Despite a noticeably quieter show, most exhibitors attending this year’s Indaba reported being busy at the show. Many exhibitors also emphasised the high quality of the buyers in attendance, while a few cracked jokes about stealing the business of competitors that were not at the show.

Atta CEO, Nigel Vere Nicoll, said every one of his members attending the show reported that it had been really good and that the quality of the buyers was good. “Every single person said it was so much better than last year.” He added that Indaba had reached its rock bottom but was on the up again. “We are all delighted.” He added that the food trucks at the show improved the catering offering, which had long been a gripe of industry.

Grootbos owner, Michael Lutzeyer, also had a great show, saying the luxury shows in Cape Town, We Are Africa and ILTM Africa, were “fantastic”, and that this year’s Indaba had been excellent for new business. He said the show offered an opportunity to get new business. He added that he was busy the whole time and had met with buyers that didn’t sell five-star product exclusively and still signed business for his five-star product.

“The show has been surprisingly better than expected,” said Janine Southwood, Head of the Luxury Collection by Thompsons Africa. She said that while some high-end product had pulled out, this year’s show still had strong brands across the board and there were also new buyers.

There has been a drop-off in exhibitors, including big players in the industry, and there is still lots of work to be done to meet the expectations of the trade. TBCSA CEO, Mmatsatsi Ramawela, said Indaba needed new life and SA Tourism should consult a creative team to bring in new ideas for the show. Still, she said, Indaba should also be viewed in the context of many international trade shows also shrinking in size.

Richard de la Rey, COO of Rare Earth Retreats, pointed out that much of the space in the ICC had not been taken up by paying exhibitors showcasing tourism product. Instead, prime spaces were used to sell crafts and for additional meeting spaces. He also noted the large stands occupied by provinces, but with people sitting on their cellphones. “Everybody can see that Indaba isn’t what it used to be.”

David Frost said many of the issues that had been raised over the years were still relevant today. Like many others, he said the show should focus on showcasing tourism product to buyers, and municipalities shouldn't exhibit. "We need a platform for municipalities and business to engage, but it's not Indaba." Frost also emphasised the “dire need” to attract iconic product back to the show to make it attractive to the key buyers, adding that unless the show was timed with the contracting season, the product and buyers that had left the show wouldn’t come back.

"I think we should move away from the fixation on new buyers and consider focusing on bringing key existing buyers that currently sell South Africa to Indaba.” He said the key challenge faced by industry, given the high demand in Cape Town and lodges in Kruger park area, was to drive geographical spread and seasonality. “This could be effectively achieved by working with the existing operators and using Indaba to showcase product from less-trodden areas, including emerging businesses, such as the Hidden Gems.”

Another gripe was the online diary system. While some exhibitors had success with the diary, many complained that meeting requests were ignored and the matchmaking wasn’t great.

Both Southwood and De la Rey emphasised the need to bring back exciting networking events that brought together all the show’s attendees and also brought back the “vibe” to Indaba. Southwood added that the industry needed to “jump on board” and help revitalise the show.

Tourism Update and SA Tourism will host a webinar with SA Tourism CEO, Sisa Ntshona, Chief Marketing Officer, Margie Whitehouse and Chief Convention Bureau Officer of the South Africa National Conventions Bureau Amanda Kotze-Nhlapo, giving trade the opportunity to help shape the future of the show.

The webinar takes place at 13h00 on Thursday, May 25. To register to participate in the webinar, click here.