Tourism’s trading floor

2015-04-26 15:00

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SA Tourism’s Thulani Nzima will attend his 24th Tourism Indaba in May. He tells Lloyd Gedye why indaba remains the backbone of the tourism industry

SA Tourism’s CEO, Thulani Nzima, is a veteran of the Tourism Indaba.

This year, Africa’s biggest tourism trade show, which will be held between May 9 and May 11, turns 35.

“Obviously, it is disappointing to talk about these xenophobic attacks that are happening in South Africa. I want to send a message to the rest of Africa that we are very much with you. We are disappointed with the xenophobia we are seeing

in our country. In fact, we are embarrassed,” says Nzima.

“We want to assure everyone that by the time we get to Indaba 2015, this thing will be gone.”

This will be Nzima’s 24th indaba.

“I have seen it from the outside and now from the inside,” he said this past week from his Sandton office.

Nzima is referring to his previous roles, before he was appointed head of SA Tourism in October 2011.

He has attended the indaba 13 times on behalf of SAA, four times on behalf of Avis and three times on behalf of the SA Travel Centre.

Nzima has seen it grow into one of the biggest global tourism trade shows in the world.

Indaba 2014 hosted more than 10?000 visitors, 2?000 tourism buyers from around the world and 1?600 exhibitors from 25 African countries.

In total, 19?399 meetings were facilitated between buyers and sellers at last year’s show – and more than 900 meetings were set up ahead of this year’s event.

“At the end of 20?000 meetings, how much business is done?” asks Nzima rhetorically. “That is the value of this trading floor.”

Nzima is clearly proud of what the Tourism Indaba has become.

“The indaba is up there with the best global tourism platforms in the world, and it now features very firmly in the planning of tourism buyers,” he said.

“The Tourism Indaba has clearly become a Pan-African trade show, providing a one-stop shop for the best of what Africa can offer.

“The indaba is a supermarket with all the goods and services on display, and you come with your trolley and buy what you need, from niche products to basic traditional products.”

Nzima was also emphatic that all indaba delegates and foreign nationals coming into South Africa would be safe, and that “South Africa does not take for granted the support we have enjoyed over the years from our brothers and sisters across the continent in contributing to the growth of tourism in our country.

“We have had tremendous success with the indaba because of the support of the rest of the African continent,” he said.

According to Nzima, SA Tourism has experimented with many new initiatives over the past few years, like an online directory and matchmaking system, which is used to set up meetings between buyers and sellers.

He also mentioned the TECHzone, which focuses on how technology can be harnessed in the travel industry, and the blog platform, where international travel bloggers are hosted in South Africa and write about their itinerary of tourism experiences in the country.

Nzima says initiatives like these have been hugely successful and will be streamlined this year to be more efficient.

“This year, we are consolidating our gains,” he said. “Over the past two years, we have revamped the indaba and now we want to stabilise it and only make very small changes.”

At the end of the day, Nzima says, the Tourism Indaba will be measured by its effective facilitation of tourism business.

“The success of trade shows today lies in selling meetings rather than selling space,” he said. “What is important when you attend the indaba is how many meetings you have had. Did you meet the kind of people who you wanted to meet?

“One way of making sure that happens is a robust diary system, a diary system that helps people register themselves, and find matching interests between buyers and sellers,” he says.

“It’s not just about the number of meetings, but the quality of meetings.”

Nzima also mentioned an initiative called speed marketing, which – much like speed dating – gets buyers and sellers around a table for a limited time.

“It allows buyers to see as many sellers as possible,” he says. “If you know you only have 20 minutes to pitch your product, you are not going to waffle, you will get to the point.”

Returning to the topic of the importance of technology in the tourism industry, Nzima says that social-media platforms are very important.

“Tomorrow’s traveller is using online platforms, so it is important to be on those platforms with tourists and speak the language they understand,” he said.

“SA Tourism has embraced technology big time. In fact, we will start the Tourism Indaba with a bloggers’ platform on Friday [May 8]. We have done this for the past two years and it has been very successful.”

This is the third in a series of five articles written by City Press and sponsored by SA Tourism

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