In global terms, the African continent has a small slice of the tourism pie. But South African Tourism Minister Derek Hanekom takes a glass half-full approach (even if the glass isn’t quite there yet).
Speaking to delegates at the official opening of Africa’s largest travel industry show, INDABA 2018, Mr Hanekom recounted a sobering message he had just received from the Minster of Uganda.
“The bad news was … compared to the 1.2 billion people who travelled globally last year, only 62 million of them came to Africa. That represents just 5% of global travel,” he said.
But the Minister saw “there was good news in his bad news”.
“There is no continent with more potential to grow than the African continent,” he explained. “And so that is the good news.”
“You are here, buyers from 80 different countries in the world: you are in the right place. This is the place of growth; this is a place of opportunity.”
Amid the rhetoric, came more definitive news – that Africa’s Travel INDABA is in good shape.
Before ringing the bell with Deputy Tourism Minister Elizabeth Thabethe to declare the event open, Mr Hanekom spoke of INDABA’s 1,747 buyers “who are here to do business with no less than 1,120 exhibitors”. Among those participants are 27 buyers from Australia - which has one of the ten biggest delegations at the event - including Abercrombie & Kent, Bench Africa and Swagman Tours.
Donned in Madiba shirt, in honour of the centenary of Nelson Mandela’s birth, the minister claimed this year’s event would be “the most beautiful, the most fabulous and the greatest INDABA ever in the history of our country”.
But he also spoke of the vital role tourism plays in the Rainbow Nation’s overall economy.
“Every deal that you clinch creates jobs,” he said.
“People who are coming here to South Africa and to the African continent to enjoy what we have to offer are at the same time helping us address problems of poverty and unemployment. You are so important to us.”
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INDABA is being held in Durban for the 27th consecutive time.
The writer is a guest of South African Tourism and is staying at the Southern Sun Elangeni.