Africa Insights: Indaba 2016, Incubator for Africa's Future
Early May is the time of year when South African Tourism presents Indaba, the travel trade show of Africa, and that provides the perfect opportunity to travel to Africa and catch up on what is going on in the tourism industry there.
Indaba 2016, the 37th edition, was held May 7-9 at the Albert Luthuli Convention Center (or Durban ICC) in Durban, South Africa.
Indaba is the largest travel trade show in Africa and claims to be the third largest in the world, after ITB in Berlin and World Travel Market in London. While both of the top two shows feature exhibitors from all over the world, Indaba focuses only on Africa. It’s a huge presentation of the African travel industry, teeming with colorful Africa-intensive energy.
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Now more than two decades since South Africa’s first democratic election in 1994, the country has drawn people in increasing numbers and has seen its tourism industry continue to grow at a strong pace. But there are growing pains.
South Africa’s success as a tourism destination has attracted some new major travel trade shows to the country, including We Are Africa (Cape Town May 2-5), World Travel Market Africa (Cape Town April 19-21) and ILTM (International Luxury Travel Market) Africa (Cape Town April 21-23).
Ironically the success of the tourism ministry’s objective, has caused Indaba to pull back and retrench, with new positioning.
The new shows produce competition for Indaba in terms of attracting exhibitors. All potential participants now have to decide which of several major trade shows to attend. Exhibitors have more choices to consider when they are figuring out how to invest their marketing budgets.
With the potential attendees now divided among several major shows, Indaba’s attendance has taken a hit. Government budget cuts across the board have also caused Indaba to scale back some of its production in previous years.
Ironically, the new shows are not ultimately competing with Indaba because they are for-profit enterprises, and Indaba is part of the government effort to grow tourism. The success of the other shows also contributes to Indaba’s mission.
South African Tourism welcomes and supports the new shows as part of its mission of growing tourism. The agency has responded to the shift in the market by re-positioning Indaba as a trade show for all of Africa. In effect Indaba is standing aside and allowing the other shows establish their own turfs, while expanding its reach into the rest of Africa.
Instead of resisting the incursion of the new shows onto Inbaba’s turf, SAT has repositioned Indaba as the travel trade show for all of Africa.
From all accounts, the new shows are thriving. The South African tourism industry is apparently strong enough to support all of them.
SAT partnered with We Are Africa to try to promote attendance at both shows. Indaba is held in Durban, and has been held there from its beginning, though there has been debate along the way of moving it to other South African cities.
All of the other trade shows are held in Cape Town, which is a great draw in itself, and that fact helps the new trade shows to attract participants.
The transition of Indaba to a pan-African trade show is apparently going well. The show had a good distribution of attendees from across Africa. Exhibitors from 18 countries were represented at the show. Tourism ministers from nine African countries were present.
Derek Hanekom, South Africa’s tourism minister, told the audience in his opening address, “South Africa’s tourism story is one of inclusiveness. We as a continent are linked together by the ability to tell our story, and so realize our dreams for a prosperous future. Tourism can re-shape lives, bring new hope and make dreams come true – not only for individuals and communities, but for millions of people on the continent.”
South Africa relies heavily on tourism to fuel its plans for growth. Nelson Mandela made tourism a high priority for the government because of the industry’s unique capacity for building up developing countries from the grassroots level.
Tourism in Africa is now experiencing its own sort of gold rush. The continent is now receiving 50 million visitors in a year. According to the World Economic Forum, under current trends that number will shoot to 130 million by 2030, only 14 years away.
A great deal of change and upheaval will take place inevitably. South Africa will roll with the punches of the turbulent world economy, as all countries must, in the coming years. The volatile interactions between different countries that takes place on the world economic stage cannot be reliably predicted by anyone.
For example, South Africa, like the U.S., is now experiencing the beginning of the tsunami of Chinese outbound tourism that is mounting year by year at unprecedented growth levels. There has been a great deal of Chinese investment in Africa in recent decades, but now Africa is seeing that new wave of Chinese tourism.
As in the U.S., African countries must now learn how to serve the Chinese traveler. The industry will need a small army of Chinese cultural experts and Mandarin-speaking employees to effectively host the incoming Chinese.
The Creation of a Future
This market and a plethora of other specialized markets are developing in Africa and Indaba was a perfect perch from which to observe the frenetic economic activity as it was happening on the grassroots level of the industry. It would be impossible to even begin to list all the areas of change that could be sensed by participating in the trade show.
All around the trade show grounds, the conversations were taking place to create partnerships and enterprises that would effectively write the future economic history of the region from the ground up.
This was history while it was happening, before the story is formulated into words and concepts.
Part of the beauty of tourism for a country’s economic well being, is that it is an industry that is wide open for small business people and budding entrepreneurs. Tourism has the potential of developing sustainable businesses that give immediate and continuing benefit to the local communities. This is increasingly recognized around the world as the only kind of tourism that is viable.
So the tourism segment of a place like Africa, is of enormous magnitude and importance to everything that goes on. In a sense, the tourism industry is where the economic action of Africa is. So being at Indaba felt very much like being at the center of Africa, from an economic and a cultural point of view.
It was a tremendous, exhilarating experience.
More by David Cogswell
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