This Tourism Week. 5 March, 2013


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Indaba: money-maker or trade show?

“All the emotions in one destination”

Now tell me – have you ever heard a better sales pitch for tourism in South Africa? It sure beats ‘Inspiring new ways,’ doesn’t it? In fact, it’s exactly that: an inspiring new way of selling our country.

It’s the pay-off line of a small inbound tour operator called Cape Travel Online – – and it’s run by good Marco Nicolai, a real friend of This Tourism Week.

According to Marco’s site, “Our specialty is creating tailor made tours, personalised African safaris and travel itineraries of Southern Africa to suit your needs!”

So you’d think that SA Tourism (and the rest of the tourism industry) would be fawning all over him, begging him to come to Indaba, and making it as easy as possible for him to do so.

Not a flying rhino they aren’t.

If he’s lucky, SA Tourism might deign to allow him to attend as a hosted buyer. First, though, and before he could begin to apply for this status, he’d need to understand the jargon of Indaba. Which isn’t an easy task – especially since Marco speaks Spanish as his first language. I, on the other hand, gooi English – but I still struggle with jargon after probably fifteen Indabas: as a result, I don’t know who wears which badges. I think I understand two of them, though: exhibitors and media.

Exhibitors are the guys who come to Indaba to sell their products, right? And media are people like me who come to find stories about tourism, right? )So why do huge numbers of people wearing media badges wander around selling advertising to the guys who’ve come to sell…?)

Better stop there, though, and concentrate on Marco’s point: the cost.

SA Tourism aside, the airlines and the hotels in Durban see Indaba as a cash cow (and SA Tourism has demonstrated over the years that is has very little if any interest in changing this).

Here is what the gist of what Marco wrote to me last week:

“I got an ugly surprise when I saw the cost of flights to go and participate in the Indaba 2013.

“How is it possible that we the inbound tour operators, who promote South Africa abroad to our clients and agents (so that they’ll come and enjoy the beauty of South Africa and spend their money here) have to pay the greedy prices that Kulula, South African Airways or Mango, charge to get us to Indaba? The return fare (Cape Town – Durban), comes close to the value of a return flight to Europe with KLM or Emirates?

“I believe this is ridiculous and absolutely unacceptable the organisers don’t make the effort and negotiate so that the air companies don’t abuse of us! Or is the only business to take money from the visitors and exhibitors?

“The international crisis and increasing expenses force us to make adjustments but still our profits are lower and lower every year.

“Then when we arrive at the moment when we have all our suppliers in one place, we have to pay the incredible price of between three and five thousand return to fly to Durban? 

“And don’t forget the accommodation, plus the fee for the conference.

“How much will it cost to visit Durban for a couple of days? Six, eight thousand rand? A thousand US dollars to visit Indaba?

“To me it looks like the organisers live in a world where the economy is in a big bonanza?”

Indeed, he has a point – except that I think Indaba costs way more than R 8,000 for the average Joe. Especially since Durban hotels put their prices up over that period. (Really: look at the rates on any booking engine. I’m not going to name and shame any of them, though. Let’s just stick with ‘Durban Hotels.’)

And yes, the organisers do seem to be living in cloud cuckoo-land.

According to this pdf published by Witches and Wizards – the event management company currently organising the thing – the numbers have been falling steadily: visitors fell from 4,437 in 2008 to 4,300 in 2009 (a 3.1% drop); and to 3,851 in 2010 (10.4% down on 2009) – although they did increase again (by 5.0% off a very low base!) to 4,043 in 2011.

Exhibitor numbers (personnel, not products) dropped from 7,992 in 2008 to 7,877 in 2009 (-1.4%); then again to 7,684 in 2010 (-2.5%); and to 7,269 in 2011 (-5.4%).

The total number of attendees dropped from 12,429 in 2008 to 12,177 (-2.0%) in 2009; then to 11,535 (-5.3%) in 2010; and to 11,312 (-1.9%) in 2011.

But putting it that way is disingenuous: first because the exhibitors are there to sell – yet they outnumber the visitors (those are the guys who’re there to buy, right?) two to one. Second because the numbers actually fell by about 9% across the board during the quoted period. Third because Witches and Wizards neglect to tell you that only 3,037 visitors pitched in 2012. And fourth because the only people who have any interest in the total number of people through the gate are Witches and Wizards themselves, and their client, SA Tourism – because it shows in their financials and, perhaps, because it makes them look good. (I’ve posted a graph of the trends on This Tourism Week. Got the figures from SA Tourism).

And this too: the cost of advertising in and around the Indaba precinct has soared. In fact, it’s become so expensive that Witches and Wizards no longer publishes rates in their catalogue. It did publish them a year or two ago: but, as an example, the cost of inserting your brochure into the 600 bags which are issued to the people who wear those media badges (whether legitimately or not), was about R 7,000 under the old regime (Kagiso Events – remember them?). When I did eventually manage to get a quote out of Witches and Wizards – after throwing my toys at least twice – it turns out that the price is now more than R 12,000. Which is both exorbitant – and well above the inflation rate. (So no, my client won’t be inserting anything into the media bags. And I wonder if anyone else will.)

Finally: the actual work of Indaba. Is it to make money for SA Tourism and Witches and Wizards, to make Marthinus and SA Tourism look good, or to stimulate buyers to send their business to Southern Africa? Because it seems to have lost the plot: everyone complains about everything, and under it all, is the complaint about this: Indaba is failing to deliver.

So where are we?

It’s become prohibitively expensive to exhibit at Indaba. It’s become prohibitively expensive to travel to Indaba, and to stay in Durban the while. It’s become prohibitively expensive to advertise at Indaba. Less and less buyers are coming to Indaba, and less and less business is being done at Indaba. And you wonder why people are calling for a re-think?

What are your views? Please join the discussion! Post your comments here

Books: Restios of the Fynbos

I loved this book – but I had three years of botany, so I was able to understand at least some of it. Still, don’t let that put you off: although it’s a highly technical identification guide, it also contains notes on the biology conservation and propagation of these fascinating grass-like plants.

And while restios do grow in Australia (about 150 species), New Zealand (four), South America, and South East Asia (just one each), it’s only in South Africa (Africa has about 357 species) that they totally dominate the vegetation in the areas in which they thrive.

It’s worth knowing more about them because they’re often useful garden plants – they’re usually water-efficient, and almost always striking in their appearance – and because understanding their ecology is key to understanding the ecology of the fynbos as a whole (most laypeople will probably find the chapters which introduce the restios to be the most interesting and valuable).

If you own a guest house anywhere in or near the fynbos – you’ll want this one in your guest library.

Restios of the Fynbos by Els Dorrat-Haaksma and H Peter Linder is published in softcover and ebook by Struik Nature, and it’s available from the BarefootBookshop

Now go away on holiday. It’s in the economy’s best interest

With best Barefoot Wishes – MMARTIN HATCHUEL, Barefoot Writer

Specialist writer for the tourism industry
Social media & advertising
Media management
Responsible tourism
Cell +27(0)84 951 0574
Fax +27(0)86 614 8853
Skype: reefgod
PO Box 2690 Knysna 6570

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