On Site: Wrapping Up at INDABA 2011

INDABA 2011 has wrapped up, and my feet are still aching from running all over the trade show floor. (Memo to self: Wear sneakers next time.)

A handful of highlights from the floor, and from the press conferences:
* Roshene Singh, the CMO of South African Tourism, said that the U.S. remains the most important market for the country’s tourism industry. Last year, arrivals from the U.S. were up 22 percent, and this year looks promising as well, so far. “A typical tourist from the U.S. wants a safari,” she said. “But people also want lifestyle experiences—food and wine, music, art and culture.” To that end, SAT is “constantly training” people on selling all of South Africa—not just the camps and game reserves, but the cities and towns that have just as much to offer. “South Africa is not for people who want to take pictures from a bus,” she said. “It’s for people who want an in-depth experience.”
* Janine Southwood, sales manager at Thompson’s Tours, also said that the North American market is “keeping us afloat.” Things aren’t where they were five years ago, she acknowledged, but they are working their way back up. Some major trends she’s noticed, she adds, is single travel (Thompson is working with hotels to get rid of single supplements) and family/multi-generational travel. They are developing dedicated family-friendly tours in non-malaria zones like Cape Town or the Garden Route. Voluntourism is also a popular option, and Thompson’s is offering a five-day Cape Town package that lets visitors help out in the townships and visit Robben Island. A 21-day package focuses on endangered animals, especially cheetahs.
* Relais & Chateaux is working to promote some of its smaller properties in more remote locations, according to Annie-Claide Bergonzoli, the brand’s director of Southern and East Africa and Indian Ocean. They are also developing a program called “Route de Bonheur”— Road to Happiness—that will create itineraries to take guests between properties, making sure that visitors get to try a variety of hotels in different locations, and driving more business to areas that might otherwise be overlooked.
* Last year, I spent two days at Lion Sands Private Game Reserve, staying in over-the-top luxury cabins and getting up close and personal with the Big Five (elephants, rhinos, water buffalo, leopards and lions). Since then, the Reserve has taken over significantly more land in and around Kruger National Park, and is now managing two more lodges on the property, bringing the total to five. Several new cabins have been added to River Lodge, including some especially designed for families.
* Jennifer Beattie of Saxon Hotels said that the brand has recently added Shambala, a nine-suite game reserve, to their portfolio. Shambala will offer what she called “a la carte” safaris that begin and end whenever the guest wants, rather than at regularly scheduled times. Likewise, meals are served at guests’ discretion, so brunch can be a weekday affair as opposed to just Sundays.
* Deniz Omurgonulsen of Leading Hotels of the World said that the brand has been expanding its African portfolio, especially with the recent addition of three Orient Express camps in Botswana. But, he added, they also want to focus on their existing properties, and are taking any expansion slowly.

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