So we’re all in Durban for the Tourism Business Council’s Hotel Investment Conference Africa – HICA 2013 – and by the time you read this we’ll be settling down to two days of talks and deliberations about the event’s chosen theme: ‘Shifting Gear – a focus on Southern Africa.’
And what can we expect this year?
Top speakers, and, we hope, hard talk…
CEO of the strategic marketing consultancy Ignite, Paul Bannister, will moderate two sessions this year: ‘Hard talk between airlines, tour operators, and hoteliers’ (at 11:15 on Day 1 – the 9th of May); and ‘The state of the safaris since our last meeting’ (at 11:30 on Day 2).
“In the ‘Hard talk’ session, I’m hoping to wake the audience up to the principle of competition,” he said.
“It’s great that we’re seeing improved statistics, and that the Minister says we’re winning because we saw a 10% growth in the eight months to March, and that our tourism growth is better than the rest of the world – but what worries me is complacency.
“Look at the World Economic Forum’s 2013 Travel & Tourism Competitiveness Index: South Africa now ranks 64th, having only climbed two places since 2011 – so if the Minister’s aiming for the Top 20 by 2020, we’ve got a lot of work to do.”
And while we should look at things in perspective at HICA 2013, Paul did say that South Africa is an indicator of how we’re doing in the SADC region as a whole.
“It’s a bell-weather for development, and there are areas where we’re doing very well.”
I checked: according to the report, South Africa ranked 3rd in the region. But it also ranked 17th overall for natural resources, and 58th for cultural resources (we’ve got an inordinately high number of World Heritage sites, rich fauna, and strong creative industries – and we’re great at hosting international fairs and exhibitions). South Africa ranks high for infrastructure (our air transport is ranked 43rd and road quality 42nd), and we’re a healthy 29th for policy rules and regulations, which are “conducive to the sector’s development… this is an area where the country has improved steadily over the past few assessments, with well-protected property rights and few visa requirements for visitors. Indeed, tourism continues to be one of the five priority sectors in the country’s growth plan, and the government has reviewed tourism legislation in an effort to streamline it further.”
“I hope the conversation can address some of these issues,” said Paul.
But, he said, one of the speakers has already called him out over discussions about negatives.
“Well, I hope we do talk about them: we have to face our realities, we need to start working on them, and I hope that HICA will look at what might happen if we don’t move forward.”
Here he cited the uni-visa (“We should go ahead and implement it even if some of the countries involved haven’t approved it yet; we should start moving forward”).
“I hope we come up with some new ideas, too – maybe even some crazy ones that will provoke new approaches.”
As for the discussion of the state of the safari industry, Paul remains worried that our definition of The Safari remains stuck in the romantic East Africa of that famous movie from the 80s – ‘Out of Africa.’
“Safaris can take you somewhere – not just physically, but on many other levels, too: emotionally, spiritually, sensually…
“What we need to examine is how we’re going to create a leading edge. South Africa has very few of the vast open plains that they have in East Africa, and yet we still try to portray the safari as the game drive, the fancy bathroom, the khaki-clad guide.
“There’s a lack of differentiation in the industry.”
I couldn’t help asking where he saw the role of responsible tourism in all of this.
“Responsible tourism goes across the board, and sustainable environmental practice is just one part of it.”
Responsible tourism, he said, has to include social responsibility.
“We’ve paid lip service to this through things like work creation projects and arts and crafts, but we need to start looking at how the people involved can start to see real returns as landlords.”
He said that he was looking forward to hearing what David Bristow has to say: together with Colin Bell of Wilderness Safaris and Great Plains Conservation, David’s just published ‘Africa’s Finest’ – which is described in the HICA programme as “a large-format, full colour book on the best (and the worst) of the industry.”
I certainly won’t be missing that one…
For the investor
CEO of Pam Golding Hospitality, Joop Demes, will moderate the 9:30 session on Day 2: ‘Bringing back the institutional investor.’
He said that his company has seen a significant increase in the demand for feasibility studies for hotel projects in Southern Africa.
“The pipeline for new hotel projects in Southern Africa is getting serious traction. Combined with this we’ve noticed that high net worth individuals and firms from the Middle East and Asia-Pacific are showing an increasing appetite for investing private equity in Southern Africa.
“I am looking forward to the various sessions in which we’ll debate this increased appetite.
“We need to understand and appreciate the key criteria from the Investors and match these with the realistic expectations from the Hotel Operators.
Wayne Troughton (CEO of HTI Consultants, who’ll speak during the 4:15 p.m. breakaway on Day 2: ‘Spotlight on Mozambique’s thriving hospitality sector’), said that HICA is one of the premier hospitality investment events on the continent.
“It brings together operators, investors and other industry specialists, and it’s enabled us to grow our network base, generate leads and opportunities, strengthen ongoing relationships with investors, and operators and keep abreast with modern trends shaping the industry.
“We will continue to support HICA and would not ever think about not being present.
Wayne said that he’s particularly looking forward to the breakaway titled ‘Market expansion into regional Africa’ (Day 1 at 2:30) because he hopes to gain valuable information from the operators’ and owner-operators’ perspective.
“And I am interested in hearing from Amelia Beattie of Stanlib. They are starting to get involved in hospitality in Southern Africa and their attendance confirms their interest.
“This is very exciting as the traditional property companies and institutional investors usually prefer other asset classes like retail and offices and only get involved in hotels on rare occasion and usually only on a lease basis.”
Shew – that’s just what THREE of the key players have to say about HICA 2013? …It’s going to be quite a ride.
HICA 2013 is currently under way at Durban’s Elangeni Hotel.
TBCSA on line: www.tbcsa.travel
For blog posts about HICA 2013, please visit www.thistourismweek.co.za
Twitter: please follow @TBCZA and watch and use the hash tag #HICA13
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Now go away on holiday. It’s in the economy’s best interest
With best Barefoot Wishes – M
MARTIN HATCHUEL, Barefoot Writer
Specialist writer for the tourism industry
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