“We face neither east nor west; we face forward.” – Kwame Nkrumah, Ghana
As Indaba, Africa’s largest travel trade show, celebrates its 35th anniversary, this proverb that flashed across the screen at the music-and-video-filled opening ceremony held particular significance as the African tourism industry works to move forward to overcome dual obstacles: the Ebola crisis of 2014 and the threats of xenophobic violence that have been reported in South Africa in the first half of 2015. However, facing forward into the future, the news out of African tourism industry seems decidedly positive. South Africa’s new minister of tourism, Derek Hanekom, welcomed the more than 1,000 exhibitors from 20 African countries, plus 2,000 buyers, and 750 journalists to a show that “no longer just represents South Africa tourism, but the whole Pan-African travel industry” with countries from Angola to Zimbabwe participating in the three-day event.
Hanekom said that international arrivals to Africa are expected to grow by between 3 and 5 percent in 2015, exceeding previous projected growth.
Thulani Nzima, CEO of South African Tourism, said in his opening remarks: “You can’t just market a country, you have to market the entire continent,” promoting “a variety of experiences for every budget.” He added that “success of South African tourism is tied to the success of the continent”.
Although both Mozambique and Congo pulled their official delegations from the conference due to concerns of xenophobic violence, Travel Agent noticed a positive, and very productive, trade floor aided in part by a focus to call Indaba “Africa’s Trade Show” instead of a purely South African one — a marketing decision that made the tourism industry truly feel as if it was standing as one. “This is our show, this is our country — the whole continent, the whole industry is represented here,” said exhibitor Lindy Rousseau from Singita, a sentiment Travel Agent heard repeated throughout the busy conference floor.
How important is tourism to South Africa? “Our tourism sector now contributes over 9 percent of the GDP [of South Africa] and supports over 1.5 million jobs countrywide,” said Hanekom.
Tourism executives also noted the strong value for travelers; at press time $1 was worth R12, making “everything from dining to safari tours to playing golf on the top golf courses in the world” affordable, said first time attendee Akshay Shah of Sky Bird Travel & Tours, a travel agent and SAA air consolidator from Detroit.
Marc Cavaliere, head of global sales development and alliances at South African Airways from North America, says in addition to great value from the exchange rate, South Africa’s national carrier is working closely with South Africa Tourism to offer attractive rates to consumers to bring them to the African continent. He says that SAA is working with travel agents and tour operators to bring consumers to Africa, with what he calls “affordable, extraordinary fares” for peak summer season, June through August, starting at $1,309RT including all taxes — a 30 to 35 percent discount. Todd M. Newman, SAA executive vice president for North America, adds that SAA also has “very attractive trade rates to the industry,” $399RT, allowing “agents to experience the grandeur of Africa for themselves”.
Other SAA travel agent incentives include SAA Vacations packages that include 70 itineraries, with trips such as Cape Town and the Winelands or safari areas and Victoria Falls; Newman says these “offer commissions of 8 to 10 percent, and up to 12 percent.”
Technology is another way the industry is able to reach out across borders to create what tourism representatives are calling a “Pan-African experience.” The Tech Tent was a popular stop at Indaba with tech talks from a range of experts and companies, such as Uber, who entered the South Africa market in Durban, Johannesburg, Cape Town and Pretoria in 2014, promoting new interactive technology. South Africa Tourism also used Indaba to promote its new “Madiba App” with an enthusiastically received video during the opening ceremonies. The app, developed by Flow Communications, allows users to “follow in the footsteps of Nelson Mandela, either virtually or in a self-guided tour,” pointing out places he lived and spent time at. “It’s a fantastic teaching tool as well for anyone interested in Mandela,” says Flow CEO Tara Turkington.