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Africa’s Travel Indaba 2023 Showcases Unlimited Africa

As she opened Africa’s Travel Indaba 2023

conference’s trade floor on May 9 at Durban’s Inkosi Albert Luthuli Convention Centre, the acting CEO of South African Tourism, Sonto Ndlovu said, “I can tell everyone is excited, and I’m excited to be here today. The theme, ‘Unlimited Africa,’ speaks to Africa’s potential, which knows no bounds.” 


After her opening, Ndlovu was followed with statements by Mxolisi Kaunda, the mayor of Durban, the host city of the conference. “We are working towards Africa regaining its rightful position in the world,” he said. Despite the persistent challenges caused by colonialism and oppression, “Africa indeed is rising,” Mayor Kaunda emphasized. The mayor spoke of the strong recovery from the pandemic that the city of Durban, and South Africa as a whole, is experiencing. He noted that the number of international flights to Durban’s King Shaka International Airport has doubled since 2021. 


South Africa Minister of Tourism, Patricia de Lille, pointed out that as “we welcome delegates from across the world,” we are united by “our common humanity and bound together by our shared desire for prosperity.” Minister de Lille pointed to the more than 350 tourism products showcased from over 1,000 exhibitors, stressing that “competition should always be balanced by collaboration.” 


“Businesses and destinations should be encouraged to compete on quality and innovation,” Minister de Lille said. She said South Africa continued to show great strength as a travel destination, with more than 5 million visits to the country in 2022. She spoke of the need to “make it easier for visitors to move from country to country. “We must simplify e-visa process and reduce cost of visas to make Africa more attractive and bring in more international visitors.” In addition, Minister de Lille said African countries needed to work together to improve regional air access to the whole continent. 


Another priority for Africa, said Minister de Lille, should be prioritizing sustainable tourism, establishing a green tourism incentive program to reduce water and electricity usage. She said the greatest asset of Africa are its people and that the continent “must also ensure that efforts to promote African tourism are inclusive, and ensure that the benefits of tourism are distributed equitably.”


Challenges & Opportunities

In a media briefing, CNN anchor Richard Quest asked Minister de Lille, who previously was mayor of Cape Town, and before that, Western Cape Provincial Minister of Social Development, “Why take on tourism?” 


“I did it because it is another task for me to clean up. I’m like a broom. I saw it as another broom activity.” Minister de Lille dismissed the South African tourism board in April and appeared eager for a fresh start. Minister de Lille said that she felt enough plans for improvement were in place, and that it was time for implementation. 


Quest asked the minister about those in the tourism industry who have felt excluded in the past, and why they should trust that she would be different from her predecessors. “I’d say to them to give me a chance to prove myself. Together we’re going to be a winning nation. We’ve got a number of problems. I can’t do it alone.”


Global Media Face-Off

In the Global Media Face-Off, Quest and Minister de Lille explored the topic of collaboration across the African continent with the UNWTO’s Regional Director for Africa Elcia Grandcourt; CEO of the Board of Airline Representatives of Southern Africa, George Mothema and Tourism Business Council of South Africa Chairperson Blacky Komani. 


Quest asked about the possibility of a pan-Africa airline, noting that every attempt to create such an airline has so far failed. “We’re really working hard to open up the skies in South Africa,” said Mothema. “As slow as it is, we’re seeing what AFCAC is doing in trying to implement and open up the African skies. Obviously that has to be linked with infrastructure…It’s slow, painful, but at least we are beginning to see the implementation.”


Minister de Lille said, “I have instructed South Africa tourism that we need to have a national air strategy. Second, we need to get out to the world airlines and engage with them and prove to them that Africa is a growing market because they’re looking at growth before they fly here.”


Grandcourt pointed out the importance of keeping in mind that the countries in Africa are in widely varying stages of development in tourism. “We have to look at every country differently because every country is at different levels of development. You cannot compare a South Africa, for example, with another country that is still in its debut of the tourism development. But I think our role is more to continue to advocate and work with these countries to be able to develop their tourism sectors.”


The topic of what “healthy competition” between the different tourism markets in Africa means was also addressed. “The healthy competition side is you go onto the floor here and 22 countries are displaying all of their tourism products,” said Minister de Lille. In addition to each country capitalizing on its own unique strengths, Grandcourt said the countries should consider how they fit together as an overall continental destination. “We should look at as how are we complementing each other,” Grandcourt said, “because on the African continent we are endowed with everything.” 


Inclusivity in Tourism

The Tourism Grading Council of South Africa hosted a panel discussion on inclusivity. “From South Africa’s perspective, this is the first time we are taking constructive, tangible efforts to ensure we provide a destination that is fully inclusive of everyone,” said Debbie Damant, Head, Visitor Experience, South Africa. This includes a new inclusivity pledge from South African Tourism. That pledge includes equal accessibility and tourism opportunity for all races, ethnic groups, gender identities, sexual orientation and all levels of physical abilities, including those who may need extra help. 


