Africa’s Travel Indaba 2022: Reigniting Hope
On a pleasant and sunny 3rd of May at the Inkosi Albert Luthuli International Convention Centre (ICC), Africa’s Travel Indaba 2022 officially unfolded, where over 634 exhibitors and 625 buyers took their place at the continent’s premier travel trade show. Asmita Mukherjee witnessed Africa’s biggest travel tradeshow Travel Indaba amidst an environment of vibrant African culture.
Indaba, which means conference, is a marketing drive to promote tourism. The show opened its doors after a three-year hiatus, at beautiful Durban, whose Zulu name is eThekwini, situated in the South African province of KwaZulu-Natal.
South African Minister of Tourism, Lindiwe Sisulu opened the trade floor by ringing the bell and effectively putting into motion 22,000 scheduled meetings between exhibitors and buyers.
“Africa’s Travel Indaba is back with renewed energy and focus. This is the continent’s leading travel trade show and foremost business platform, geared at reconnecting the tourism sector in person while networking and doing business which will contribute to the recovery of our sector on the continent,” stated Sisulu while explaining the essence of the event.
Indaba counts itself amongst the biggest travel trade shows of the world, but while most of the other large travel trade shows emphasise on the entire world, Indaba focuses its lens only on Africa.
According to South African Tourism’s Acting CEO, Themba Khumalo, the theme of the 2022 event – “Africa’s stories, your success”, asks all Africans to own the continent’s narrative by telling their stories to the world. “There is one very simple way to grab opportunities – by telling our unique stories. Every single African is a storyteller. From the griots of West Africa to South Africa’s very own Grammy Award-winning DJ, Black Coffee, the world is waiting in awe to gobble up our stories, arts, and numerous cultures,” he added.
Similar to the ravages impacting Africa’s tourism industry due to the pandemic, Travel Indaba also had a slew of challenges to overcome to organise a successful event. Besides the pandemic, Durban – the host city, experienced devastating, and unprecedented floods shortly before the conference. On April 11-13, the province of KwaZulu-Natal was hit with heavy rainfall and landslides. More than 400 people were killed and 40,000 were missing in the wake of the floods. 4,000 homes were destroyed and more than 8,000 were damaged. With Indaba less than a month away, it presented a huge challenge for the success of the conference.
Nkosenhle Madlala, Councillor, eThekwini Municipality said that the return of Africa’s Travel Indaba to the Durban ICC will bring much-needed relief to the local tourism sector. “Africa’s Travel Indaba plays a significant role in boosting the city’s tourism economy. It will contribute approximately RAND 72.5 million to the city’s GDP while creating about 150 employment opportunities,” he informed.
According to the United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO), Africa welcomed some 18.5-million foreign travellers in 2021, up from 16.2 million in 2020. Of that figure, 6.1 million made their way to North Africa and 12.3 million went to sub-Saharan Africa. Furthermore, the UNWTO showed that January 2022 experienced a 51% improvement in international tourist arrivals compared to January 2021.
“I have had several engagements with my fellow cabinet members in related departments, in a bid to partner and address these challenges as we together work towards our sector’s recovery. We have already seen positive developments around the roll-out of the e-visa regime for some of our key source markets. This is not only important for South Africa’s tourism sector recovery, but also for the greater continent’s intra-trade activities,” Sisulu said.
Stating that tourism plays a hugely important role in assisting the country to make its mark on the map of Africa and the globe, KwaZulu-Natal MEC for Economic Development, Tourism and Environmental Affairs, Ravi Pillay said, “I am confident that tourism is ready to bounce back with a bang and to reclaim its coveted position as a worthy contributor to employment. The province is ready to revitalise the tourism value and supply chains and look forward to the economic benefits of the various upstream and downstream activities which tourism supports.”
“In these past two years, the world has learned new ways of doing tourism safely. Many product owners have used the downtime to refresh and revitalize their offerings. Some operators have used the time to develop entirely new facilities in anticipation of resumption in tourism,” he stated.
Fish Mahlalela, Deputy Minister of Tourism of South Africa said that the Ministry has helped small-scale businesses by providing them with loan schemes. “After two years of stunted tourism performance owing to COVID-19 containment measures globally, we began the year 2022 with positive signs of tourism activities opening up globally. Through Indaba we want to show the world that we are now open and ready to serve. Africa’s Travel Indaba is a trade show that brings together all the products and offers of African tourism under one roof,” he added.
Although Africa’s Travel Indaba 2022’s attendance was lower at roughly 60% of what it had been at the last Indaba in 2019, considering the pandemic, it still reflected the readiness and willingness of Africa’s tourism sector to serve guests in a new normal.
Phindile Makwakwa, the acting CEO of Tourism KwaZulu-Natal (KZN), explained that while the province is on the road to recovery, the organisation needs to go back to its source markets.
“The priority for the organisation is to reignite those source markets into KZN and work very closely with key hub heads to make the province a top tourism destination. Tourism KZN has a full 360-degree marketing and promotion plan for the province which includes several interventions both in the domestic markets and on various international platforms. The organisation is focusing on the international market as it’s critical for tourism business owners to create networks, showcase their tourism products and clinch business deals that will begin to stimulate more travel back to KZN,” she said.
While emphasising the fact that Durban is home to the largest Indian population outside of India, Winile Mntungwa, Deputy Head, Business Support, Tourism & Markets Unit Durban Tourism said, “We are looking for Indian visitors coming to Durban as we believe that Durban is their second home.”
Winile also informed that Indian visitors consist 6% – 7% YoY of Durban’s international visitors. Due to the pandemic, it slowed down.
