The first International Luxury Travel Market Africa (ILTM) Africa (www.iltm.net/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 wine lands 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 5 years, 7 of the top 10 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 travelers 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 traveler and meeting the expectations of those traveling 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 traveler. 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.