‘Indaba in need of a makeover’

2012-05-14 00:00

“YOU’RE looking at the death of Tourism Indaba …” intoned a stand-holder, gesturing at the Durban Exhibition Centre on Saturday afternoon.

Almost everybody was wearing an exhibitor lanyard, not visitor or media, pointed out this KZN tourism entrepreneur. Signs of fewer exhibitors that he spotted, such as wider aisles between stands, were confirmed by a fall in exhibitors from 1 612 last year to 1 320.

“Indaba needs a makeover if it’s going to survive,” he said.

“Maybe it should alternate between Cape Town and Johannesburg to give it a shot in the arm.

“Trade shows of whatever kind always evolve.”

“These days it’s so much easier not to trudge round a travel show getting a sore back and feet that a lot of people will prefer doing their business quickly over the Internet,” said the entrepreneur.

These concerns re-echo from the small to the largest scale in South Africa’s tourism industry, as comments from Tourvest CEO Martin Wiest bore out.

His memories of Tourism Indaba go back to the early 1980s when it was held at the Riverside Holiday Inn in Vanderbijlpark, where he recalls a dozen or so exhibitors and a couple of dozen buyers.

“But as a trade travel show, it had tremendous value because we didn’t have e-mail, Skype, all the continuous communication we do now,” he stresses. “Now, with everyone cutting staff and travel, trying to do business as economically as possible, it could look as if interest in trade shows is tailing off.”

Berlin’s International Travel Bourse in March, along with SA’s Tourism Indaba and London’s World Trade Market in November, are major international trade shows punctuating Wiest’s annual diary. He’s seen everyone’s budgets crumbling under the same national and international economic pressures and competition from creative electronic networking and marketing options.

“Everywhere exhibitors are reducing stand space to cut costs and sending fewer representatives,” Wiest noted.

Wiest said on the positive side fewer numbers means more meaningful meetings, with longer face time and at least as much business written.

Even so, judged absolutely, Wiest admits that Tourvest would need to get lucky, writing business worth at least 10 times its Tourism Indaba budget of R1 million to break even.

“Another challenge is that the biggest tour operators keep pushing out their brochure deadlines so anything taken up at Tourism Indaba 2012 won’t make it into offerings until 2014. That’s quite a problem for smaller and medium-sized businesses, who must carry their attendance investment for two years, waiting to realise the potential revenue.”

All these trends challenge travel trade shows to reinvent themselves, Wiest believes.

MEC Mike Mabuyakhulu would be one of the first to come out fighting against such prophets of doom.

At the Tourism KZN CEO’s Breakfast, a traditional showcase event kick-starting Tourism Indaba first thing on Saturday, he told guests: “We are already looking forward to hosting our 23rd Tourism Indaba.”

Certainly, Indaba still draws crowds — nearly 3 500 visitors and media by yesterday midday — proving people still need and enjoy interacting with people.

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