South Africa’s Year in Travel 2023: Travel trends shaping the tourism landscape

In a year shaped by open gates and budget restraints, 2023 was a year in travel not just about returning to old habits but seeking out new, unforgettable offerings on the map.


6min read

Published 8 December 2023


In a year shaped by open gates and budget restraints, 2023 was a year in travel not just about returning to old habits but seeking out new, unforgettable offerings on the map.

Travel was back with a vengeance this year! To kick us off, here are our top five interesting nuggets from our travellers’ bookings in 2023.

  • Mauritius was our travellers' most popular international destination, and Johannesburg was the most popular local destination.
  • The average age of our cruise customer was 51.5 years old.
  • The largest domestic booking was for a group of 33 people travelling to George.
  • We booked flights for 262 infants (and their parents/guardians, of course!).
  • Our travellers’ longest stay locally was 21 days.

To get an idea of Flight Centre’s typical customer in 2023, imagine Sofia Vergara or Cameron Diaz travelling solo to London or Joburg, as our most common customer was a 50 – 59-year-old woman travelling alone.

Having said that, customers booking as couples weren’t far behind. While 38% of customers booked solo, 22% of bookings were for couples, 6% for families and 6% were small group bookings (large groups and other small anomaly bookings not included made up the remaining 28%).

Putting all those segments together, the top 10 international destinations South Africans travelled to were:

  1. Mauritius
  2. Dubai
  3. Thailand
  4. Zanzibar
  5. USA
  6. Bali
  7. UK
  8. France
  9. Italy
  10. Maldives

86% of our air bookings in 2023 were for international travel. The top 10 international flight destinations travelled to were:

  1. London
  2. Mauritius
  3. Dubai
  4. Phuket
  5. Bali
  6. Auckland
  7. Amsterdam
  8. Paris
  9. Istanbul
  10. Harare

14% of our customers booked domestic air travel in 2023. Their top 5 flight destinations around South Africa were:

  1. Johannesburg
  2. Cape Town
  3. Durban
  4. Gqeberha (Port Elizabeth)
  5. George

Destinations with the biggest bang for your buck

Mauritius and Thailand are just two destinations that continue to be popular amongst budget-savvy South African travellers, but there are also some unexpected foreign currencies that our rand can go toe-to-toe with:

Mauritius [MUR 2.36 = ZAR 1]*

Japan [JPY 7.93 = ZAR 1]

Turkey [TRY 1.55 = ZAR 1]

Thailand [THB 1.88 = ZAR 1]

Hungary [HUF 18.66 = ZAR 1]

* Exchange rates on 1 December 2023, source:


Remember, choosing a holiday destination isn’t just about the exchange rate. There are plenty of countries where you can stretch your rand further. Think affordable food, accommodation, and even a few luxuries thrown in. You can also save by heading to countries that don’t require you to get a visa, as the fees can really add up.


This is cool

The northernmost destination booked by global Flight Centre customers was Longyearbyen on the Norwegian island of Svalbard. The island and its chief port are well within the Arctic Circle and feature on adventure cruise itineraries between April and September when summer temperatures reach 7 °C.

The Southernmost destination our customers visited was Ushuaia, capital of the Tierra del Fuego region in southern Argentina. Summer temperatures there reach a comparatively balmy 13 °C.


Big buys, nuggety numbers and raised eyebrows

  • Our clients hired 1,407 cars.
  • The biggest overseas hotel booking was a stay at Atlantis The Royal in Dubai.
  • The biggest domestic hotel booking was a stay at Kapama River Lodge in Hoedspruit’s Kapama Private Game Reserve.
  • Despite the average hotel stay being 7 days, the longest stay was a hotel booking for 21 days.
  • The shortest hotel stay was less than a day.

Stay what!?

