The first ILTM Africa opened today at the Mount Nelson Hotel in Cape Town with an Opening Forum that focused on the evolution and issues facing the luxury travel market for Sub-Saharan Africa.
The Forum welcomed all 70 African luxury travel experiences participating at ILTM Africa, as well as the international Hosted Buyers, each specialising in creating and planning luxury travel inbound to Africa, plus a delegation of selected international and regional media.
Minister Alan Winde, Ministry of Finance, Economic Development and Tourism, Western Cape Government opened the Forum by thanking Reed Travel Exhibitions for bringing ILTM Africa as a “vital new important platform for this region to showcase themselves to the luxury travel buyers of the world”. Winde said that there was a wealth of diverse tourist attractions from the winelands to the V&A waterfront, now one of South Africa’s most visited destinations, to ancient art on rock forms and its amazing natural infrastructure. He also informed the audience that there is to be a new luxury cruise liner terminal.
An economic and political overview was presented by Clem Sunter, formerly Chairman of the Anglo American Chairman’s Fund - the premier corporate social responsibility fund in South Africa. He talked about how Africa is no longer seen as the “hopeless continent” but how it is now regarded as “a continent of immense commercial opportunity to which US and European companies are turning.” According to the World Bank, in the next five years, 7 of the top ten fastest growing economies are African. Mr Sunter talked about how they have seen spectacular growth from tourists in the Far East and how he views the resort of Sun City as “Macau with Lions”.
The issues facing the luxury travel industry in Africa was the subject for a panel discussion that included Tony Romer Lee, CEO The Collection by Liz McGraw; Adrian Gardiner, Founder & CEO Mantis Group and Beks Ndlovu, CEO African Bush Camps. The debate addressed the change in the guest demographic from the early days of British travellers to the evolving impact of diversity and global reach that have also meant a change in the tourist’s expectations. The panel though, believed “We have the depth of product to offer everyone and meet all expectations on this continent”.
Tony Romer Lee said: “This continent has a story to tell; guests will always remember the connection they make with its people through the places they stay. It’s unique. People come for so many reasons, they want to see it all, but there is so much more than just the obvious attractions.”
Adrian Gardiner agreed that what makes Africa “hot” is “experiences, experiences, experiences”. He said that Africa is “an amazing-value destination” and that experiential travel is booming to such a degree that Mantis has launched Mantis eXtreme for those who want to paraglide off Cape Town’s Table Mountain, or go shark diving, whale watching in the Western Cape or diving the sardine run in Eastern Cape. In Zimbabwe, the company offers walking with rhinos, and white-water river rafting. Looking ahead, he predicts that Zimbabwe will become the jewel of southern Africa’s tourism industry.
The debate broadened to talk about the diverse needs of the international traveller and meeting the expectations of those travelling from places such as China.
David Chai, Director of Product Development – Travel, Tidesquare spoke from the audience about what his clients were looking for. “I am here representing the affluent Asian market traveller. Those who have already done Paris, London, and Rome over and over; they don’t want more of the same. We (as buyers) are here at ILTM Africa to look for luxury experiences at a new level: our clients can communicate well in English and are prepared to pay for whatever they want. If they come to Africa they expect the exotic, they seek an experience that money can’t buy in any other country, whether a bucket shower or at the other end of the scale - Singita. They will be happy to try your food, but perhaps surprise them with white congee and you will have exceeded their expectations.”
The ILTM Africa Opening Forum closed with a one-to-one interview about the evolution of the luxury travel industry in Africa with Colin Bell, one of the pioneers of sustainable travel in the continent and founder of Wilderness Safaris. He talked about how luxury tourism can be a solution to supporting conservation projects if tourism companies and luxury hotels integrate with local communities. He also argued that “Perhaps luxury travel should embrace smaller numbers of people at higher prices, but supreme levels of service?”
Alison Gilmore ILTM Exhibition Director said “This was a great start to our first ILTM Africa and we can really build on this now for 2014. We were delighted by the attendance, but most importantly by the quality of speakers so passionate about this continent’s diversity and so eloquent on why Africa is the biggest luxury travel opportunity of the immediate future. We have 2 days of one-to-one business appointments to follow where our 70 luxury travel experiences from across the African continent will meet with hosted buyers from all over the world, each looking to define the future of this continent’s luxury travel through their client’s eyes”.ILTM Africa continues at the Mount Nelson Hotel, Cape Town and closing at 6pm on Tuesday 9 April.