With South Africa’s new president Cyril Ramaphosa having called for a doubling in tourism numbers back in February, South African Tourism’s chief executive Sisa Ntshona used this year’s Indaba, held in Durban from May 8-10, to sketch out his plans to meet that goal, including boosting air connectivity and frequency.
Ntshona said he was “very encouraged” by the announcement of British Airways’ thrice-weekly direct London-Durban service from October, but said more direct services were needed.
He also called for regional cooperation and integration in the country and among its neighbours to boost inbound tourism.
Doubling the numbers would need investment in infrastructure and training, as well as addressing gaps such as a lack of affordable three-star properties.
The president’s plans for tourism have galvanised the industry, and both Ntshona and South African minister of tourism Derek Hanekom were encouraged by his pledge to remove regulatory barriers, including the country’s stringent visa rules, including travel document requirements for minors aimed at preventing child trafficking.
Hanekom said he was confident the problem would be resolved. “All the signs are it will be addressed – and quite soon,” he said, suggesting a resolution by the end of June with a possible easing in visa requirements for countries such as India and China.
The recent Cape Town water shortage was a talking point for delegates. Ntshona said the “Day Zero” messaging had “spiralled out of control”, while Hanekom said: “The lesson from a tourism point of view is don’t scare people unnecessarily.”
Hanekom said the UK market had been “significantly impacted” and urged the UK trade to get the message out that Cape Town and South Africa were open for business. “There is no crisis,” he said. “There’s no possibility of people arriving in Cape Town and having no water.”
Hanekom remained hopeful the resilient UK market would bounce back quickly. He spoke of a “surge” in UK visitors for 2019. “They’ll come back in numbers in addition to everybody else next year. So watch this space in January and February,” he said.
With 2018 marking 100 years since the birth of Nelson Mandela, the life of the former president, freedom fighter and national hero was another key focus at Indaba. Products to mark the centenary include an app containing 100 activities centred on pivotal moments or locations in his life and struggle (nelsonmandela.org).
Understandably, BA’s new direct Heathrow-Durban service was big news on the Durban stand at Indaba.
“The UK is one of our key source markets to target – this is huge for Durban,” said Sibusiso Mngoma, a senior manager at Durban Tourism, who clearly felt the city’s star was rising. “People are now more aware of ‘Destination Durban’ – we’re on a roll,” he said, adding that current focuses include growing the city’s cruise terminal.
Other interesting flight routes discussed at the show included Mozambique Airlines’ Maputo-Cape Town service, launching in late 2018.
From a British standpoint, one of the most exciting regional stories involved Zimbabwe’s new post-Mugabe administration, which had come to this year’s show intent on rebuilding strong ties with the UK trade.
Zimbabwe Tourism Authority (ZTA) chief executive Karikoga Kaseke talked of “a new era” for Zimbabwe, adding: “The first area we want to look at is our former colonial masters, the British... We need to regain the 18 years we lost.”
Kaseke said his priorities included persuading British Airways to reinstate its direct London-Harare service amid talk of potential sweeteners being available, and revealed ZTA would sign a new three- year representation deal in the UK market by June end.
“Tourism is the biggest beneficiary of the recent changes taking place in Zimbabwe,” he said. “We expect tourism to grow phenomenally and rapidly.”
Having acknowledged the country was currently “under-hotelled”, Kaseke said the administration aimed to lure back foreign investors by removing controversial legislation put in place by the Mugabe regime, including the “indigenous rule” forcing external investors to sign over 51% of their business to a local party.