Remember the days when safaris were just for the silver-haired, cashed-up crowd? Not anymore. In recent years, we've seen a wave of young, energetic wanderlust-seekers turning to Africa. Joining that youth movement is the newest and youngest generation, known as Generation Alpha; it's expected to be the largest yet, with a projected population of over 2 billion born between 2010 and 2024, according to a study by research firm McCrindle.
Despite their youth, they already hold influence and purchasing power within their families. As they grow older, their impact on various sectors, including travel, will only increase.
It's no wonder then that they've already drawn the attention of many suppliers in Africa.
Wesgro, the official tourism agency for Cape Town and the Western Cape in South Africa, has developed a marketing strategy targeting Generation Alpha, launching a Roblox game, titled Starlight Adventures in the Cape Karoo to inspire tweens teens and their families to explore the Western Cape.
The game offers a detailed representation of the lesser-known town of Prince Albert, bringing the location to life in a fun, interactive way. During the development of the game, Wesgro consulted with local tour guides and cultural experts, using 3D scans of landmarks and objects to create an accurate representation of the town, located about 250 miles east of Cape Town.
Notably, the game features the culture and history of the Khoisan people, the world's oldest tribe, and includes user-generated content items reflecting Prince Albert's local heritage. The innovative initiative aims to promote the region and inspire in-person visits.
There are those who think it might be a little premature to target the youngest travelers. As Jim Holden, president of Holden Safaris, told me: "Aren't we getting a little bit ahead of ourselves? The Gen Alpha kids are still kids! And don't write off those baby boomers just yet!"
However, if we trust the latest research, this could be the right way forward. In a study by Expedia Group titled "Generation Alpha Research," 43% of respondents indicated that young children influence or inspire their decision-making process when booking a family trip. They actively participate in the planning process and voice their preferences and opinions.
According to Rosemary Anderson of Fedhasa, South Africa's trade association for the hospitality industry, hotels in South Africa are slowly starting to market to Gen Z and Gen Alpha by leveraging technology and digital platforms.
"Hotels focus on creating personalized and immersive experiences that align with the younger generations' preferences," she said. "This includes offering interactive and technology-driven amenities, providing opportunities for social media sharing and user-generated content and showcasing sustainable practices. Engaging with influencers popular among Gen Z and Gen Alpha also helps generate buzz and attract their attention."
Antigone Media, general manager of Thanda Island, has noticed a significant trend and interest from Gen Alpha on social media platforms, particularly Instagram. She said she believes Gen Alpha is more tuned in and conscious because they are living through change -- COVID-19, climate change -- and have a heightened sense of responsibility.
According to Media, this heightened awareness has forced properties and hotels to meet this generation's expectations. For instance, Thanda Island's younger guests get involved with coral restoration projects with the island's marine biologist, Rianne Laan. She said it's a two-way street. "Gen Alpha travelers want to contribute to a good cause, be part of the change and feel good about their involvement," she said. "Their digital savviness serves properties because they actively promote it on social media."
African Bush Camps has also recognized the importance of marketing to younger travelers and is actively focusing on Tik Tok to engage with this demographic and stay relevant.
Karl Parkinson, African Bush Camp's head of partnerships, noted that at its Icon lodges and some of its Signature properties, the company has tailored guests' stays to cater to the youngest generation. They offer in-room WiFi, fully equipped gyms, mother-daughter spa treatments, child-friendly menus, separate rest areas with TVs and billiards and foosball tables for evening entertainment.
For Russel Binks of Tswalu, Gen Alpha has become the lodge's most important target market.
"These are the conservators of the future and born into an age where they are exposed to real, tangible concerns with biodiversity preservation, climate change, animal/human conflict through urban encroachment and necessity of preservation of natural wilderness habitats," he said. "It's not good enough to be conscious consumers anymore. We see Gen Alpha as active contributors, with a focus on change in the lives of those that make a destination worth travelling to in the first place. The people they meet now will impact their lives forever."
According to Binks, Gen Alpha are part of a regenerative vision to safeguard habitat and restore biodiversity for the benefit of both planet and people in the years ahead.
Natural Selection's Lindsy Terry said the company's guides have undergone serious training on how to handle different age groups, especially when it comes to a multigen group where these Gen Alpha kids join.
She said: "They adapt their knowledge and guidance to any group, especially the younger generation; they will quickly sense and learn from the kids on what they find interesting and sparks their attention and adapt their guiding accordingly."
Lakshmi Moolraj, COO of Finch Hattons in Kenya, has also adapted to Gen Alpha and introduced immersive experiences like visiting Kibera, Kenya's largest slum, providing Gen Alphas with a stark reality check, fostering gratitude and driving them to contribute positively to the world. "By embedding such enlightening experiences in your offerings, you can deliver memorable journeys that not only entertain but also educate and shape the worldviews of Generation Alpha," he said.