Indaba has been dying a slow death. After years of declining numbers of buyers and exhibitors at Indaba, SA Tourism invited tenders for a strategic partner to come on board. With mounting complaints from the industry that Indaba's value, relevance and ROI is no longer what it used to be, this sounded promising. A strategic public-private partnership could blow new life into Africa's most important but ailing travel trade show.
So it came as a complete surprise to hear that, after receiving four proposals, including one from Thebe Reed Exhibitions suggesting a merger between WTM Africa and Indaba, SA Tourism has now decided not to appoint any strategic partner. One is left wondering what the point was of inviting tenders if there was no intention from the start to appoint any of them.
The conclusion that "the strategic partnership model is not the best option to elevate Indaba and Meetings Africa at the present" is certainly one that could have been reached before inviting tenders from potential strategic partners.
As some of the commenters have said in reaction to this news, this appears to be a missed opportunity for SA Tourism. The reason is simple. Having multiple shows dilutes the value for both buyers and exhibitors, as in most cases neither international buyers nor exhibitors can afford to attend more than one show, a month apart.
Indaba has been shrinking every year since 2010, and exhibitor numbers in 2016 were down to their lowest level since 1998. According to acting CEO, Sthembiso Dlamini, there were only 791 registered exhibitors shortly before the show commenced. That's less than half of the 2010 peak of 1820 exhibitors. Meanwhile, tourist spend > in South Africa has grown from about R15 billion (€877m) in 1998 to over R100 billion (€5.85bn) in 2015. So while the industry has grown exponentially, Indaba has been going in the opposite direction.
As I argued in a previous column, the main reasons for the shrinking numbers are the declining value of the show, and increased competition from other shows like WTM Africa.
The impact of WTM Africa has been significant. WTM is an established brand and although far more expensive than Indaba to exhibit at, the show has already attracted quality exhibitors and buyers since its launch in 2014. The problem is that WTM Africa and Indaba are fishing in the same pond and trying to position themselves as the leading travel trade show for Southern Africa. And currently, neither of the two shows offer one platform where international buyers can see all the products they want to see under one roof.
The reasoning or agenda behind the surprise decision not to appoint a strategic partner has not been made clear. SA Tourism has alluded to "great deliberation", but did this deliberation include industry stakeholders and tourism experts to ensure the decision is in the best interest of South Africa's tourism industry? Did SA Tourism or its political masters have concerns about losing control of what is perhaps seen as a state asset or money spinner? So far, there are more questions than answers.
Many of us had been looking forward to a partnership or merger between Indaba and WTM Africa, so we can once again wow the world with what we have to offer with one amazing trade show. We desperately need to resurrect Indaba. At the current rate of decline, the show could close its doors in three or four years' time and by default hand over the show's mandate and status as South Africa's flagship travel trade show to the competing shows in the private sector.