INDABA 2015

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INDABA 2015 at Durban.
INDABA 2015 at Durban.

At INDABA 2015, the largest tourism tradeshow in Africa showcasing Pan-African tourism products and services, the new Honorable Minister of Tourism, Derek Andre Hanekom, thought it fitting to recite a quote from former President Nelson Mandela: “When he [Nelson Mandela] opened the first INDABA in a free South Africa, this is what President Mandela said, ‘It is in tourism that nature and humanity meet most equitibly and profitably. It also provides the resources for the conservation of our natural heritage. Furthermore, tourism is making an important and valuable contribution to the South African economy.’ Now, 20 years later, those words still echo throughout our sector.”

For four days, the city of Durban welcomed just over 1,000 exhibors from 20 African countries, about 2,000 buyers and 750 members of the media from around the globe at INDABA 2015. The tradeshow is spread out with exhibitors inside and outside the convention center floor. Destinations from Zambia to Botswana, as well as local cities like Cape Town and Johannesburg were in attendance; and international hotel brands, safari camps & lodges, and African-based tour operators set up their booths to present their products to the hundreds in attendance—all with the ultimate goal of increasing tourism to Africa.

“International arrivals in Africa increased to 56 million tourists last year, and are expected to grow by between 3 percent and 5 percent in 2015…more and more people are venturing out to discover new places, leaving the familiar behind to seek new experiences; to meet new people and discover their culture,” said Hanekom during INDABA’s opening ceremony, a grand event that featured live musical performances by African artists and performers.

This was my first time at INDABA, and also in South Africa. Although the trip was short, here are some of the highlights from the most influential travel tradeshow on the African continent.

CEO Thulani Nzima speaking at INDABA's opening ceremony.
CEO of South African Tourism, Thulani Nzima, speaking at INDABA’s opening ceremony.

A Chat with Thulani
Our group of North American travel trade writers had a chance to sit and chat with the CEO of South African Tourism, Thulani Nzima. From remarks addressing projected tourism numbers, and how those numbers may or may not be affected by Ebola, to the recent attacks on foreigners in Durban, just weeks before the opening of the tradeshow, Mr. Nzima candidly shared his thoughts on tourism with us.

To keep tourists coming to South Africa, Nzima said South African Tourism is “continuing to market international markets like the U.S., the UK, Germany and China. Those markets are very important to us to maintain the current numbers that we have and avoid a slide in [tourism] numbers.” In 2014, Africa welcomed 56 million visitors; projected numbers have Africa welcoming 85 million international visitors in 2020 and 134 million in 2030, and Nzima is hoping for a big slice of those visitors who also travel to destinations like Egypt, Morocco and Mozambique.

Regarding the attacks on foreigners in Durban, Nzima said, “We are over those sporadic incidents that flared up in just one week, it has all died down. South Africa, as a nation, stood up and said, ‘this is not us.’”

Although the incidents in Durban ended quickly, the continent’s struggle to eradicate Ebola may or may not make a dent in future tourism projects. Nzima said there were immediate trip cancellations and postponements, and these are “numbers that may project in the future. We need to understand that it was an emotional decision and you cannot fault people for being irrational about it because it was about their own safety and their own health, and they didn’t want to take any chances.”

The Buzz at INDABA
The biggest buzz at INDABA 2015 was the newly launched Madiba’s Journey app, an interactive app that features 27 tourist attractions and sites in South Africa that reflect the life of Nelson Mandela (Madiba is Mandela’s clan name); the 27 sites represent each year he spent behind bars as a political prisoner. The app allows users to view the destinations on a map with directions on how to get there; create their own itineraries; share the experiences on social media; and listen to audio that describes the site and what its significance means to Mandela.

The Golden Mile promenade in Durban.
The Golden Mile promenade in Durban.

A Taste of Durban
Four days in Durban on assignment for a travel tradeshow doesn’t leave much time to experience the city, one that The New York Times ranked as the No. 7 city to visit in 2015. Nevertheless, with a few moments to spare, I was able to experience some aspects of Durban during a few moments away from the convention center. Here are some of my notable highlights of this city by the Indian Ocean.

The Golden Mile: The Golden Mile promenade is made for walkers, joggers and cyclists; on a Sunday we saw many families settled down and enjoying the day while barbecuing. The eastern edge of Durban is hugged by the Indian Ocean, and here the shore is wide and inviting with piers jutting out into the ocean every few hundred feet or so. The best part about Durban is watching the surfers, and during our time in the city, the surfing was abundant.

Moses Mabhida Stadium: The Moses Mabhida Stadium dominates the Durban skyline and is host to sporting events and music festivals. At the stadium, visitors can rent a Segway or bike and take a tour around the stadium. For those looking to see Durban from above, there is the 550-step walk up the stadium’s white arch, which provides sky-high views of the city; the stadium also features the world’s tallest bungee swing at 347 ft.

Stay tuned for more on INDABA 2015 in our July issue. For more information about the city of Durban, visit durbanexperience.co.za; and for more information about INDABA, visit
indaba-southafrica.co.za.