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In many ways, it was the biggest — and most significant — Travel Indaba ever. Themed “Africa’s Stories, Your Success” and held from May 8 to 10, more than 7,000 delegates (a 4 percent increase over last year) from 80 countries gathered at Inkosi Albert Luthuli International Convention Centre in Durban, South Africa.
When South African Minister of Tourism Derek Hanekom opened Travel Indaba with an official bell ringing, he made clear that the importance of the conference extends to the whole continent. A total of 23 countries were represented on the trade floor, and Hanekom told delegates that “this is not quite a stock exchange, but welcome to Africa’s ‘tourism stock exchange,’” adding that the ringing of the bell “symbolizes that our continent is open for tourism business.”
Nelson Mandela’s LegacyBorn on July 18, 1918 — 100 years ago — the spirit of Nelson Mandela was everywhere at this year’s conference. In celebration of the momentous milestone, South African Tourism brought 100 North American delegates to the conference —70 travel professionals and 30 members of the media, who also toured the country on specially designed itineraries, following in the footsteps of Madiba (as he is known, respectfully, by his Xhosa clan). “We are proud to mark this important milestone in history alongside our top travel and media partners,” said Bangu Masisi, president of South African Tourism’s America’s Hub. In partnership with the Nelson Mandela Foundation, installations around the convention center bore testament to the legacy of South Africa’s first black president, and a special mobile app, called Madiba’s Journey, was relaunched to feature 100 historical sites and influential landmarks from the statesman’s life. A spectacular evening performance showcased the many faces of Mandela: comrade, prisoner, statesman and leader. “It was a festival of our continent’s iconic songbook inspired by our collective beauty and victories, some of which Madiba inspired and contributed to,” said show producer James Ngcobo, who is also a renowned South African playwright and artistic director of the Market Theatre in Johannesburg.
South African TourismIn a wide-ranging press conference, three South African Tourism officials — Masisi; Sthembiso Dlamini, chief operations officer; and Dinky Malikane, regional general manager of the Americas — trumpeted tourism successes amidst some obvious challenges, including the ongoing water crisis in Cape Town. A record 62 million people visited South Africa last year, including 360,000 arrivals from the U.S. and Canada. Moving forward, Cyril Ramaphosa, the country’s new president, has targeted tourism for growth. Tourism is one solution to the country’s 26 percent unemployment rate, and Ramaphosa hopes to double the 700,000 people currently employed in tourism. Noting initiatives such as We Do Tourism, which encourages everyone in South Africa to engage with visitors and grow tourism here, the country is also actively addressing safety concerns and hiring additional security to keep an eye on critical tourist sites. Masisi added that the success of the film “Black Panther” has resulted in some unexpected, positive exposure. “People are realizing what Africa can be,” she said.
Conference HighlightsA festive atmosphere reigned across the conference halls, with impromptu performances breaking out everywhere. In various open-air spaces, local craftspeople vended their wares, and food stands distributed local specialties such as bunny chow, a delicious curry served inside a fresh-baked bun. This years’ Indaba attracted 200 first-time exhibitors, part of the total of 1,100 (a 5.7 percent increase over last year). Smaller, home-grown attractions — 135 in total — were showcased in South African Tourism’s Hidden Gems exhibit.At the conference opening, a new, direct British Airways flight from Heathrow Airport in London to Durban’s King Shaka International Airport was announced, opening a new gateway for tourism and business alike. Before ringing the bell, Minister Hanekom noted that “Africa’s share of the global tourism pie has not yet reached its potential.” Certainly this year’s conference led to a bigger slice for those in attendance.
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