How SA’s hospitality industry can leverage the circuit travel trend

An aerial view of Cape Town. South Africa’s most popular destination. Picture: Unsplash

An aerial view of Cape Town. South Africa’s most popular destination. Picture: Unsplash

Published Jun 28, 2024


Cape Town International Airport welcomed more than 200 000 international arrivals, an encouraging signal that South African travel is on the rebound.

This latest statistics from January and February this year showed that the industry exceeded the 2019 figure of 194 058 over the same period and broke all previous records in the last five years.

This is remarkable for a destination that’s long-haul for almost all of its top markets.

The travel statistics revealed that the UK, Germany, the US, Netherlands, and France are the country’s top five overseas markets and none are less than an 11-hour flight away.

In other words, overseas tourists visiting Cape Town aren’t just spending a lot of money to get there, but also investing in time in the city. And while they could take two hours off their flight time by landing in Johannesburg, it’s still very much a long-haul destination in its own right.

Clinton Thom, the general manager of the Radisson Blu Hotel Waterfront, believes that it’s critical that the local hospitality sector respects this investment and ensures that it pulls out all of the stops to make visitors stays as memorable as possible.

“South Africa and the broader Southern African region have so much to offer travellers,” he explained.

“But we must recognise the time and effort those travellers put into getting here. If we want those visitors returning time and time again and encouraging their friends to travel here, their trips must feel magical from arrival to departure.”

Thom added that one way of doing this is to cater to the growing trend of circuit travel, which is also known as triangle tourism.

“Circuit travel involves people doing a circuit of different towns and cities when they’re visiting a new destination,” he explained.

“In some cases, it can even involve hopping between different countries within a geographical region.”

Thom added that for some, that might sound like a family holiday that they’ve ever been on, but circuit travel is much more seamless than those DIY family trips.

“Ideally, visitors shouldn’t have to think about how they’re getting from one destination to another on their circuit, nor where they’re staying or what they’ll see when they get there,” he said.

Thom said a family might enjoy Cape Town’s beaches, restaurants and heritage sites and then fly into Hoedspruit for a safari holiday at one of the region’s major parks before heading to Johannesburg as a stop off on the way to Livingstone to experience the Victoria Falls and then finally returning to Cape Town before heading back home.

“Given how much there is to see in Southern Africa, circuit travel makes a lot of sense. It’s also a much more low-risk approach than someone from a foreign country trying to plan a trip to a destination they’re not familiar with,” he said.

As Thom points out, there is a significant opportunity in the local hospitality sector to take advantage of this trend. The opportunity, he added, is particularly significant for hotels within the same group.

“A hotel group could, for example, offer specials to visitors who book stays at three or four of its destinations within a country or region. It could additionally offer loyalty and rewards incentives to guests making these kinds of bookings,” he noted.

Thom pointed out that it’s easy to see how this approach could be expanded beyond hotels too as airlines, travel agencies and tour guides could also come together to encourage circuit travel in Southern Africa.

“For many visitors, coming to South Africa is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. That’s even more true for people adding on other Southern African destinations to their trips,” he said.

“A well-organised hospitality sector that embraces circuit travel could make it the kind of once-in-a-lifetime trip they convince friends, family, and colleagues to take too.”

In conclusion, Thom believes that leveraging circuit travel also benefits providers across the sector, even in areas that might not get as many visitors as more popular destinations.

“Tourism is already crucial to the South African and Southern African economy. Imagine what it could do if, instead of 200 000, there were 300 000 or 400 000 international arrivals at Cape Town International Airport and a significant portion of those arrivals went on to visit other parts of the country and region.”

“’Imagine how many jobs could be created, lives positively impacted, and lasting memories made.”