Good Use: Food Security In Our Backyards

This knowledge has been successfully used to guide conservation planning and action, as well as new discoveries in medical science. Scientists investigate the impact of anthropogenic influence, edge effects, climate change, and fragmentation on ecosystems and communities in these lush rainforests.

The CVB campus has five buildings and a staff of 130 local scientists, technicians and administrators who work year-round on research, training and conservation.

This station conducts studies of cyanide-eating lemurs, climate change, new leech species, lemurs that have genes that might be related to diabetes and Alzheimer’s, and genetics of an ecosystem.

All around, the parks, forests and the rare species within them are still disappearing. Slash-and-burn agriculture is the main threat to rainforests in Madagascar.

READ MORE | The Professor Who Saved An African Rainforest

Forests are sacrificed to plant rice, the staple food for humans.
CVB has launched an alternative against this destruction of natural resources. First, the village elders are engaged to ensure a buy-in by the communities.

If the villagers are enthusiastic, workshops and training begin in the fields.
Next, using years of botanical knowledge, the reforestation team (technicians and scientists) helps villagers plant endemic saplings of tree species eaten by lemurs. We don’t plant a monoculture, but rather use natural dispersion as a guide.

We know from our pilot experience that it takes about 15 years for the endemic trees to fruit and flower, and for birds, bats and lemurs to return to these ‘new forests’ where they could help ‘plant’ more forests by dispersing their seeds.

We are hoping that this strategy will help to stabilize the soil, prevent erosion and river silting, and expand the habitats for wildlife.
But what value do these trees have for the Malagasy farmer?

Using these trees as structure vines of high value crops such as vanilla, wild pepper and cinnamon that need shade to grow well are transplanted onto these trees.

With assistance in processing and marketing, the local farmers can harvest these high-value crops and earn great economic gain.

The prices of Malagasy spices are high in the world market and spice venders project that the high prices will continue into the future with new markets in China and India.

There is hope that not only will this strategy increase biodiversity, but it will also bring affluence to the farmers and merchants of Madagascar.
Rajoelina’s promise of prosperity is possible and the unforeseen benefits could be transformative.

– The writer is a Distinguished Professor of Anthropology at the Stony Brook University in the US and Founder of Centre ValBio Research Station, in Ranomafana, Madagascar

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Arts

From Fishing Village To Gastronomic Heaven: Tables Turn For Wolfgat

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In a small fishing village on South Africa’s rugged west coast, restaurateur Kobus van der Merwe is struggling to process his meteoric rise to gastronomic stardom.

He recently got back from Paris, where four days ago his 20-cover Wolfgat was named Restaurant of the Year at the inaugural World Restaurant Awards, also winning the remote location prize.

“In our category, which was for the off-map destination… there are restaurants that we literally hero-worship and we were like, this is insane,” the food-journalist-turned-chef told Reuters TV on Friday in his first interview with foreign media since returning home.

Others on that shortlist included Japanese wild dining sensation Tokuyamazushi.

Of both prizes, he added: “We never dreamed of making the shortlist, let alone winning.”

Situated in Paternoster, about 160 km (100 miles) northwest of Cape Town, Wolfgat’s speciality is seafood.

Van der Merwe’s seven-course tasting menu pays homage to the region’s long-gone indigenous inhabitants, and his signature dishes are flavored and supplemented with ingredients foraged locally, such as seaweed and succulent plants.

They include Rooibos tea-smoked yellowtail with dune spinach and buttermilk rusk, and freshly baked bread served with bokkom (salted dry fish) butter and infused herbs.

Guests at the 130-year-old whitewashed restaurant, nestled above Wolfgat cave within hearing distance of crashing waves, pay 850 rand ($60), or 1400 rand including drinks.

Van der Merwe, who took the plunge into full-time cooking before completing his culinary studies, said he had no wish to expand or replicate Wolfgat in an urban setting.

“We certainly don’t aspire to be in the city because the west coast is our muse and I can’t see Wolfgat existing anywhere else,” he said.

His clientele is split evenly between foreign tourists visiting the village and well-heeled South Africans.

But those who make the two-hour drive from Cape Town had better be sure of their reservations before they set out – because he’s fully booked for the next three months. -Reuters

– Wendell Roelf

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Entrepreneurs

Entrepreneur And DJ – Oskido Tells Us Why Brazil Is His Favourite Place

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This South African DJ and entrepreneur is never home-sick when in Brazil. He says its food and music fill his soul.


After traveling the world and the concomitant culinary outings that come with it, kwaito (South African music genre) pioneer, DJ and businessman Oscar Bonginkosi Mdlongwa, popularly known as Oskido, counts Brazil his most favorite overseas destination.

In enjoying the fruits of his success, Oskido has come far.

He was born in Brits, a large town irrigated by the waters of the Hartbeespoort Dam in the North West Province of South Africa.

His childhood was in Bulawayo, a city in the southwest of Zimbabwe, before returning to South Africa to pursue a career in music in 1988.

His influences may be primarily South African and Zimbabwean, but the South American country is what he regales about when we meet him in late November last year.  

“What amazed me the most was the food. I have traveled all over the world but the way they cook their food and the way they love their food stunned me,” says Oskido.

The memories are still fresh.

In September last year, Mdlongwa had traveled to the centrally-located capital of Brazil, Brasilia, on a cultural exchange program between Brazil and South Africa.

During our interview, he also compliments the city’s culture and the friendliness of its people.

“When I come back to my country [South Africa] after traveling, I just want our food. When I start going to Europe, I think of home, missing the food, but when I went to Brazil, it was like I’m home.”

He goes on to elucidate that they have their own traditional way of cooking, which includes beans that he enjoys the most.

Oskido especially appreciates Brazil’s restaurants because of the different meat cuts they serve customers.

“They will bring you a paper and describe the part that you are eating. Also, their way of cooking is healthy,” he says.

“We normally just eat and say ‘rump’; you don’t even know where it’s coming from. Therefore, they come in and you keep eating different cuts until you find the one you like and they will keep feeding you until you are full.

“What amazed me the most is when you get to our [local] food courts, you will find all these chain stores. It’s the same thing [there], but there isn’t anything that is like a buffet. Their food courts are designed that way, there isn’t any of the junk food,” says Oskido.

He speaks about connecting to the people despite the language barrier. He remembers going to a shopping center to buy things and having to explain.

He would speak on the phone with a translator and communication would be delayed.

But he found his own comfort zone.

Whenever he talked about music, he says there would be an instant connection with the people.

Oskido was invited by the South African Minister of Arts and Culture Nathi Mthethwa as a delegate for the exchange program.

“The minister and his office went to a school of kids aged between four and five years old. The kids were told to look for a song on YouTube that resembled Africa. Coincidently, they found Tsa Mandebele as the song of choice. I found that these kids could sing along to my song and dance to the moves because of the music video,” he says, joyfully.

“It was good to see a Limpopo language [song] sung in Brazil. That was the moment when I was really touched, and felt that there was something about Brazil.

“After the festive season, I want to go back, take my family and go relax.”

These are the notes from the South African DJ who has gone from Brits to Brazil.

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