Thousands of travel and tourism professionals, members of the press, and government officials from 20 African nations gathered in early May to support the 35th annual INDABA, one of the largest meetings of tourism professionals on the African continent. While many attendees I surveyed described this year’s exhibition halls as "quiet", several exhibitors echoed the sentiments of Johan van Schalkwyk of the Northern Cape Tourism Authority when he explained how this year was "much more about the business and the connections formed at the event.”
"Do Good Business"
The event, held just weeks after incidents of xenophobic violence in Durban made international headlines, urged cooperation and partnership among all participants to enhance tourism across the continent. During his media briefing and opening ceremony address, South Africa's Minister of Tourism Derek Hanekom stressed the importance of doing "good business" along with his own commitment to work jointly with the other Tourism Ministers. “When we stand together in the face of challenges and we do business together at INDABA, we are so much stronger,” underscored Hanekom. Over 29,000 meetings were held at INDABA, a 69% increase over last year. South African Tourism is attributing much of the increase to the effectiveness of their INDABA mobile app, an online diary, and matchmaking system.
Driving Africa Forward
Despite ongoing challenges like the Ebola outbreak in West Africa and sporadic terroristic attacks in East Africa, the UNWTO expects an aggressive international arrivals growth of +3% to +5% for Africa in 2015, which is slightly higher than the worldwide average. Approximately 2.4% of the workforce is employed in the tourism sector in sub-Saharan Africa. In his meeting with North American media, Chief Executive Officer of South African Tourism Thulani Nzima emphasized the importance of using tourism as a tool to drive even more job creation. African outbound travel is also on the rise, driven by robust economic growth and a rise in personal income. Complicated foreign visa application processes with unpredictable outcomes are seen as a major deterrent to outbound travel, however.
Tourism & Technology
The TECHZone at INDABA is a special tent which features talks and panels for participants to learn about new and existing platforms for growth. This year, there was a heightened awareness among INDABA participants regarding the importance of digital marketing. Speakers from TripAdvisor, wayn.com, Destinate and Tastemakers Africa provided inspiration, case studies, and emphasized the importance of measuring ROI. When I asked Owner and Managing Director of Grootbos Private Nature Reserve Michael Lutzeyer about the importance of utilizing digital marketing and social media as a part of a comprehensive marketing strategy, he replied, “It is everything.”
Sustainability and Conservation
Recently, South African Airways (SAA) announced an embargo the carriage of endangered species hunting trophies, including rhino, elephant, lion, and tiger on SAA operated flights. They are the first airline in Africa to make such an announcement, but not the only organization at INDABA incorporating sustainability and conservation into their mission. DMCs and tour operators “are responding to the type of traveler today who wants to know what they are spending will help sustain the environment,” added Nzima. These topics are no longer a trend, rather, becoming standard operating procedure when developing and reinventing hospitality and tourism businesses in Africa.
Did you attend INDABA 2015? What were some of your takeaways from the event?