INDABA, touring SA and the tourism conversations for Africa

Until two days ago, when we returned to Ghana, we had a great time at this year’s INDABA and the post INDABA hosting by South African Tourism (SAT). I was on the team with blogger Ameyaw Debrah, President of Tour Operators Union of Ghana (TOUGHA), Mrs. Nancy Sam Quartey and Treasurer of TOUGHA Mrs. Alisa Osei Asamoah.

Last year was my first “taste” of INDABA and the experience was so great I looked forward to it again. This year we have the good fortune of being invited by SAT to be part of one of the biggest travel business events on the continent and the world.

The three-day event took place between Tuesday and Thursday last week at the famous Chief Albert Lithuli International Convention Centre or Durban International Conference Centre in Durban South Africa.

It brought together thousands of operators in the travel and tourism value chain from South Africa, 21 other African countries and from around the world. It was also a gathering of the world’s media in travel and tourism reporting and blogging.

President Jacob Zuma of South Africa who formally opened the 2017 INDABA welcomed the delegates to the “vibrant city of Durban, to the spectacular scenery and warm beaches of KwaZulu Natal and to the cultural melting pot of South Africa.”

He also called on Africans to work together to open up the continent for tourism. “It is encouraging to see more travelers discovering our continent,” said President Zuma. “However, if we work together, then we can open up our beautiful continent for further growth in tourism. We are ready to work in partnership with our sister countries to make Africa a destination of choice for the world,” President Zuma stressed. 

One of the major conversations around INDABA for the three days that it lasted and after that period was about Africans cooperating to make tourism the new gold for the continent. To this effect, President Zuma paid a glowing tribute to Uganda, describing it as one of the most beautiful countries in the world and that he was certain it was the last place God created.

Indeed as a testament to their willingness to play ball with the entire continent and to open up for the tourism dreams of the entire continent to be realized, South Africa has decided to change the moniker of its biggest state sponsored travel event from INDABA to “Africa’s Travel INDABA”.

Following from a question I asked at the last media briefing at INDABA about what efforts South Africa was making to bring on other continents in this quest to make the continent one big place for international tourists, Sisa Ntshona, CEO of South African Tourism said their doors were opened and hoped that the other countries would take the opportunity to improve the tourist arrival figures for the continent.

Another major conversation at INDABA was the one expressed by most speakers at the various fora that countries cannot and should not rely so much on natural resources especially as the prices of those commodities are determined elsewhere. The new thinking among governments and national leaders is that tourism is the new way to go.

The Tourism Minister of South Africa, Tokozile Xasa mentioned at one of the interactions how tourism has for a long time been orphaned in the scheme of things at the national levels and how including it in the national economic conversations going forward would bring fortunes to the many people who work in the sector.

For example, she pointed out the importance that tourism is to the South African economy and how improving the opportunities available in the sector would further help the economy to grow. “Tourism contributes 9% to GDP and creates 700,000 direct jobs,” she noted. 

Minister Xasa also used the failed attempt by the Tourism Minister of Zimbabwe, Walter Mzembi to become the Secretary General of the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) as an example of how Africans, without working in unity, can hurt themselves.

Besides opening up to the rest of Africa and inviting them to work together to make torusim happen on the continent, South Africa also took advantage of INDABA 2017 ro launch a new campaign dubbed “I Do Tourism”.

The campaign headed by South African Tourism would, according to Mr. Ntshona, raise awareness among the citizens that they should all get involved in promoting tourism, by knowing that whatever they do would contribute directly to the sector. 

INDABA lasted for three days and after all the official talk and business meetings and listening to statisitcs about the travel trade and more, we had the rest of the remaining five days to tour and experience some of the best tourism attractions South Africa has to offer.

We spent most of the time in KwaZulu Natal Province and especially in its capital, Durban. Experiences include playing with Dolphins, riding on the rickshaw and Segway at uShaka Marine World, dining on the sea at the Durban harbour and experiencing Zulu culture at the PheZulu cultural village on the outskirts of Durban.

Along with a team of tourist operators and media from Nigeria, we also had a wonderful time at the Wild Coast Sun Resort along the borders of the Kwazulu Natal Province and the Eastern Cape Province. Quad biking, Segway rising, speed boating in the Port Edward enclave, among others.

It was a great time in South Africa for the team and a great kudos to South African Tourism for a lot of people in the travel trade from all over the continent and beyond to meet and discuss issues that are pertinent to the industry and have the possibility of opening the continent up for better cooperation in the sector!