Competition is hotting up in the local tourism trade show business. Traditionally, Indaba has always been South Africa's not-to-miss tourism trade show, with little or no competition.
In recent years, Indaba has come under fire from industry regulars about its declining value and visitor numbers, exorbitant pricing (especially by the Durban ICC with regard to food and beverages), ridiculous entertainment and corkage policies, too many empty stands and irrelevant stands, and generally falling short as a tourism trade show when compared with major international events like WTM in London.
Indaba will again join forces with We Are Africa, and since 2014 it has been shortened to a three-day show, for the moment remaining in Durban. Although Indaba remains our flagship travel trade show, for now, it was noticeably quieter in 2014 compared with previous years.
Meanwhile, Cape Town played host to the inaugural Africa Travel Week in 2014, bringing together IBTM Africa (Incentives, Business Travel & Meetings), ILTM Africa (International Luxury Travel Market) and WTM Africa (World Travel Market) to an industry that was ready from something fresh and new.
Organised by Reed Travel Exhibitions, WTM Africa in particular was so successful that the show has added a third day for 2015, making it the same duration as Indaba, which is organised by Pure Grit Projects and Exhibitions. Seeing the success of the inaugural WTM Africa, many new exhibitors have decided to get on board for the 2015 show, including big names like Sun International and Tsogo Sun. The show also plans to bring in 250 hand-picked, hosted international buyers.
On the surface, most people would welcome the competition and diversity brought by Africa Travel Week. In fact many have called for exactly this scenario, in the wake of complaints over Indaba's decline. It brings healthy pressure on Indaba to up its game, and gives exhibitors as well as visitors a choice.
However, while there are likely to be some exceptions, it is unlikely that most buyers will attend two major travel trade shows, a month apart. International visitors in particular are unlikely to attend both events, so the question that arises is this: Is the competition between Indaba in Durban and Africa Travel Week in Cape Town helping or harming us? Does it not dilute visitor numbers to both shows?
In addition, while there may be some overlap, I think it is safe to assume that many exhibitors will end up choosing one or the other. Given the costs, few will opt to exhibit at both shows, especially smaller exhibitors with limited budgets.
For 2015, the cost to exhibit at WTM Africa starts at US$3 662 (about R43 000) for a nine-square-metre booth with shell scheme and furniture. At Indaba, the cost of a standard nine-square-metre booth in the ICC, with shell scheme and furniture comes to R26 874 (excluding any discounts you may qualify for). So Indaba appears to be cheaper from an exhibitor point of view.
However, Indaba still charges R604 entrance fee to local buyers and non-pre-registered international buyers, while registration and entrance to WTM Africa is free. Only pre-registered international buyers get free access to Indaba. A peculiar policy to charge local buyers for access, when visitor numbers remains one of the key perceptions of the value the show offers to exhibitors.
So at the moment we seem to have two incomplete travel trade events on our calendar, neither of them being seen as the one, comprehensive, not-to-miss trade show for the African travel industry. Is this a good thing for us, or does it dilute the value of both? Will either of them emerge to become the clear leader, to claim the top spot as South Africa's flagship B2B travel trade show that everyone attends every year? Or will they evolve into separate niche events, each attracting their own unique buyers and exhibitors?
I suspect if Indaba had not antagonised the industry with its declining value, unreasonable policies on drinks and entertainment, overpriced food and beverages, unnecessary entrance fee to local buyers and other organisational irritations over the last few years, WTM Africa and the other Africa Travel Week shows would have found it harder to get a foot in the door and succeed as well as they have. Industry's loyalty might have remained in favour of Indaba rather than a new, competing Africa Travel Week.
Now I can't make up my mind which one to support. Can you?