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Local Travellers Return to the Skies in Search of Bigger, ‘Better’ and Less-Ordinary Holidays

By Sean Bradley, Chief Business Development Officer – Africa at

Three trends to mark South African travel in 2023 

Despite the economic uncertainties that continue to dominate headlines, there are many reasons to be positive about the year ahead. For the airline industry, 2023 is expected to represent a return to profit following three years of subdued activity as a result of the pandemic and its associated travel restrictions. [1]  

On a global level, traffic measured by the International Air Transport Association (IATA) rose by 44.6% year on year in October 2022[2], while passenger numbers in 2023 are expected to surpass the four billion mark for the first time since 2019. [3] 

According to Sean Bradley, Chief Business Development Officer – Africa at, international travel for South African holidaymakers is rising and will become even more popular as we head into a new year.

“Travel data from Bryte Insurance shows that South Africans travel most commonly via major air hubs, with Qatar and British Airways and United Emirates ranking as the airlines of choice for its customers. The well-known London/Dubai route, used by many South Africans as a gateway to Europe and beyond, is currently one of the world’s top 20 most popular routes. As Emirates opened up direct flights from Durban to Dubai in December 2022, we anticipate that this will continue to be the case this year,” Bradley says.

Qatar Airways has similarly expanded its South African operations in partnership with Airlink, which has – as one example – improved connectivity between 45 destinations in 12 countries in southern Africa and offers direct flights between Doha and Johannesburg (21 times weekly), Cape Town (10 times) and Durban (4 times). “We are living in a time of unprecedented global dissonance on a political, economic and environmental scale,” he adds. “At, we believe that humanity’s emotional response to a changing world, coupled with a pent-up desire to get out and explore again, has resulted in the growth of three notable holiday trends that we believe will dominate the year ahead.”

You Only Live Once

While 2022 saw a fragmented re-opening of international borders, accompanied by the gradual easing of Covid travel restrictions, by now, South Africans finally have more reassurance that any overseas holiday plans will not be foiled at the last minute by a positive Covid test or an unanticipated border closure.

“This year, we anticipate an increasing number of once-in-a-lifetime overseas holidays for South Africans as they look to take advantage of this window of opportunity to move freely around the world with their loved ones or to reunite with family and friends in a special location. Covid has reminded us of the sheer fragility of life, and we’re seeing many more people embrace a ‘You Only Live Once’ (YOLO) attitude as a result by booking bucket-list holidays in spite of the challenging economic climate.” 

Mindfulness Matters 

Another positive outcome to arise from Covid is the renewed respect and appreciation that people hold for their physical and mental health and well-being. Bradley does not see this as a passing fad, and he says that from a travel perspective, this new sentiment reveals itself in the growth in demand for holidays that are rich in culture or nature and come with a lower carbon footprint, such as outdoor escapes or wellness retreats in remote locations of outstanding natural beauty.  

No Ordinary Holiday

As highlighted in a new study by [1], Bradley says travellers in 2023 are looking for more than just your average holiday by the sea or well-known cityscape. “Tying in perhaps with the YOLO trend of seizing the day, travellers want a holiday that is different and exotic, like going ‘off-grid’ or stepping out of their comfort zone by immersing themselves in a culture or language in a lesser-known city. This aligns nicely with global awareness of sustainable or responsible travel, which is why we are also seeing wider scope for niche volunteer vacations.” [2]  

Bradley concludes: “If we have learned anything from the pandemic, it is that travel cannot be taken for granted. The trends we have identified for 2023 reflect the important role that travel plays in finding that balance between understanding the harsh realities of a changing world and one’s own happiness and fulfilment.”

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