Indaba 2012: Reboot needed

You want MY take on Indaba 2012? In one sentence? 

I’m sick of hearing everyone’s whining, my own included. 

Now settle in while I explain.  

This must’ve been my fourteenth Indaba – or maybe it was my fifteenth (you know us teenagers: we’ve done so many of these things that we stop celebrating them after a while) – and I will say this about it: it was the most disengaged so far.  

Which is odd, because the world’s become more engaged than ever before. 

With more users on line thanIndiahas citizens, Facebook is the second biggest country on Earth (and the only one that’s ever gone public, even if its IPO was a bit wobbly). YouTubers upload 60 hours worth of video every minute of every day. (The world watches more than 4 billion videos on YouTube a day, which means that more than 800 million unique users watch 3 billion hours of video every month – and more video is uploaded to YouTube in one month than the three major networks in the USA created in 60 years. 70% of YouTube traffic comes from outside of the USA, and in 2011, YouTube had more than 1 trillion views. That’s almost 140 views for every person on Earth. But there’s more: users watch 500 years’ worth of YouTube video every day on Facebook alone, and on Twitter, tweeps share more than 700 YouTube videos a minute. Oh, and 100 million people perform social actions on YouTube – they like, share, or comment on the videos they’ve seen – every week). 

Then of course something like 95% of people who travel go online to research their trips before they book – and almost every one of them has a smart phone or a tablet with them when they hit the road. TripAdvisor has become a blessing and a curse, FourSquare is blowing up, Pinterest is pinning down, the global distribution systems are bing challenged, on-line booking is tilting at the traditional travel channel, and some of the world’s most unpleasant governments have fallen thanks – in large part – the to power of social media. 

And – most significant of all for traditional marketers – more than 50% of people alive today are younger than 30. Which means that none of them has ever known a world without the internet.  

But at Indaba we continue to hand out tired old brochures – one-on-one in the same tired old way – and we continue to hope that buyers will wander off the aisles and onto our stands, and find us, and make us rich, rich, rich.  

And then when it doesn’t happen, it’s SA Tourism’s fault.  

Another first this year: the biggest divide than ever before between “I had a good Indaba,” and “It was my worst Indaba.”  

I think this is more easily explained than anyone cares to admit, and that it’s got little to do with the exorbitant cost of hiring a stand; the exorbitant cost of travelling (in the old days our national carrier used to offer discounted fares and subsidised cargo rates for anyone going to Indaba: now – if they’re flying our route – we get to pay premium prices because we’ve made it such a buy time of year); the awful bloody Durban taxi drivers (although, admittedly, not all of them); the Saturday afternoon rugby game (only because I’m jealous because I never get to go); the ridiculous cost of sponsorships (I have one destination client who used always to part-sponsor the media bags by paying to have its information CDs distributed in them. R6,000.00 the last time Kagiso ran the show – three Indabas ago – transmogrified into about R18,000.00 this year. So we said, “Nah.”); and the blimmin short-sightedness of taking the media on a four-hour-long tour of the local shanties (who can spare four hours for any single event during business hours at Indaba?) rather than providing the very real – and, to serious journalists, much more useful – opportunity to grill the panjandrums in a public forum at the Global Media Face-off, which didn’t happen this year. (Hiding away, much?) 

No, none of that.  

The people who had “a good Indaba” were prepared for it: they’d spent months setting up their appointments, and they were meticulous in the information they made available. Their presentations worked (no really, more than one company proudly gave me electronic data which didn’t open in PC or Mac), they supplied good quality images in high and low resolution that were ready for use on the web or in print (and weren’t embedded in pdf or Word documents), and their text documents were accessible no matter what platform you prefer to use. 

Funny how all of the Good Indaba people I’ve spoken to are all positive about the future of tourism in South Africa, and all the Bad Indaba folks… well, you get what I mean.  

But there’s another thing: the elephant in the room. The biggest tusker of them all, so to speak: the interwebz. 

Coupla things: 

1. Yes, the guys showed us their iPad presentations. But almost the whole of the Indaba pretended the web wasn’t there. I mean – just to offer one example – I only saw QR codes on two of the stands I visited: Gartour (Garden Route and Klein Karoo), and theEastern Cape. Sure, we all had QR codes on our name badges – but all they did (when they worked: seems scanners don’t like shiny, shaky surfaces) was give you the other person’s contact details. The codes on the Gartour and eCape stands took you to real, uh, web sites, where you’ll find much more than just phone numbers.  

The digital interface? Not at OUR Indaba, thank you very much. We’ve always done quite well enough without it. 

2. And while we’re talking about the web – Skype. I work often with Ron Mader (, whom I met at Indaba 2011 – he was the keynote speaker at the Responsible Tourism in Cities Conference  – and just last night we spent nearly two hours brainstorming a project. Thing is, he’s in Oaxaca, in Mexico, and will shortly be going to Nevada in the USA for a month, and I’m in Knysna (it’s on the Garden Route, case you didn’t know) – but it doesn’t matter, because we can spend as much time as we need to working with one another on line, and all it costs is our bandwidth. We can talk, we can create documents together in real time (we’ve recently started using Google Docs for this. It’s like working on the same computer in the same room at the same time. And yet we’re thousands of miles apart). 

