Travel Indaba 2018 coincided with the centenary of Nelson Mandela’s birth

Delegates representing 80 nations and exhibitors from 23 African countries contribute to the roaring success of Travel Indaba 2018

The coastal city of Durban played host to this year’s Travel Indaba (Photo: Travel Indaba)

The coastal city of Durban played host to this year’s Travel Indaba, one of the largest marketing events on Africa’s tourism calendar. The Zulu word indaba— which roughly means “meeting” — perfectly encapsulates the spirit of the event, which saw an increased number of buyers and exhibitors from last year. Congregating at its two main venues, the Inkosi Albert Luthuli Convention Centre and Durban Exhibition Centre, the thousands of delegates were keen to find out more about the continent that is rich in heritage and steeped in history.

Besides coinciding with Africa Month, Travel Indaba also celebrated another special occasion — the centenary of Nelson Mandela’s birth. An evocative showcase at the official opening of the trade show set the tone for the celebration of the man who played an instrumental role in South Africa’s history. Renowned playwright and artistic director James Ngcobo Nelson — in collaboration with the Mandela Foundation — worked with a cast of local talent from the host province to theatrically showcase the life and struggles of the freedom fighter. The performance included depictions of the protests against apartheid, young Mandela as a boxer and practising nguni or stick fighting while a talented group of singers belted out traditional songs to accompany each scene.

Speaking right after the performance, the Minister of Tourism Derek Hanekom said in his welcome note, “This is what South Africa is all about, people with talent and spirit coming together to express it in the most compelling manner … [In fact,] all countries on the continent have huge potential for growth. This year, we focus on integrating all the sectors in tourism, be it government, private sector or investors, to be complementary instead of competitive.”

Two exhibition centres in Durban welcomed delegates to the three-day event (Photo: Travel Indaba)

Boasting a wealth of untapped and underexposed potential experiences, tourism opportunities abound, or as South African Tourism CEO Sisa Ntshona put it, “As vast as the wide-open African savannah and as distinctive as the sunsets that adorn our skies at night”. Based on the United Nations World Travel Organisation’s statistics, Africa saw an 8% increase in international tourism arrivals last year (totalling a record 62 million people), which though a healthy one, is regarded as only the tip of the iceberg as far as the continent’s tourism potential is concerned.

It was, therefore, a deliberate move by the tourism board to make it a pan-African event, drawing the eyes of the world to the wide and varied offerings of the region while not forgetting domestic tourism. Throughout the three-day trade show, delegates made up of buyers and members of the media were kept on their toes with meetings and talks besides visiting the booths of the 1,100 exhibitors from almost two dozen African countries, 200 of which were first-timers.

An evocative theatrical performance on Mandela's life and struggles, which moved the crowd (Photo: Travel Indaba)

Just as South Africa is filled with adventures waiting to be explored, the same can be said about the up-and-coming innovative small businesses that are reshaping and reinventing the travel sector. This year’s Hidden Gems pavilion featured 135 of such small and medium enterprises — an increase from last year’s 90 — giving these rising stars a platform to showcase their offerings.

Considering the wide spectrum of services and products offered at the trade show — ranging from accommodation, tour operators, game lodges, transport, online travel, camping and safari companies — the Speed Marketing programme was an excellent way to get the ball rolling. The three areas of focus were Heritage, History and Culture, Township Vibe as well as Wildlife and Adventure. During these quick-fire sessions, a predetermined group of business owners took the stage for five minutes each to introduce what they had to offer, piquing the interest of participants to visit their respective booths to find out more. According to Ntshona, the three-day show was projected to inject ZAR89 million to the GDP of KwaZulu-Natal, where tourism remains one the main contributors to its economic growth.


Emphasis on sustainability

Responsible tourism is all the rage at the moment and there is an increasing number of tourists who seek experiences that do not harm the places they visit or better still, leave it better than when they arrived. As far as South African tourism goes, significant changes were prompted following the Cape Town drought to ensure sustainability. “Instead of becoming a victim, Cape Town is now leading the world in how to respond to a water crisis,” Ntshona was proud to announce.

Pilanesburg National Park offers tourists the opportunity to participate in rhino notching (Photo: Travel Indaba)

Seeing that the region is known for its wildlife, animal conservation efforts remain at the forefront. For instance, the Sun City Resort recently partnered Pilanesberg Wildlife Trust to carry out rhino conservation programmes. Guests of the Pilanesberg National Park who opt for the Rhino Notching Experience get to assist a vet and park officials to notch and implant an ID tag on the creatures besides collecting DNA samples, all of which are instrumental in monitoring the population of this endangered species.


Paying homage to Nelson Mandela

Falling squarely within Indaba’s theme of telling African success stories, this year’s show celebrated the love, respect and admiration the people of Africa — and the world over — have for the late activist and leader. The Mandela Journey App invites users to walk in the footsteps of the man, affectionately known as Madiba, which is his Xhosa clan name.

The art installation is the focal point of Mandela Capture Site (Photo: Travel Indaba)

The app reveals “100 Ways to Find the Nelson Mandela in You” and suggests places and activities that are the quintessence of the global icon. On the list of must-visit venues is the Nelson Mandela Capture Site, which is located near the spot where Mandela was apprehended by police. The event bears enormous significance to the freedom struggle and marked the beginning of his 27-year incarceration. Today, it is home to a breathtaking art installation by artist Marco Cianfanelli and architect Jeremy Rose of Mashabane Rose Associates. It stands at the end of a winding road, symbolic of Mandela’s book Long Walk to Freedom. From a particular spot 35m away, the portrait of Nelson Mandela looking west comes into focus. The image is created with the clever use of 50 linear vertical units that line up to create the illusion of a flat image.


This article first appeared on July 2, 2018 in The Edge Malaysia.


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