South Africa is on the right track with regards to growing its tourism sector, and it is showing across different industries – “your leisure, your people travelling for business, you have people organising conferences in SA. With this diversification, there are more opportunities for travellers to come to South Africa”. This according to Hauke Plambeck, managing director of Fairpros and spokesperson for ITB Berlin.

Tourism Update asked Plambeck about ITB Berlin’s view of SA tourism, its experience at the Indaba, and what plans lie ahead for the global ITB brand.

Q: What is your view of tourism in South Africa?

“South Africa has experienced a lot of growth, and tourism is a substantial contributor to GDP, to employment, and especially to employment for women – because women play a very important role in tourism. And while we’ve seen really good growth, the goals of South African tourism are very ambitious – they want to increase the inbound travel with the Five In Five plan: five million inbound tourists over the next five years. We are already two years into that plan, so this is a big number considering the number of tourists that actually reach Africa: it’s at 63m only, which is a drop in the ocean compared to world tourism. So I think there is still a lot of leeway.

Tourism is subject to trends, and tourism is also linked to economic growth of a country, and SA – sadly under the ‘good’ politics of Zuma – struggled to keep growth going. Unlike countries which are further north of SA. But I think the opportunities are big – and a lot of these lie in technology. More people using travel technology to cut the distance between their customers and their services, to really streamline the interaction. So we are seeing the middle-man cut out, the fees going down. So there are more funds reaching the actual product owners, or service providers.”

Q: What was your experience of Africa’s Travel Indaba?

It is a bit worrying that there are a few competing trade fairs now – with the entry of the World Trade Market (WTM) to Cape Town a few years back, they have cut into Indaba. There have been some mistakes made at this trade fair which led to a reduction in buyers. A trade fair works in a balance – you need a balance between the buyers and the supply side.

Indaba has changed over the years – some countries have reduced their stand sizes, but there are some new entrants. I think it’s still the most relevant trade fair for Africa as a whole, and despite the competition with various other events, Indaba is still the place to be. And to further strengthen this event, organisers should track those newcomers.

The showcase of the hidden gems is a perfect example. Of these 135 companies that are exhibiting, then were at ITB Berlin this year. It’s only a small share, but it would be difficult to showcase more because the national pavilion around 400sqm and you can’t put an unlimited number of companies in there. Of course you can have brochures where everybody is listed, but you have to select a few – and we selected ten of the 135 which were there, to give them additional exposure on an international scale – because ITB is the largest international trade fair in the world, and it’s the place to be for business and tourism.

Q: What trends are you seeing in the tourism market?

There’s a bit of buzz in the market, such as blockchain and travel technology: there are opportunities still waiting there, and solutions to go into the market from new companies. But there’s a lot of potential to increase trust, and to increase transactions.

Q: What’s next for ITB?

“We are always looking to develop the show, so a new segment we have brought up is ‘medical tourism’. This will be the second year running, and the uptake is really great because we see – especially in markets where the income level is very high (between US$35 000 and US$40 000) – that in these countries, medical treatments are becoming more and more expensive and you have to actually fork out your own money to afford certain surgeries, certain medicines, because it’s not covered by their insurance policy. And the costs are rising – really fast – and this opens up new business opportunities for countries that offer great service, and have the expertise, but at a much lower price level so people can actually combine travel to a country that they have maybe never been to before, with leisure. So actually it’s like taking money off the payment bill for healthcare, and putting part of that into travel. And you just combine it and package it – it’s really good because you can have eye surgery in Mauritius, for example, or go to Oman, Turkey – there are a lot of things, especially for teeth, eye surgery, and the classic beauty treatments. We are seeing a lot of Arabian people coming to Germany.

Secondly, there is a dedicated focus on travel technology in adventure. Travel technology has always been a big part of ITB, and the demand is actually so big that we can’t, at the moment, accommodate all the demand for space. We have enough companies to include a further 600sqm of demanded space in the travel technology sector, in addition to all the ones we have already. We just don’t have the hall capacity to do that. So they were on the waiting list and they remain there.

And technology related to travel is, of course, a new area of growth and it’s a new way to give our visitors reasons to visit – because you have to showcase new things to be able to keep and win new visitors to make participation worthwhile for the exhibitors.

Trade fairs are very efficient tools to use, as opposed to advertising campaigns.