How many buyers are doing this kind of stuff these days?  

Plenty. And many more each year – so they don’t have to come to Indaba as religiously as they used to. As the pop song goes (or would, if I wrote it): “Once every two or three years is fine/ For the rest we can take it online.”  

And another thing: now that they’re not coming that regularly any more, and coming for shorter periods – how many of them have time to trawl the aisles for new products? They’re shunting from pre-arranged meeting to pre-arranged meeting, and then they’re Jeeting it outta there.  

Jake White used to say it (and he won us some serious rugby chops): If you fail to plan, then plan to fail. 

3. Social media? At our most important tourism trade show? What social media? THAT’S for the kids. (Refer now please to the statistics above.) 

A couple of Indaba Bunnies managed to tweet about the thing, a couple more made it onto the various Facebook pages, I put up a presentation on – and (and this is where our Ludditism gets scary) mebbe 60 or 70 people turned up for SA Tourism’s TripAdvisor Master Class.  

Sixty? I would have thought that TripAdvisor – probably tourism’s most important social media tool – would have emptied the hallways and the pavilions, and that you’d have had to squeeze into the massive Nkosi Albert Luthuli ICC Auditorium to take part, or you’d be left sitting (or standing!) watching with the overflow on giant screens set up on the exhibition’s well-used patios.  

Indaba should have come to a standstill for that event, TripAdvisor is that important to anyone in tourism marketing today (and in the future, which, to use the cliché, is here right now). But no. Only sixty – the interested and engaged – in a snug little breakaway room. 

And no live streaming of any of the events, either. So if you weren’t at Indaba: sorry for you. 

So here’s my point, and it comes in two parts.  

Firstly, the world’s changed. The old days of take-what-we-give-you product and of one-way marketing by intervention (hate the word, resent the implication – it’s a gung-ho marketing term that means shouty ads, boozy schmooze, blingy PR, and stuff like that), have just about died. Matterafact, you can hear there death rattle if you put your ear to any social media site.   

My generation – the six-day-six-city package tour generation, the trusters, the let’s-not-make-a-sceners, the but-we’ve-always-done-it-that-wayers – is popping off. Yes, you’ll still see the odd PowerPoint presentation here and there that boasts about ‘Engaging the Golden Adventurers’ and shit like that – but we’re largely off-line, out-dated, outnumbered, and out of ideas.  

The new kids on the block – more than 50% of the world’s population, remember – are independent, questioning, questing, informed single-minded, and vocal (the average user of social media generates more than 10,000 words of copy every month – not because she’s paid for it, but because that’s what she does. Or he, as the case may be). And they’re more likely (100% more likely) to believe their peers (whether they know them in person or not – the average user on Facebook has 184 friends) than to pay even so much as a glance of attention to anything that you might put out that’s advertisy, pushy, schmaltzy, or corporate. 

And secondly (to quote Ron Mader again – I use this one all the time): “We suck at collaboration.” (Although Ron doesn’t – check out his 950 page Wiki – and its pages, for example, on South Africa – and even on individual towns like Mossel Bay. Thing is, Ron’s only been to this country once – but he encourages people like me to edit and add information to the pages on his Wiki, and over the years it’s become a go-to destination of real worth.) 

In an industry which is wholly reliant on partnerships, we suck at collaboration? I mean, think about it: for travel to work you need carriers, accommodation, attractions, entertainment, adventures, and just plain people – all passing the traveller from one to the other with a cheery wave and a “When you get there, ask for Peter, tell him Paul sent you – he’s my mate and he’ll see you right.”  

And yet we don’t do this enough, and we’re useless at marketing in a collaborative way.  

Compare ourselves to the supermarket trade: even if two supermarkets rent right next door to one another in your local a mall, they don’t need to share their transport infrastructure, their advertising space, their trolley jockeys, or their information about one another. Especially their information about one another. 

And yet all of us are acting all old guard, on our own, trying to influence a world that’s lost interest in the way we’re talking, rather than in what we have to say.  

The kids, on the other hand, have worked it out: passing information from screen to screen, phone to phone, tablet to tablet; making and sharing videos, podcasts, images, and copy; engaging and being engaged; being kind, and generous (and, yes, cruel, savage, and even human). 

And we’re trying to hand out brochures at Indaba, and blaming SA Tourism for it? 

My conclusion: yes, Indaba needs a reboot. But a reboot of engagement. We need to start talking – to one another, with one another, and for one another.  

The new marketing space is scarier, more unpredictable, more personal, more visible, more viable, more argumentative, more demanding than ever before – but it’s also more measurable, and, since it demands of us above all that we Be Nice, more human than ever before.  

So this means the trade needs to do the rebooting. The media needs to do it. The delegates need to do it. You and I need to do it. And everyone who wants visitors to come toSouth Africaneeds to do it – not just for four days inDurbanin May, but every day, and every night, and in every way. 

We’re not babies.  

Why SHOULD SA Tourism do our work for us?

Now go away on holiday – it’s in the economy’s best interests.
… And in the meantime… have a GREAT tourism week!

Martin Hatchuel
– BarefootWriter

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