Based in Durban, South Africa for over three decades, Travel Indaba is Africa’s largest conference of its kind. It’s a meeting point for anyone looking to find out about the future of travel to the continent, as well as hub of discussion around major issues affecting tourism.
Despite a late date change due to national elections, Africa’s Travel Indaba 2019 brought together over 6500 delegates from across six continents and 23 African countries, including 1033 exhibitors and 1502 buyers.
A heart of gold
Vibrant, colourful, brimming with energy and synergy, Indaba swept all along with a positive, infectious spirit- elevated by surprise visitor President Cyril Ramaphosa.
“Tourism is the new gold,” said President Ramaphosa to a packed gathering. The president set a number of key targets for the future, this included $100 billion in new investment in South Africa in the next five years and doubling the number of visitors by 2030.
Discussions throughout Africa’s Travel Indaba saw a range of growing trends which included collaboration between public and private sectors; growing local and niche tourism; better organisational systems and new technologies.
The experiential traveller
Many of the key discussions at the exhibition featured conversations around sustainability and responsible tourism for the experiential traveller.
Animal and safari experiences are one of the highest requested experiences for visitors to South Africa, but can be seen as contentious. Panelist Gavin Reynolds, of the Southern Africa Tourism Services Association (SATSA) Animal Interactions Project Committee, asserted “The interests of animal will not be subordinate to the interests of organisations- financial or otherwise.” It was announced at the exhibition that South Africa will be announcing a solution to sustainable animal experiences at the end of July.
Indaba regular Paula Potgieter, owner of De Zeekoe and Wildehondekloof Private Game Reserve outside the town of Oudtshoornm in the picturesque Klein Karoo, reflected on the evolving interests of tourists. She reflected the changing priorities of tourists visiting the region. “People care less about accommodation and are more interested in activities.” Hiking, canoeing, cycling, cheetah interaction, crocodile cage diving and De Zeekoe’s speciality, meerkat spotting, are in high demand.
Local design gurus, Grant Horak and Claude Venter, own Nakai Beach Homestay on KwaZulu-Natal’s south coast. The resort is a boutique hideaway and welcomes a wide range of alternative travellers interested in beauty and tranquility. The homestay has become a key place for LGBT visitors and attracted increased attention from visitors looking for raw/vegan food and yoga experiences. The Nakai Beach Homestay has seen a big upturn in visitor numbers since British Airways launched direct flights to Durban. “85% of our turnover is now British guests, who typically stay for at least a week- sometimes up to a month” said Mr Horak. “They love the coast, the restaurants, the beaches. They’ll go off for a few days- hiking in the Drakensberg mountains, visit iSimangaliso Wetland Park (South Africa’s first World Heritage site), the Anglo- Boer and Zulu War battlefields- and they play a lot of golf”.
Phindile Ngcobo, Acting Chief Operating Officer of the KwaZulu-Natal Tourism Authority, reinforced what Mr Horak said. “Golf tourism is big and we are developing niche tourism. Interestingly, we have seen a boost in people wanting to explore religious tourism and have commissioned a study to see how we can add value to that market.”
Ms Ngcobo says she sees partnership with the private sector as being a key to untapping a potential growth in visitor numbers in the future. “British Airways direct flights have boosted numbers of visitors to KwaZulu-Natal and we are working together with BA, fine tuning our offerings in a 24-month marketing campaign.”
Former South African opening batsman Andrew Hudson, now Head of Acquisitions at FNB Business Banking in KwaZulu-Natal said: “Getting the corporate and public sector together to promote tourism and investment is vital.” This was echoed by a number of members of visitors, including Craig Drysdale, Head of Global Sales at Thompsons Africa. “Government has a big part to play in terms of infrastructure, policy and policing, investment into sustainability- and it’s doing a good job,” said Mr Drysdale.
Jurni into the (near) future / The future of technology in travel
Holographic displays drew plenty of attention at the launch of Jurni, an innovative public-private venture that is a global first. Platforms being developed by Jurni, include a visitor app and information portal providing travellers to South Africa with a wealth of useful real-time travel information including GEO-location and mapping of experiences, access to a tourist safety tool, a helpline and social media sharing.
A mobile-optimised Small, Medium & Micro Enterprise Business (SMME) booking tool will empower smaller tourism businesses to access the global market and increase the visibility of South Africa’s ‘hidden’ attractions.
Hidden attractions are increasingly of interest to self-driving, self-exploring travellers wanting personalised experiences. Indeed as travellers begin to prioritise experiences on their holidays, there is no end of great options across the African continent, not just South Africa, as evident from the wealth of delegates as this year’s show.
From bespoke eco-tourist packages, exploring Rwanda’s incredible undulating landscape to heritage tours of Zimbabwe, there is no shortage on offer for the traveller looking to immerse themselves in a truly local experience.
Whether you would rather sling on your backpack or sit back and relax, the sheer variety at Travel Indaba 2019 showed it’s not hard to see why Africa outpaced the global average for growth in visitor numbers in 2018. And with growth expected to continue, it would seem there’s never been a better time to go and explore.
South Africa Tourism
South African Tourism seeks to make South Africa the destination of choice domestically and internationally, whether for leisure, business or events tourism. We have grown from a few offices around the world to become a global tourism organisation on a mission to market and share, through experiences, all that is unique, warm and beautiful about South Africa.