Among the stands booked by 22 African national tourist boards, South Africa had the third largest after Egypt and Morocco, and the space was slightly larger than that of Kenya and Tanzania. A total of 39 interests made up the South African presence this time, although their number and nature tends to change each year – thus, Matsamo Cultural Park was absent.
Besides the tourist boards of Cape Town, Durban and Johannesburg, exhibitors ranged from Hilton to South African Airways and from Private Safaris to African Hotels & Adventures.
Yet the tourism board’s head, Thulani Nzima, was not available at WTM as last year. A spokesman claimed he was detained by urgent business back home, but it has emerged that he did not have a valid visa for Britain.
Tourism minister, Hanekom, nevertheless hailed the presence at the show out in London’s Docklands as a success. Explaining that R 100 million was earmarked for tourism, he said,
“With commitment from the industry, this should make a very significant contribution towards addressing challenges in the National Development Plan. Our message here is that travel to South Africa is fun”.
We met just after WTM’s Global Summit, in which he had explained how hosting the FIFA World Cup of 2010 had developed tourism in South Africa. The theme of the debate was Tourism and mega-events. The same evening, Minister Hanekom presented the Ubuntu awards to travel concerns that had made the best contribution to developing the industry.
Feedback from other exhibitors about the four-day event was also positive, because Britain remains the largest market, followed by America, Germany and China. South African Tourism’s spokeswoman, Monika Iuel, said,
“This is the first time that we are marketing in virtual reality with an audio-visual 4D experience. And we expect 2014 to close with British visitors up by 1½% to 500,000, although the previous total of ten million tourists may not be met due to the sagging European market.”
Phindile Mavundla from Tourism Buffalo City said, “I have not been to WTM before, so this was useful experience.” In the adjacent booth was Phetogo Kubheka of Indaba 2015 who explained, “I am taking registrations for Africa’s biggest travel show to be held in Durban during May.” This is one month after Reed Exhibitions, which now stages 500 travel fairs in 41 countries, puts on a rival event in Cape Town that some consider unnecessary.
Other parts of southern Africa exhibiting in London included Botswana, Mozambique, Zambia and Zimbabwe, but neither Angola nor Namibia were there. Bongani Dlamini, a spokesman for Swaziland tourism, told me,
“None of us find the economic situation in Europe helpful, but with versatility we hope that WTM will help us to sustain existing clientele. Swaziland also wants to promote our new international airport”.
Altogether, the African continent had as large a presence as the Near and Middle East, and a bigger one than Latin America where interest was apparently poor. An interesting feature of the event was Euromonitor’s annual statistics and survey. It suggested that African tourism ministries should copy Ghana’s “concerted efforts”, not least because it was now attracting multinational hotel chains. By contrast, Euromonitor stated, Madagascar had not quite regained its 2008 peak for arrivals, and depended too much on attracting foreign investment.
World Travel Market gets a total of about 4200 exhibitors from 186 countries, and it claims to get 50 000 visitors plus 2 800 journalists. It is rated second only to ITB (not a Reed fair) that takes place in Berlin over five days each March, although ExCel is regarded as an inconvenient venue and rather expensive.