Our top 10 travel destinations around the world based on the number of hotel bookings were:

  1. South Africa
  2. Thailand
  3. Bali
  4. Mauritius
  5. UAE
  6. Zanzibar
  7. Italy
  8. USA
  9. France
  10. UK

There were also various destinations that experienced a massive boom in South African bookings this year compared to 2022:

  1. Indonesia bookings increased by 370%
  2. USA bookings increased by 111%
  3. Thailand bookings increased by 108%
  4. UK bookings increased by 106%
  5. Italy bookings increased by 74%

Here’s to the ladies jet-setting solo!

As mentioned, women travelling solo were our most common type of traveller. The top 10 destinations they headed to in 2023 were:

  1. London
  2. Rome
  3. Mauritius
  4. Dubai
  5. Windhoek
  6. Amsterdam
  7. Edmonton
  8. Aberdeen
  9. Abu Dhabi
  10. Cairo

Tours were popular amongst our solo jetsetters. Here are some interesting nuggets:

  • This year, 56% of Contiki travellers were solo travellers, with 62% were women. This is up from the same period pre-pandemic where only 45% of Contiki travellers were travelling solo and 58% were women.
  • The Thai Island Hopper West Contiki tour and multi-country European trips are a solo favourite for South Africans.
  • Of The Travel Corporation’s open-age brands (combined Costsaver, Trafalgar, Insight, and Luxury Gold), solo travellers are up from 11% pre-pandemic to 15% this year. Of these travellers, 81% are women.
  • Italy is the most popular destination across our open-age brands for solo travellers.

Family holidays

We saw a growing number of families booking their holidays with Flight Centre in 2023 – and we booked flights for a total of 262 infants travelling with parents! That’s a lot of games of Peek-a-boo-I-see-you that countless parents/guardians kindly initiated for our benefit. And we thank you.

Our most senior client? 101 years old! Proof that Flight Centre really does cater for everyone – and that you’re never too old (or too young) to travel!

Of the families who booked getaways with us in 2023, the average trip cost R65,549 with an average duration of one week, the average lead time (how many days booked in advance) was 62 days, and the adult sealing the holiday deal was an average of 42 years old. Of these bookings, a whopping 68% were for international vacations.


Cosy couples

Whether for honeymoons, anniversary celebrations, or ‘just because’ loved-up escapes, 70% of our customers booking as couples opted to treat themselves to an international holiday. Those who kept it local chose Joburg, the Kruger Park, Cape Town, Durban and Hoedspruit as their top destinations. Romantic retreats tended to last nine days and cost R36,995, on average, and were booked around 64 days in advance – yes, spontaneous couples’ holidays are great, but there’s obviously something to be said about the early (love)bird catching all the best deals!


Solo adventures

Solo travel is skyrocketing, with most lone jetsetters stating their reason for travelling solo is the ability to do so on their own terms: ‘I want to see the world and don’t want to wait for others’, according to Solo Traveler’s 2023 Reader Survey. We hear ya! And now it makes sense why solo travellers are our most prominent clients right now. Their average age is 52 and their holidays lasted a week, with a lead time of around 34 days, on average. The average cost of a solo trip? R14,280 – and 68% of these trips were international.

The top five international destinations for both solo travellers and couples were Mauritius, Victoria Falls (Zimbabwe), Zanzibar, the Maldives, and in fifth place, a tie: the UK and Colombo, Sri Lanka.


How are we travelling?

No matter how much we’re irked by a lack of leg room and having to politely hold in our elbows for hours at a time, economy class still reigns supreme. Here’s which cabin classes our customers chose this year:

International Flights

  • Economy: 90%
  • Business Class: 7%
  • Premium Economy: 2%
  • First Class: 1%

Domestic Flights

  • Economy: 81%
  • Business Class: 19%

Most international travellers (99.9%) chose to fly to one destination before flying home again. Which means that just a fraction took advantage of the rands you can save if you opt for multi-stop flights taking in several destinations – you might want to look into that!


For those who want to list their travel status as: complicated

‘Complex air’ might sound like the awkward atmosphere you experience having taken your first date to a bar only to bump into your ex who’s there with your hot personal trainer, but it’s actually a term we travel agent types give to great value multi-stop airfares that span countries and continents.

