Jack's Camp in Botswana
  • International travel to South Africa, and the African continent, all but dried up thanks to Covid-19 lockdowns and fears around travelling.
  • This is devastating news for tourism companies - but good for travellers with enough cash at hand to scoop some once-in-a-lifetime deals on lavish holidays on the African continent.
  • Some luxury travel companies have cut rates by as much as 70% - and although they’re still pricey for the average traveller, many are unlikely to be as cheap ever again.
  • For more articles, go to www.BusinessInsider.co.za.

As a result of Covid-19 border closures and subsequent tentative re-openings, many high-end lodges, safari companies and tourism businesses that usually cater to foreign visitors are now grappling to come to terms with devastatingly empty reservation sheets. 

Although some governments - including South Africa’s - have started to relax the once-onerous Covid-19 travel restrictions that may have dissuaded foreigners to book trips, it’s likely that visitors from wealthier countries will still not arrive this year.

This remains bad news for high-end lodges - but as borders and establishments reopen, it’s good for travellers. 

To recover some of the losses, luxury travel companies and lodges are slashing prices to what some in the industry are describing as once-in-a-lifetime levels. And many companies, which were previously priced well out of the local market, are also offering deals exclusively for South Africans.

John Holley, founder and director at Iconic Africa, a tourism company that works alongside many of the continent’s top safari companies and lodges, says the deals they’re offering are unlikely to be repeated again - and there’s no better time to be travelling.

“It’s an incredible time to be accessing and supporting lodges and conversation activities, and specifically for South Africans it’s a once in a lifetime opportunity to get to these places which previously were just not accessible to us on a price level,” says Holley.

“Equally, these lodges are a lot safer (from Covid) - you’re out of the urban areas, and the great thing about safaris is you are by definition outdoors and there are minimal touch points.”

Although Holley says the reopening of borders to international travellers with negative Covid-19 tests is a positive step, the industry will probably only start to recover midway through 2021.

“Many of the high-end travellers who have traditionally flocked to our shores for incredible wildlife experiences have life policies that won’t cover them for travel to South Africa during this time. So although the borders might reopen, many foreign countries are still in lockdown, and even if they aren’t, if life policies aren’t covering travellers for high risk areas, then unfortunately they aren’t likely to come.” 

The solution, in the interim, is to reduce prices to a level that may encourage South African travellers to splurge on a lavish trip they might otherwise not have been able to afford. In some cases, private websites still reflect the pre-pandemic rates - and some discount may be exclusive to travel and tourism companies who work alongside the lodges. Some lodges are also promising special Covid-19 rates, but will release specific rates on enquiry only.

The only way to ensure the best possible rate, therefore, is to do a bit of research both on the private lodge websites, and via agencies who are often able to secure better rates, and to reach out to both requesting the best deals.

Although still not exactly cheap, these are some of the best high-end travel deals we could find"

Sable Alley, Botswana

Sable Alley

Sable Alley, located in Khwai Private Reserve, promises sweeping views of a wildlife-dotted lagoon from its luxury tents, limited vehicles at each sighting, and a variety of activities including dugout canoe and walking safaris. 

Typically, a night in a luxury tent there costs upwards of R13,300 per person sharing - but South African citizens can book a night there through Natural Selection, until the end of March, for just R3,490 a night per person sharing.

Angama Mara, Kenya

Angama Mara

Angama Mara, one of the most lavish and celebrated lodges in Kenya’s Maasai Mara, is shamelessly targeting South African travellers with its “Nou gaan ons Maasai Mara toe” (translated from Afrikaans as "Now we are going to Massa Mara") special. 

The lodge is usually only the domain of the ultra-rich, with standard-season rates starting at just under R20,000 per person per night. As part of a package deal, however, South African guests can book five nights accommodation for just under R50,000 per person sharing, which includes accommodation, road transfers, local flights, park fees, and a hot air balloon flight.

Jack’s Camp, Botswana

Jack's Camp

Jack’s Camp, considered to be one of the most iconic destinations in the Kalahari, will reopen after renovations in December. There are nine new luxury tents that pay homage to the property’s 1940s style, and aside from the expected wildlife and safari activities there’s also a Natural History Museum, antique pool table, and library for guests to enjoy.

Nights in the camp from April onwards are currently being advertised upwards of R28,000 per person sharing, but Natural Selection has a deal for South African residents that slashes this to just R4,990 per person sharing for most nights from December until the end of March.

Mapula Lodge, Botswana

Mapula Lodge

Mapula Lodge is on the northern reaches of the Okavango Delta, and it promises peace and tranquility from other often busier parts of the region. It’s a wildlife rich region that is famed for its mokoro water safaris.

The lodge can sleep 20, but eight guests can book it out for exclusive use starting at R30,000 a night, for a minimum of three nights, which includes meals and accommodation, guiding and activities, until the end of March 2021. Ordinarily, high season rates for the lodge start at around R17,000 per person sharing per night.

Kwessi Dunes, Namibia

Kwessi

Kwessi Dunes, in the NamibRand Nature Reserve, offers up several of the key Namibian experiences in a single package, including red dunes, horse rides, and hot air balloon flights. 

A night at Kwessi Dunes between January and March usually costs in the region of R10,000 per person sharing. South African residents can book most nights over this period for just R3,000 per person sharing, including all meals, drinks, and daily activities.

Rare Earth Lodges, South Africa

Ekuthuleni

Luxury lodge company Rare Earth currently has deals running on several of its lodges for South African residents. 

Iconic Africa is offering a stay in The Outpost Lodge on the Zimbabwean border in Limpopo for R4,225 per person per night - the cheapest advertised rate in April next year is R8,970.

Ekuthuleni, in the Welgevonden Private Game Reserve, is available for R3,350 - down from an April 2021 rate of R6,700.

And Tshwene Lodge on the Taaibos River also has rooms available for South African citizens through Iconic Africa for R3,350 per person per night, which during normal peak periods you could pay upwards of R10,000 for.

Lekkerwater Beach Lodge, South Africa

Lekkerwater. Photo: Netwerk24

Lekkerwater Beach Lodge is a luxury lodge set in the De Hoop Nature Reserve. The reserve offers incredible ocean views, endless fynbos vegetation, and 260 bird species. 

There are seven en-suite rooms in the lodge, which usually cost R6,900 per person sharing over the high season, but depending on when you choose to visit, you can book a room through Natural Selection for as much as 50% off the rack rate until the end of April.

andBeyond Ngala Safari Lodge, South Africa

Ngala
andBeyond Ngala

andBeyond Ngala Safari Lodge, made lockdown famous due to its participation in daily Wild Earth live streams, is also offering discounts for South African residents. The luxury lodge in the greater Kruger National Park region offers unparalleled game viewing both from game vehicles and on foot.

The cheapest published per-pandemic rate for Ngala is from R10,000 per person sharing per night, but Iconic Africa is offering a local rate that’s 50% less than that, starting at R4,900 per person per night.

The Blue Train, South Africa

blue train
Blue Train

South Africa’s luxury Blue Train is currently running a reopening special for bookings until the end of March 2021. The experience, usually only the domain of wealthy locals or foreign tourists, includes fine dining, elegant lounges, and accommodation in the form of luxury suites.

Low season rates for the four day Blue Train journey between Pretoria and Cape Town start at R23,000 per person sharing, but the company is currently running a special that’s 50% off this amount. South African residents travelling until the end of March can book a journey from R12,715 and up, depending on exact dates, routes, and options.

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