President Jacob Zuma of South Africa addresses the audience at Indaba
In the United States, we have "casual Fridays." In South Africa, they have "football Fridays," when everyone wears soccer jerseys. It makes for a pretty great visual.(And for the benefit of our North American readers, I’ll use the word “soccer” from here on in, unless I’m quoting someone directly. Seriously, though, why do we use the word “football” for a game where players barely touch the ball with their feet? But I digress…)
With the FIFA World Cup just over a month away, all of South Africa is caught up in soccer fever, and this Indaba conference could practically be called World Cup Indaba. Everyone is excited about not only the World Cup, but about the attention the world will be paying to South Africa as a nation, and Africa itself as a continent.
It only makes sense: The audience for the World Cup, both live and on worldwide TV, “gives brand awareness, and is an opportunity you can’t pay for,” said Roshene Singh, CMO of the conference, on its first day. The exhibits at Indaba cover a range of industries, covering accommodations, tour operators, car rentals, airlines, other products and nine provinces as destinations, as well as other Southern African countries and Kenya. By the end of the show, she expects over 13,000 attendees, between visitors and exhibitors, and they had to turn exhibitors away due to space constraints. (For the record, the entire campus stretches out over 60,000 square meters.)
But, she added, “the real legacy of the World Cup will be how much tourism continues afterwards.” Many new hotels have been built across the host cities; the roads and public transportation services have been improved; and employees have undergone training to accommodate the influx of guests that is expected in the next two months. “We are on a path where we can only improve where we are,” Singh said. And the influx they are getting for Indaba is a great dress rehearsal for the World Cup.
On The Trade Show Floor
While the main buzz from the officials in Durban may be about soccer, there was a greater variety of conversation on the floor. Among the 2,000 exhibitors, I spoke to:
* Jewel Africa, a small chain of high-end jewelry stores (and by “small” I mean the company only has two outlets) in Johannesburg and Cape Town. The goldsmiths will create bespoke pieces, marketing manager Kim Miller told me, and they offer private shopping events.
* For those not satisfied with just shopping for gold, the Gold of Africa Museum in Cape Town celebrates the history of gold in South Africa, and (so I was told) inspires modern gold design. (Check out their late-night tours, which include a glass of wine sprinkled with gold dust.)
* For a more sobering museum experience, the Apartheid Museum recognizes South Africa’s more painful history, but also celebrates how a political prisoner became president.
* South Africa’s wines have become increasingly popular, and some wineries are now doubling as chic getaways with luxe hotels. Mont Rochelle Hotel & Mountain Vineyards is a boutique property in the Franschhoek valley with 22 rooms (six of them suites) named for different varietals of grapes grown on the property (Shiraz, Merlot, etc. The Reserve Suite looks particularly nice, with a private Zen garden and Jacuzzi.) Cool touch: To guarantee that every room has a view of the valley, some of the rooms are built into the hillside, reachable by underground hallways. Since the rooms below blend into the landscape, guests in the upper rooms have unobstructed views. With 17 hectacres of vineyards, guests can go picnicking or even enjoy a wine-tasting on horseback. Agents should contact Marika Kok (011-27-21-876-2770, [email protected]).
* Drifters Adventours offers custom-built tour busses and several game lodges in Kruger National Park and Uganda. For a more active experience, guests take part in setting up and breaking camps, cooking, and other aspects of a tour.
* Wilderness Safaris are game lodges in seven Southern African countries (and the Seychelles) that focus on sustainability and responsibility in the wild. The brand’s Premiere Camps and Classic Camps are the most luxe, Carli Saxby told me, but all of their properties are three-star or above. The property in the Seychelles, for example, is the only hotel on North Island, and was recently renovated, while the Little Ongava has just three rooms that Saxby calls “palatial.” (It also overlooks a water hole where animals come to drink, and includes a blind in the brush where guests can watch the animals up close.) And each camp is unique: One camp, Abu, rehabilitates former circus elephants to help return them to the wild. The camp at Kafue offers a deal in which guests staying three nights are treated to a hot-air balloon ride—which, being largely silent, doesn’t scare away the animals below, offering a perfect chance to see wildlife at its peak.
I’m usually pretty cynical about ceremonies and speeches, but even I was quite impressed by the production put on to officially open Indaba (this was after several hours of conferences, meetings and the trade show being open, of course). Naturally, there was a soccer theme, but it all fit in quite nicely. Dr. Zweli Mkhize, premiere of KwaZulu-Natal, pointed out that this year marks the 20th anniversary of Nelson Mandela’s release from prison, and that this year is a celebration of “the efforts of the African people to free themselves.” Dr. Danny Jordaan, CEO of the 2010 FIFA World Cup, earned cheers when he declared simply, “Yes, we are ready. Yes, this World Cup will happen.”
Even remarkable performances by a drumming group and the Drakensburg Mountain Boys Choir couldn’t top the cheers for the President of South Africa himself, Jacob Zuma. “The stadiums are ready. The host cities are ready. South Africa is ready. The pieces of the puzzle are falling into place,” he said. He called the five new stadiums that have been built for the World Cup the “crown jewels” of the country, but warned that a soccer game is only 90 minutes, and that the games were only the beginning of a new era for South Africa. All South Africans, he added, “would deliver a memorable event by being good hosts.”