The fact that the Kruger National Park ranked high on the list of Big 7 Travel’s 50 Most Popular Destinations For Post-Lockdown Travel, reflects its popularity among visitors from abroad. The data behind this ranking revealed that, in fact, people from 60 countries showed an interest in the Park.
There’s plenty to suggest that it is a favoured destination for international travellers. Consider that Lufthansa, for example, recently added a direct route from Frankfurt to the Kruger National Park. This highlights how in-demand the Kruger National Park is as an international destination.
However, South Africa’s biggest game reserve is certainly also a top leisure destination for South African travellers – more so since the pandemic.
“We are very grateful to notice an incredible uptick in bookings by locals,” notes Anton Gillis, CEO of Kruger Gate Hotel. “This spike started during the pandemic, of course, when South Africans were unable to travel internationally. But now, even with a return to normal in the travel space, we continue to see locals flock to the Park – some with laptops as they take full advantage of the ‘work from anywhere’ phenomenon”.
This sentiment is proven to be true when one looks at stats for bookings by South Africans for holidays in or around the Kruger National Park. According to Thompsons Holidays, in the Kruger node the company has achieved its 2019 room nights in just the first eight months of this year. Thompsons Holidays goes on to say that currently, Mpumalanga has a 5% province market share versus 4% in 2019 – thereby exceeding pre-pandemic numbers.
These numbers are further backed up by data from Cheapflights, a global travel search site that compares flights, hotels, and rental cars. The Cheapflights data shows that there has been a massive increase in searches from South Africa to all airports near the Kruger National Park when compared to 2019. The numbers indicate that there has been an increase of about 229% in flight searches made by SA’s travelers in the first half of this year compared to the same period in 2019 for flights to airports surrounding the Park. The data combines flight searches for three key airports – Hoedspruit Airport, Kruger Mpumalanga International Airport and Skukuza Airport.
“While we’re delighted to see this increased interest from South Africans for the Kruger National Park, we are not all that surprised,” explains Gillis. “A trip to the Kruger has long been on many South Africans’ bucket lists and with an increased push from destination marketing organisations to explore closer to home, locals have moved this trip towards the top of their lists, with many not only ticking it off once, but multiple times.”
“Once you visit the Kruger National Park, it’s tough to stay away. We see this with our returning guests and we ourselves experience it when we’ve been away from the Park for too long. The call of the wild is strong,” enthuses Gillis.
“As soon as people arrive in or close to the Kruger National Park, they soon start to realise that it is a destination that offers more than just game viewing. It offers leisure activities such as golf, guided walking safaris, fishing, mountain biking, magical sunrises, and so much more,” he continues.
Notable activities in the surrounding areas include the Sudwala Caves where thrill-seekers are able to explore the caves on a guided tour that includes wading through water, crawling through small tunnels and scrambling up and down rocks. Those wanting to do day trips out of the park have a host of activities to choose from such as excursions into neighbouring Mozambique or Swaziland or visiting the stunning area called God’s Window. This area received its name due to its natural beauty that can all be taken in from one viewpoint. Visitors to the area who hike along a narrow pathway to the viewpoints will be rewarded with a view of the beautiful Blyde River Canyon.
Anyone wishing to learn more about conservation in the area is advised to pop into the Hoedspruit Endangered Species Centre. This centre provides care and rehabilitation for rare, vulnerable and endangered animals. This is a fun learning activity for families with young children.
Gillis concludes: “We are thrilled that so many more visitors , South Africans especially, are seeing what we’ve known for some time – there is clearly more to the Kruger National Park than meets the eye”.