Reimagining Indaba: Set the default to open

profile-photo-MartinHatchuel1-96x96Plenty of comments on my last article, ‘Indaba: The little conversation that didn’t,’ although I stupidly gave e-mail readers the wrong link, so most of them landed up on my previous post – ‘Indaba 2014 & I’m not there.’

No matter though, because the message that’s coming through is clear: the Gruntle Index is off the charts.

So what would the ideal travel trade show look like?

Well, I had a long talk with’s Ron Mader (he in Nevada, me in Knysna: thank you Google+ Hangouts), who’s had a lot more experience of them around the world, and it seems they all have similar problems – which might be resolved quite easily.

Two things: information and transparency.

We began by asking what travellers want to know, and we realised that the information tower in destination marketing is actually an inverse pyramid: that the depth of the information we need when we travel increases as we get closer and closer to our destinations.

So on the level of continents, for example, all you need to know, really, is where in the world your target continent lies – because this will determine whether or not the place you want to visit becomes (for you) a long-haul destination. But for the town or village you want to visit, you need to know what the business or banking hours are, where the ATMs are, how to get around, where to stay, what to look for, what to eat, how to meet the people, what’s happening, where the art galleries are, and so on, and so on. (I’ve summarised this in a SlideShare presentation: ‘The knowledge pyramid in destination marketing.’ Please share!)

But it’s important to remember that information is a two-way conversation: as much as visitors want to know what to do, locals want to know how to get their information out there.

And this is where transparency comes in (See Ron’s own SlideShare presentation, ‘Set the default to open.’ I stole the phrase for the title of this article. But I did it openly.)

When we rethink shows like Indaba, perhaps we should ask this question first: Can we make it sufficiently open (transparent) that it will provide the information that travellers want?

Looking back, it seems this is the theme that ties my two previous articles together: Indaba isn’t yet open enough. It isn’t being shared meaningfully. But this isn’t peculiar to Indaba – as we saw in ‘Indaba 2014 & I’m not there,’ you might make the same criticism of New Zealand’s TRENZ or Mexico’s Tianguis Turístico – both of which took place in the same fortnight as Indaba.

Ron had previously put together a checklist for trade shows, and it might be interesting to see how my idea of a new-look Indaba might fare against it. Perhaps you’ll keep score?

  • How will the success of the trade show be evaluated?
  • Is there live streaming video?
  • Are there ops for remote participants?
  • Are trade show newspapers available for simultaneous pdf download?
  • Is there a directory of exhibitors?
  • Are press releases archived online?
  • How much are speakers paid?
  • How much are celebrities paid for endorsements?

*My* ideal Indaba would:

  • Be financed by taxpayer’s money (it already is. Largely). This is important because tourism trade shows need to work for the country as a whole: not just for the organisers of the show, or for the few large corporates that can afford to influence it, and dominate it, but for the one-person and mom-and-pop businesses that form the backbone of this industry, too;
  • Be held in the city that’s most accessible to all (Do I hear you say, “Jozi?”);
  • Seize the education opportunity by thinking of itself as much as a conference (an Indaba!) as a marketing opskop. This would mean opening up the discussions to the thinkers, the academics, the innovators, and yes, even the politicians – while the salespeople and the tour planners beaver away on the exhibition floor. This is very important: one of the criticisms I’ve heard of the Tech Zone (introduced to Indaba this year, and by all accounts a winner) is that it takes the buyers off the floor – which is the same problem with taking the buyers away on city tours and such. For which, see below;
  • Having decided that it’s a conference and an education opportunity, provide ways in which remote participants can take part: more so, it must actively promote remote participation. I’m talking live streaming, and perhaps even live streaming to and from remote events – a conference room in Cape Town, say. This would increase the reach of the whole thing while also providing networking opportunities for people in other centres;
  • Recognise that ‘Indaba’ means ‘conversation.’ Staff the Twitter streams, the Facebook pages, the YouTube channels with people who know what’s happening in the Indaba precinct, and who are able to react appropriately to questions, comments, even quibbles from remote participants;
  • Recognise and implement the three immutable laws of the web: share, share, share.
  • Ditch the puffed up, return-on-ego stands, and bury the booths. Table-top exhibits, guys: table-top exhibits. Because, you know, conversation.
  • Open the on-line media zone to all. Upload media releases, images, podcasts and videos from organisers and exhibitors alike to a platform that’s accessible to all. Yes, I know that you want your messages to get out so you pamper the members of the media who come to the event, and yes, I know that the traditional media are friends not food – but really. Who trusts the traditional media any more? Open your sources: you may just help to restore that confidence.
  • Go travelling. Only not during exhibition hours (see above). Evening tours? A sandwich format, with a day of trading, a day of touring and networking (golf? a tennis tournament? cultural experiences? parties?), followed by two more days of trading?
  • Engage local. Find ways to create ways in which ordinary South Africans (you know: travellers) can meet people in tourism and make friends with them. Probably the best way to stimulate domestic tourism.
  • And no, no celebrities (I know: Indaba hasn’t really been infected yet, but just in case it thinks they might be useful. They’re celebs. Who believes THEM?).

Would *that* Indaba be radically different from what we’ve got now? I don’t think so: but it would be sleeker, smarter, opener, far less expensive, and, if it gets the engagement bit right – far, far more effective.

To quote Ron, commenting on ‘Indaba: the little conversation that didn’t:’ “I can only underscore the point I’ve made that you’ve quoted: Indaba is not the only trade show with problems. Most global shows are failing to keep up with the times.

“Like you, I criticize tourism trade shows for failing to meet their potential. These events really could do a world of good in terms of establishing new markets, hashing out critical issues and connecting locals and visitors.

“As someone writing from far across the Atlantic, I encourage South Africans to help others gain perspective about your country and region.

“Success will not come from events held behind closed doors but rather by amplifying the voices of local tourism providers, guides, museum curators and cooks. Tell us your stories and stoke the curiosity that will in turn generate travels to your country. Tell your own stories well enough and you might also find domestic tourism on the rise. Talk about regional politics ad nauseam or play the victim and it should be no surprise that no one is knocking on the door. Kudos to the tourism officials and politicians retweeting their constituents and amplifying local conversations. Yours are the digital voices we’re paying attention to.”

  • How would you redesign Indaba? Please comment here

Need a communicator?

If you need text written, ads made, brochures designed, or presentations built – please contact (084 951 0574). Together with a team of top-rate professionals, I provide a full range of communications services for businesses and organisations in travel and tourism.

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

With best wishes – M

Martin Hatchuel

  • Specialist writer
  • Tourism communications consultant
  • Agitator and speaker for responsible travel
Cell +27(0)84 951 0574
63 Wilson Street, Knysna 6570
Skype: reefgod

BareFootClients, PO Box 2690, Knysna, Western Cape 6570, SOUTH AFRICA

63 Wilson Street, Knysna

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