The luxury safari market remains competitive, despite wobbles in the global economy. Valued at USD 1184.6m in 2018, it’s a thriving market in which unflagging demand for purposeful safari experiences is driving an increase in tourist numbers. But monied travellers are increasingly looking for “experiences, privacy, and unique memories all bundled into one bespoke package”, according to Forbes magazine, which drives lodges and camps to offer much more than just spectacular sunsets.
How, then, can properties gain a competitive advantage in this market, with new high-end lodges unveiled every year and visitors continually looking for the next thrilling adventure? Broadening the scope of guest activities is certainly an option (walking with wildlife and stargazing have been popular, along with particular conservation projects) – but that doesn’t guarantee an increase in the number of visitors, or indeed lead to customer retention. There is, however, evidence to suggest that quality accommodation and inspiring design, together with sustainable ecotourism (that is, making a difference), are driving tourists to return to a given destination.
This was something leading South African design team Cécile & Boyd intuited in 1993 when they created the effortless luxury that defined the 12-suite Singita Ebony Lodge in the Sabi Sand Game Reserve in Kruger National Park. At the time, accommodation was typically an adjunct to the bush experience – often rudimentary, with little sense of ease or elegance. Working with Singita founder Luke Bailes, Cécile & Boyd pioneered the modern safari experience for visitors. As Boyd Ferguson told Introspective Magazine, “We thought, ‘Why can’t extraordinary boutique luxury happen in the bush?’ That just hadn’t been done yet.”
Today, the spirit of a lodge is often reflected as much in its interiors and décor as in its landscapes. This is partly because the lines between living space and the great outdoors have been deliberately blurred. Cécile & Boyd were among the first to explore this paradigm, where the seamless blend of nature and the built environment offer a unique proposition for the adventurous yet luxury-loving traveller. When SingitaEbony Lodge was redesigned in 2015, Cécile & Boyd replaced external walls with canvas and glass to replicate the safari tent experience, without any of the inconvenience. Guests will be struck by how well the wood, iron, steel and bronze materials complement the beauty of the bushveld, with animal-print upholstery echoing the patterns found in nature.
Evolving the perception of an African aesthetic has always been part of Cécile & Boyd’s mandate – one of the reasons why visitors retain an emotional connection to Singita’s 15 luxurious properties. In fact, Singita Lebombo, Castleton and Ebony Lodges have just been named among the 20 top resorts in South Africa in the prestigious Condé Nast Traveller (UK & USA) Readers’ Choice Awards. In the African resorts category. Singita Pamushana Lodge (Zimbabwe) and Singita Sabora Tented Camp (Tanzania) were named among the 30 best on the continent. A record number – more than 600 000 Condé Nast Traveller readers – cast their votes in 2019, among them the most well-heeled, well-travelled individuals on the globe.
That Singita’s lodges remain high on the list of top resorts is hardly surprising – their uncluttered, sumptuous interiors form an integral part of the authentic safari experience. Singita Lebombo’s deference to natural elements means light, open, airy spaces and minimal distraction from the panoramic views at this eco-lodge in Kruger National Park, where the 15 suites appear to fall away from a sheer rock-face. In fact, Cécile & Boyd call the villas ‘translucent glass tents’ canopied with branches that can be penetrated by both sunlight and moonlight. Their judicious use of glass, bleached wood, metal, canvas, rattan and luxury linen creates a haven in the bush – yet what sets the lodge apart is the sense that there is no item out of place. This harmonious elegance is difficult to replicate.
Cécile & Boyd’s outstanding work has attracted additional accolades this year – Singita Sweni Lodge in the Kruger National Park, designed by Gapp Architects and Cécile & Boyd, has just been cited for ‘Best Eco-Friendly Design’ at the SKIFT Design Awards 2019 in New York.
While luxury resorts are frequented by discerning travellers, those that offer something truly special – like iconic design, exceptional food and hospitality, and authentic transformative experiences or the opportunity to connect with nature – will almost certainly succeed in capturing market share.