Africa's Travel Indaba and the future of tourism on the continent

President Cyril Ramaphosa reminded the delegates at Africa’s Travel Indaba that tourism should benefit small businesses and the rural communities. (Photo: ONETWO Photography)

President Cyril Ramaphosa reminded the delegates at Africa’s Travel Indaba that tourism should benefit small businesses and the rural communities. (Photo: ONETWO Photography)

Africa’s Travel Indaba 2019, hosted in Durban from May 2-4, brought in over 1 000 exhibitors and 1 500 buyers from all over the world to the Inkosi Albert Luthuli International Convention Centre Complex. The Durban ICC was filled with well-branded exhibition stands and a variety of tourism products: from the hidden gems hailing from the nine provinces, to big and small enterprise tour operators; big hotel groups including the Hilton Group and Tsogo Sun, and various small to medium guesthouses.

The setup included meeting areas with table and chairs that allowed attendees to have meetings and discuss business. I saw many people seriously engaged in business over sit-downs, signing contracts and confirming deals. This is the crux of Africa’s Travel Indaba: to create a space that allows for different stakeholders within the tourism industry to meet up, exchange ideas and do business together. Buyers come from all over the world come to look for opportunities to do business in South Africa; exhibitors from the SADC region and the continent at large have the opportunity to market themselves to buyers. The possibilities for exchange and collaboration are endless. It can include hosting a conference or working with South African tour operators to provide experiences to a variety of foreign clients.

The business of travel and tourism is constantly growing, which makes Africa’s Travel Indaba a great opportunity for African countries to come together and market the continent as a top tourist destination. In the past year, Africa saw 67-million international tourist arrivals and a tourism overall growth of 7%, above the global average of 6% and a 2.9% increase from the previous year. The future of travel and tourism is one of growing potential, potential we’re only started to tap into.

“We are an industry that has not yet reached its full potential,” said Minister of Tourism Derek Hanekom. President Cyril Ramaphosa came out to address the delegates on the final day of the Indaba, and said that there is still a lot of work to be done to realise the potential of this growing industry. “We must exploit the tourism industry to grow and increase our foreign earnings, to bring more people into the mainstream of our economies and to boost related industries. There is so much that we can all do in growing small and medium enterprises, but also making sure that the footprint of this industry is also felt in the remote areas of our country, in rural areas,” said Ramaphosa.

The Indaba hosted delegates from over 80 countries including Kenya, Namibia, Uganda, Namibia, eSwatini, Nigeria, Germany, Russia, China, India and Egypt. The conversations that took place were not only concerned with the tourism sector as it affects South Africa; most involved thinking through ways in which different countries, tourism agencies and departments can work together to package and promote products from the continent.

eSwatini’s Moses Vilakazi said the Travel Indaba is an exciting opportunity because it brings in buyers and sellers together in one platform, thus allowing the country’s tourism department to reach out to more tourists to visit his country. Like South Africa, eSwatini has designated tourism as one of the top pillars to develop the country. The arrival of each tourist presents an opportunity of employment for locals, as they are the ones who will engage with and provide services to the tourists. The eSwatini Tourism department had about 26 exhibitors exhibiting at Travel Indaba, some of whom got to participate in the speed marketing, the mornings sessions where different companies got to showcase and market their products to international buyers.

“We are here to meet with various dignitaries and ministers like minister Hanekom to say that we can all market our southern African countries as one. Let’s all get together as people from Namibia, Botswana, Lesotho, Zimbabwe, Zambia, so that when we attract international tourists from Europe, we can have a comprehensive package to sell,” said Vilakazi. “This platform is good for destination marketing, but it is also good for speed marketing and for our industry players to get a chance to market their various products to the rest of the world,” he added.

eSwatini Tourism also met up with Gauteng Tourism to discuss opportunities for collaborative marketing. As it stands, 65% of people who attend Bushfire are from Johannesburg, which presents several opportunities for ensuring that these people get the best of both worlds. Gauteng Tourism is also working with Mozambique around language proficiency. “We have a strong Portuguese community, but we don’t have enough tour operators who speak Portuguese,” said head of destinations, promotions and marketing, Barba Gaoganediwe.

Conversations about growing tourism on the continent included visa regulations; strategising on growth prospects is taking place. Many foreign visitors share the view that South Africa needs to loosen its grip on visa regulations and march towards the African Union’s 2063 goal of free movement on the continent. “There is an overwhelming message that I heard yesterday from Nigeria to Ghana, from Kenya to Uganda, from India to China to New Zealand and many other countries and it is this: the sector has massive potential but to unlock it’s potential, we must overhaul the visa dispensation,” said director general of the department of tourism, Victor Tharage.

“The plan is to move as rapidly as possible to an e-VISA. The department of home affairs undertook to work with New Zealand in piloting an e-visa system. Another thing we need to do is to recognise visas from other countries that apply stringent visa tests, for example, the US, the UK and Europe. Mexico recognises a US visa as being valid in it’s own borders,” added the minister.

“We must reduce the onerous and often unnecessary bureaucratic red tape that tourists who want to visit our country face. As South Africa, we are committed to working on the African Union goal of a visa-free travel dispensation and a single African air transport market. We are in the process of overhauling our visa dispensation in a radical way and introducing a world-class e-visa system; the challenges with the current visa system will be ironed out and resolved,” pledged Ramaphosa at the Travel Indaba.

“With conversations going on about free trade, we have long-term goals of creating a network of hostels across the continent” said Curiocity Backpackers owner and founder, Bheki Dube. Bheki started Curiocity as walking tours in Johannesburg, then grew it into a backpackers in Maboneng; a new branch has just opened in Durban and another is opening in November in Cape Town. “We see ourselves as pioneers as regards hostelling within the continent. We see ourselves as being pioneers in laying the foundation on how hostels will lead the next generations of travellers on the continent.” Opportunity of growth seem to abound within the tourism sector, as do opportunities for collaboration and conducting business between various African countries.