As the international borders are opening, Durban is actively promoting its attractions in the Indian market. “We are promoting the beach and activities around the beach, in addition to an 8-kilometer-long promenade and restaurant. We also have Durban’s traditional rickshaw pullers, sand sculptures, and shopping centers such as Gateway, Galleria Mall, Pavilion, and Victoria Street Market.” Another popular attraction of Durban being promoted is the uShaka Marine World, which is a 16-hectare theme park with a total capacity of 4.6 million gallons containing 10,000 animal species. “We have got shark diving inside the aquarium and also a restaurant where you can see sharks while eating.”
“We are now targeting the Indian MICE market. We also have vast experience in hosting Indian conventions like the Travel Agents Federation of India (TAFI) convention. With the buyers, we are promoting the destination in terms of adventure tourism. We also get a lot of film shoots happening in Durban. Movie mogul Anant Singh is in the process of constructing Durban’s first film studio complex. Once it’s completed, we might see a lot of producers and filmmakers coming and shooting here,” Winile informed.
Amanda Kotze-Nhlapo, Chief Convention Officer of South Africa National Convention Bureau (SANCB) brought forward the importance of MICE in the current African tourism landscape by saying, “The MICE industry is a forward-looking sector. It is really looking good now. We were also running a campaign called ‘Postpone, Don’t Cancel’.” She concluded by adding that collaboration remains critical to reigniting the business and meetings industry.
Winile expressed optimism about the number of Indian visitors increasing by 1% this year since all the borders have opened with the pandemic slowdown. She also informed that to increase visitor footfalls, they are tirelessly initiating talks with the ministry and airlines to enable direct flights from India.
However, expressing a different angle, Simon Newton Smith, Chief Commercial Officer, South African Airways (SAA) said that they are taking a watch and wait approach to committing fully to running direct flights from India. “At this stage in the SAA restart, we’re 100% focused on rebuilding the Regional Africa and South Africa domestic network. Because of this, we have no immediate plans to serve international destinations (including India) until we have seen a sustained recovery in post-Covid demand to/from Africa,” stated Smith.
While speaking about the rolling out of the much-awaited e-visa and direct flights to India, Mahalela said, “The Government has been testing the South African e-visa since November 2019. Facilities with smart technology have also been set up at major South African airports to facilitate electronic document checks. In 2019 we piloted the e-visa, and subsequently, we were about to roll out the e-visa for other countries as well. India is one of our priority markets.”
Elaborating on the international markets of interest for Africa, Nigel Vere Nicoll, President & Group Managing Director, African Travel & Tourism Association (ATTA) informed that Africa’s biggest source markets are the USA, UK, and India. “India is a very big market for Africa and we get a lot of Indian visitors in Eastern Africa.” Apart from India, Germany and Europe are also considered big markets for Africa, he added.
Tshediso Lerumo, Communications Manager (PR & Social Media Manager) at Free State Tourism Authority added by saying that even though the USA was a top source market they also want to explore the Indian market as well. “Our top markets are the US, Germany, and the Netherlands, and we want to explore China and the Indian market. We want to offer our unique experiential tourism to the world,” shared a proud Lerumo dressed in traditional Basotho blankets.
On the other hand, Mauritius wants to grow its tourism foothold in the South African market. The country witnessed 1.3 million foreign tourist arrivals in pre-Covid times, expecting the present numbers to soon shoot up as there is a sense of revenge travel demand bottling up among travellers of South Africa. According to Janet de Kretser, South Africa representative of the Mauritius Tourism Promotion Authority, South African travellers trust Mauritius as a product.
Expressing the importance of domestic tourism in the pandemic times, Lerumo said that the destination was hard hit by the pandemic; and the destination has seen the closure of key businesses thus shedding jobs. “We then decided to focus our attention mostly on domestic tourism. Our source markets were Gauteng, KwaZulu-Natal and Northern Cape, our primary focus was to provide a message that we are a safe destination and compliance with the covid-19 instructions,”
Sharing the activities of ATTA, Nicoll said that as an association that has more than 600 members, it takes part in a lot of exhibitions across the globe. But due to the pandemic for the last three years, they haven’t been able to take part in any international events. Commending the resilience of the African tourism industry, he opined that Africa has shown the courage to organise such a big event to show the world that they are ready to serve, which will of course give the African market brownie points in the competitive international tourism landscape.
He further shared his thoughts on the current market climate by saying, “It has been three years since any such events. Things at the moment look pretty good. But I think in 2023 we are going to see a big revival in tourism. Globally the tourism industry is doing better now since people are getting back their confidence. That’s a great indicator of the pent-up demand to travel and will certainly ‘get the drums beating’ across Africa. Indaba is the first to regain the confidence of travellers.”
Commenting on the help extended by ATTA and tourism boards during the pandemic, Nicoll said, “As an association, ATTA helped its members during the pandemic by putting out a lot of information for the members, to help them understand how the other countries are battling the pandemic. He also informed that the country’s tourism boards are helping the industry instead of having only a little money in their hands to support livelihoods during the COVID-19 crisis.
The in-person highly attended travel Indaba concluded on May 5 displaying a highly charged focus on African tourism in an environment of colourful African culture. The travel trade show was more than just a business conference. After undergoing a two-year period of isolation with few face-to-face contacts, the place was reverberating with the passion and infectious energy of like-minded individuals and colleagues engaging in joyful reunions. Travel Indaba 2022 was a clear indicator of the positive and bright future of the African Travel Industry driven by the passion of the attendees.