INDABA uniquely positioned to help SMMEs grow

Dr Salif Siddo, CEO of Tourism Enterprise Partnership

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The INDABA Travel Show has shown itself to be at the forefront of international tourism trends by embracing a regional approach.

Its challenge, however, is to accelerate ways in which small, medium and micro enterprises (SMMEs) can participate and benefit from this award-winning event on the international travel show calendar, says (TEP).

“The show is essentially our tourism window to the world. It features among the world's top tourism and travel exhibitions. The reason for its great reputation is that it serves the need of international buyers looking for African products,” says Siddo.

“INDABA offers a single platform they can come to, to be exposed to a variety of African products. It is however a matter of urgency for SMMEs to make use of this opportunity to spread the benefit of the sector.”

On top of international trends

“I think it has been a very well-received decision for INDABA to open up to exhibitors from the rest of the continent. The emerging international trend is that people want to discover a region, not just a single destination.

“More and more we see people going on combination trips and tours. They start in South Africa, but include visits to Lesotho, Swaziland or Namibia.

“So the more we are able to open the show up to other African countries that do have suitable destinations, the more we will see regional or even continental itineraries emerge. And this is a good thing.”

Siddo says this fits in squarely with the vision to build a broader African outlook in the tourism sector. South Africa is opening tourism offices across Africa to show what the country has to offer.

“But we also share lessons learnt with them. We are using tourism as a platform of economic development for the entire continent, not just us. This approach is cementing relationships between South Africa and other African countries.”

Boosting SMME participation

Siddo explains that INDABA offers a great opportunity for SMMEs to build market access.

“Tourism organisations, including TEP, must prepare more small businesses for participation in international shows like these. We should not make the mistake of saying they are not needed at this level. They do belong at INDABA, but we must ensure they are well prepared.

“The conversations that I have with other, small entities the world over show that we share the same developmental issues – SMMEs lack the skills to grow their businesses, to access finance, and to access markets so they can generate sales.”

He says participation at travel shows like INDABA means small businesses get to experience what it takes to play at the highest level.

“Besides that it is a great marketing opportunity, it gets them in touch with international buyers who can then consider including them in their brochures or itineraries.”

Building African SMME solutions

Siddo says the INDABA Travel Show offers a unique opportunity where the tourism sectors of African countries can rub shoulders; “where there is the opportunity to innovate and find solutions to problems that affect us all.”

African countries overwhelmingly look at the way South Africa handles SMME development as something to emulate.

“Not every African country has an organisation like TEP. We often end up in conversations on how to set up similar organisations offering the kind of support we do. We share lessons with them and often get invited to speak at forums in their countries.

“You must understand that life is not easy for SMMEs. Whether the Rand is weak or strong, it remains a challenge for SMMEs to rise to the top. This is why TEP exists. We are trying to facilitate their empowerment through developing skills in marketing, through mentorship and access to finance. Every now and then you see them rise and contend at the top.

“The issue that affects them most is the economic environment in their home country and internationally. So forget the weak Rand.

“Domestic tourism is basically determined by how well we are doing as an economy. We know the South African consumer – because tourism is after all a consumer product – is under a lot of pressure. People are prioritising how they spend their money. SMMEs are often the first to face the brunt of economic hardships.”

Trends

Siddo says the latest in tourism is that visitors are looking for experiences that will take them off the beaten track and into encounters with the people of a host country. These often come in the form of heritage and adventure tours.

“SMMEs are aware of these trends, the question is how sustainable, reliable and credible their products are; what kind of quality they offer.

“At TEP we work hard to ensure that their products conform to the highest possible standards.”

TEP created the SA Hidden Treasures label to build a platform for vetted enterprises – currently there are 164 products listed offering heritage tours, culture and cuisine – where they can be marketed locally and internationally.

“South Africa has always been a wildlife and beach destination. As much as this is still a viable itinerary, more and more visitors are looking for alternatives.

“The good thing about the new approach is that heritage areas are often rural, which means the benefits of tourism are starting to extend deeper and further away from urban areas.”

Use the INDABA platform – but be prepared

Siddo says he has no doubt that tourism numbers will continue to grow, as Africa remains a curiosity to international markets, especially emerging economies like China, India and Brazil.

“We need to ensure that we create an inclusive environment where established products as well as emerging ones can take tourists to discover the real South Africa. We should understand what both local and international tourists want.

“We also need to utilise the platform INDABA offers us. It is our showpiece where we can really present ourselves to the world as the quintessential destination. Small businesses need to do the legwork before the time and understand why they attend.”

Siddo says SMMEs should ensure that they pre-book meetings, and not try and secure one-on-one time with buyers only after arriving at INDABA.

“The most successful shows are those for which you come well prepared. You need to know how to use your time there; who you are meeting; where and what about. Carry a sense of professionalism.

“SMME stands are not always up to scratch because perhaps they do not have all their systems in place. SA Tourism is in a good position to ensure the public understands what the benefits of the show are. But in the end businesses small and large need to take the opportunity seriously so they can grow in stature.”

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