Dorine Reinstein
Dorine Reinstein

International travel agents will once again be in the limelight in South Africa this year with no less than five trade shows welcoming overseas buyers to the country. However, industry players in South Africa fear an excess of trade shows could just dilute the focus of these events.

Cape Town will host Africa Travel Week from April 15 to 17 this year. The event, organized by Reed Travel Exhibitions and Thebe Reed Exhibitions, comprises three co-located shows: World Travel Market Africa (WTM), ILTM Africa and IBTM Africa, encompassing Africa's inbound and outbound markets for general leisure tourism, luxury travel and the meetings/business travel sector, respectively. WTM Africa claims it has already exceeded expectations for 2015 with a phenomenal growth in exhibitor attendance and has therefore decided to extend the event from two to three days.Organizers saidWTM Africa’s inaugural event in 2014 saw approximately 4,000 industry professionals negotiate deals worth $314 million. And ILTM Africa expects 2015 to be bigger and better than 2014. Alison Gilmore, senior exhibition director, ILTM Portfolio comments: “Over 80% of the total number of attending buyers are new to ILTM Africa, and over 50% of these are new to the ILTM portfolio. This means that ILTM offers an extraordinary opportunity to meet serious Africa specialist buyers that have never yet attended a previous ILTM event.”

Not even a month after that triple event, Cape Town will welcome We Are Africafrom May 4 to 7.  This travel trade exhibition will host a selection of African and Indian Ocean travel brands from Cairo to Cape Town and Dakar to Port Louis, showcasing their products and services to some of the world's top travel trade buyers directly in charge of sourcing products from Africa. 

We Are Africahas once again joined forces with INDABA, which will be held in Durban from May 9 to 11, under the banner of “Two Shows, One Africa.” The partnership was initiated in 2014 to ensure that select international buyers would be exposed to exhibitors at both these must-attend African travel events, guaranteeing them access to ‘the very best Africa has to offer’ over the course of one week.

Craig Beal,owner of tour operator Travel Beyond, says the competition between the different shows can be good, but he also points out time is a valuable commodity and Travel Beyond has been strategic when it comes to choosing which trade shows to attend in Africa. This year, they will have just one representative (out of ten safari consultants) at We Are Africa and no representatives at any other trade show in Africa.

According to Beal, most of the suppliers come to Travel Beyond’s offices in the USA throughout the year. “This makes trade shows in Africa less important than when we were a small company 10 years ago.  Travel Beyond is also a member of the Signature Travel Network, and we can see suppliers at that meeting in Las Vegas each year,” he says.

Jim Holden, president of African Travel, doubts several back-to-back trade shows are sustainable. He says: “For a buyer to attend all of them means being out of the office too long. For an exhibitor to attend all shows is too expensive. The ideal is a better managed and presented Indaba bringing the best of the several shows together under one umbrella.”

Ronald S. Mracky,managing director at Africa Consult Group, says he believes the number of South African shows is slowly getting out of hand. “Each of the South Africa shows presents management with a quandary: which to attend [and invest money out of the marketing or research budgets]?” he said.

According to Mracky, tourism companies want the various trade shows to "tell them something that is new" and “tell them something they can use.” He adds: “Unfortunately, the current shows do not respect the actual frontline business needs of the operators and those in the very competitive business of travel to and within Africa. Because of that, the selection is arbitrary, based more on where the company wants to spend the two or three days.”

Mracky further explains there is a definite need for Africa to have one all-encompassing African Union show, similar to what ITB Berlin offers for European destinations. He says: “Such a show would become the important show that almost every marketing and product development executive — Internet, or not — will want to be part of and rationalize that they must attend to know what is forthcoming in Africa to sell to the travel world.”

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