Echoing the approach of Minister de Lille, Shama Nathoo, Founder, Universal Accessibility Hub, said that she felt the time was here to take concrete steps in becoming more inclusive. “What we need to do is stop looking at rewriting policies. It’s implementation, implementation and implementation,” she said. 


Thami Dish, Founder, Thami Dish Foundation, said his foundation’s mission is to “de-gender everything” and ensure there is equal service for everyone, including those of all sexual orientations and gender identifications. 


U.S. Tourism Market Strength in South Africa

South African Tourism’s North America team hosted a USA Market Access Workshop. Program Director Jerry Mpufane, Hub Head of South African Tourism North America kicked off the session by sharing that the USA is South Africa’s fastest growing international market. For 2022, the USA delivered a total of 262,183 arrivals into South Africa (220 percent over 2021) and 70 percent of the 2019 pre-pandemic levels placing them just behind the UK.


Neesha Pillay, South African Tourism’s Head of Insights, shared highlights from the organization’s recent study where she noted that the continued increase in direct airlift from both Delta Air Lines and United Airlines was a major contributor to the growth in arrivals and bookings from this market. She said that people no longer collect products, they gather experiences which they can share.


Shelby Johnson, VP, Partner of Travel and Mobility Strategy at UM Worldwide, joined the discussion by sharing that U.S. travelers who financially prioritize making long haul and expensive trips provide deep, untapped value for South African tourism because they are willing to pay more for brands and experiences that are truly unforgettable.Johnson referred to this group as “Adventurous Trendsetters” who view travel as so much more than a passion – rather seeing it as a fundamental facet of their self-identity that they are willing to splurge on. 


On Show Floor: South Africa & Beyond

Cradle of Humankind World Heritage Site, South Africa, Gauteng province: For those who enjoy outdoor recreation of all kinds in addition to fascinating archeology history, the Cradle of Humankind World Heritage Site, located a half-hour from Johannesburg (without traffic) should be on the list of things to do. In addition to more than 900 catalogued fossil hominin specimens that have been recovered from the site, the area offers natural resources that are perfect for hiking, horseback riding, biking and other activities. It also can be a scenic setting for events like weddings. Some people even choose to bicycle to this area from Johannesburg. 


Free State Province, South Africa: The Free State’s “big five” tourism areas include the Springbok route, Flamingo Route, Cheetah Route, Lion Route and Eagle Route. This area of South Africa includes LIONSROCK Big Cat Sanctuary, the Paul Roux Uniondale Game Farm, where visitors can see dinosaur footprints, among other points of interest, and Golden Gate Highlands National Park. 


Visitors also will find Ficksburg, the cherry capital of the country, and Clocolan, which is known for producing Highlands Essential Oils. At the other end of the Free State, in the “Springbok Route,” tourists will find Tiger Canyon Private Game Reserve. There also is an opportunity for a cultural experience in the Free State, as it is the home of the Bothobapelo tribal people. 


Zambian Ground Handlers, Zambia: This company, which works exclusively through travel agents and tour operators, markets itself as “the only independent ground handling company that specializes exclusively in Zambia.” ZGH advises on which safari camps to include in an itinerary and provides itemized costs for each itinerary it creates for clients. Destinations within Zambia include South Luangwa National Park, Lower Zambezi, Kafue National Park, Livingstone, Lusaka, among other areas. Itineraries can also be created for destinations in Malawi. 


Khanondo Safaris And Tours, Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe: Those eager to explore Victoria Falls and the surrounding areas could find this company to be what they are looking for. The company offers complimentary concierge services in addition to holiday booking assistance. Services include the creation of an activity itinerary, arrangement of accommodations and any excursions in and around Victoria Falls. In addition to Victoria Falls, tours by Khanondo can include game viewing, elephant rides and Zambezi cruises. 


Foxes Safari Camps, Tanzania: These camps include seven lodges. The locations of these lodges range from a private island to the banks of the Ruaha River to the wooded hillside, and includes the option for “luxury tented accommodations.” Itinerary options include a seven-day safari in southern Tanzania, a 10-day southern Tanzania “bush and beach” safari, a three-nights Nyerere/Selous fly-in safari from Zanzibar, three-nights Mikumi fly-in safari from Zanzibar, a tour of the plains of Mikumi and Ruaha, a tour of the wilderness of Ruaha and Katavi, a tour of the rivers of Nyerere (Selous) and Ruaha, a tour of Nyerere, Highlands and Ruaha and “The Complete Tanzania Safari, Highland and Island Experience.” 

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