Report from South Africa: Onsite at Indaba

DURBAN, SOUTH AFRICA-Preparations for the 2010 FIFA World Cup, new and upgraded accommodations and infrastructure and the importance of increasing already-robust visitor numbers were themes that ran through Africa's largest tourism trade show, Indaba, May 12-15 at the impressive ICC conference and exhibition center in Durban.
At this Indaba, a preliminary figure showed 12,000 exhibitors, buyers and media in attendance to learn about sub-Saharan Africa's tourism products. Golf travel, voluntourism and the proliferation of private camps opening are also trends we observed.
These are a few highlights of insider information Travel Agent learned from interviewing tourism officials and exhibitors. Dr. Felicia Suttle, who is stepping down as South African Tourism's president in the U.S. at the end of this month, said that she recently had talks with Norwegian Cruise Line, which is interested in bringing 600 passengers a week, perhaps by the end of this year, to South African ports including Cape Town and Port Elizabeth. Marc Cavaliere, EVP, North America for South African Airways, said in the next couple of months the Africa Pass, a mileage-based pass for southern Africa, will be easier to get in the U.S. and that its web site will relaunch late May-early June. Cavaliere also wanted to remind agents about the Visit Southern Africa ( program, which offers combinable, customizable packages starting as low as $1,999, including airfare. He noted a trend in family reunion travel and African-American heritage travel.
"To me, the U.S. has our biggest growth potential," Mark Williams, portfolio manager - UK& Americas, South African Tourism, told Travel Agent, adding that "the bulk of growth will come from New York, elsewhere on the East Coast and points on the West Coast." Challenges South Africa faces as a destination he said were the perception of crime, distance and airlift. He expressed disappointment that SAA canceled its proposed launch of a flight from Chicago that was to start May 1 but said its upcoming nonstop from New York (now flights from JFK stop in Dakkar; SAA's Washington, DC flight is nonstop however) and its consideration of a Miami flight are good. He said awareness of the destination among Americans is at 78 percent but that positivity was at 35 percent due to what Dr. Suttle deemed "the CNN factor" - reports on AIDS, corruption and crime.
SAT sees itself in competition with Australia, another long-haul destination. "I'm looking forward to the day when Australia tourism says, `Go to South Africa to experience something more exciting,'" Dr. Suttle remarked.