The longest and most complex air booking Flight Centre made globally in 2023 was for a flight itinerary with 13 legs from Brisbane to Sydney then on to Santiago (Chile), Cusco (Peru), and back to Santiago before heading to Buenos Aires. From Buenos Aires, this person then flew to Rio de Janeiro and on to London, Lisbon, Casablanca, Doha, and Bangkok before returning to Sydney and back to Brisbane.

That would’ve been some holiday. Maybe it was booked by someone who couldn’t get out of that bar fast enough to jump on a plane going places far, far away …


How did we snooze on a cruise?

The average age of our cruise customers was 51 years and 6 months. These cruiser-boomers contributed to cruising’s increasing popularity through 2023.  Recent research by the Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) indicates the volume of people booking cruises globally will exceed the pre-Covid high in 2019 by 6% in 2023 and another 14% in 2024.

Cruising comes in many different forms, as do the types of cabins on offer. 31.92% of our cruisers chose to stay in balcony rooms, 23.79% stayed in interior rooms, 16.12% chose cabins with an ocean view, and 2.19% splurged on an at-sea spoil in the form of a suite or penthouse.

South Africans still love homegrown holidays with most cruises booked departing from Cape Town and Durban.  The top 10 cruise ports our cruisers visited globally were:

  1. Rome
  2. Barcelona
  3. Venice
  4. Southampton
  5. Athens
  6. Lisbon
  7. Seattle, Washington
  8. Singapore
  9. Amsterdam
  10. Civitavecchia

Our biggest global cruise booking made this year was R5,767,55.22. While it’s tempting to assume that this avid cruiser stretched out in style in a penthouse stateroom, it’s more likely this booking was enjoyed by someone having an extended sojourn at sea in modest lodgings. Life on land is so over-rated!


Tour holidays are on the rise

Small group tours saw a 20% increase in bookings when compared to 2022. These small group tours cost R69,157, on average with an average lead time of 69 days, usually booked by an adult in their 50s.

Top 5 flock factor

Because 2023 was our first uninterrupted, no holds barred, go-(almost)-wherever-you-like year in travel for a while, it's not surprising a few old favourites saw an uptick in visitors. These international destinations attracted the biggest increase of South African bookings this year compared to 2022:

  1. Mauritius up 14.53%
  2. London up 13.22%
  3. Zanzibar up 10.21%
  4. Johannesburg up 16.32%
  5. Dubai up 23.91%

Hottest overseas destinations for 2024

Which begs the inevitable question: which destinations are we picking to be South African travellers’ top spots in 2024? – behind Cape Town, of course, which has always reigned supreme:

  1. Mauritius
  2. Dubai, UAE
  3. Phuket, Thailand
  4. Bali, Indonesia
  5. Ras Al Khaimah, UAE
  6. Zanzibar, Tanzania
  7. Maldives
  8. Paris, France
  9. Venice, Italy
  10. Singapore

Visa-free destinations for your travel bucket list

No visas mean no fuss – and that’s a recipe for a relaxing holiday… which is pretty much the point, right? While there are a jaw-dropping 106 countries you could visit without a visa, here are our top 10 picks:

  1. Mauritius
  2. Namibia
  3. Thailand
  4. Mozambique
  5. Seychelles
  6. The Bahamas
  7. Ireland
  8. Argentina
  9. Botswana
  10. Singapore

So, there you have it! In a year shaped by open gates and budget restraints, 2023 was a year in travel not just about returning to old habits but seeking out new, unforgettable offerings on the map.

Be part of travel trends in 2024. Book your next holiday here!

Methodology: This report is based on the internal booking data we had available to us and covers a time period of 10 October 2022 to 9 October 2023. We’re confident in the quality of our data and every effort has been made to ensure and preserve its accuracy.

Flight Centre

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*Prices are in ZAR and subject to availability. Please refer to specific product’s terms and conditions.