Attractions conference encourages industry collaboration and best practice

Travel to Africa is likely to grow by 157% by 2030, according to the World Travel and Tourism Council. And while South Africa is currently the most-visited country in sub-Saharan Africa, it is only the world’s 53rd most visited country. Imagine the potential for job creation and the economy if we were able to improve this rating substantially?

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Keynote speaker Massimiliano Freddi, vice-president of strategic development at Leolandia theme park in Italy. (Image: Gauteng Tourism Authority)

This and other trends in travel and tourism – including design aesthetics, visitor management, crisis communications, accessibility, dynamic pricing and even the importance of play for children – were topics discussed at the fifth annual Attractions Africa conference, being held this week at Gold Reef City in Gauteng. The conference brings together about 80 professionals in the visitor attractions industry.

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Attractions Africa 2018 MC Alex Granger. (Image: Gauteng Tourism Authority)

Opening the two-day conference on Wednesday, Nonnie Kubeka, head of the Gauteng Tourism Authority’s Gauteng Convention and Events Bureau, said: “To grow jobs, we need tourism. For tourism, we need attractions ... We need to think how we can partner with each other as attractions, to think smart, and to push our attractions in a way that will market our destination and in a way that will market Africa. As Gauteng Tourism, we commit ourselves to working with Attractions Africa, until this event grows into an expo!”

In one of the keynote presentations, tourism expert Dr Kiera Schoeman of Urban-Econ Development Economists, pointed out that tourism is growing worldwide. “The world is undergoing unprecedented changes, and travel is at the heart of it,” she said. “There were 25-million people travelling in 1950, one billion people travelling in 2012 and 1.24-billion in 2016. By 2030, there will be 1.8-billion travellers worldwide.”

Schoeman sketched three scenarios for the future of tourism in South Africa, based on a strong performance of the economy and government, an average performance, and a poor performance. In Scenario A, in which tourism and the broader economy prospers, South Africa could be one of the world’s top 20 tourism destinations for international travellers; could boast a skilled and qualified workforce and a growing domestic tourism market; and be a large creator of jobs. Scenarios B and C are less rosy, with C putting tourists off potentially owing to issues like crime and political and economic instability.

She also spoke about other trends affecting the tourism sector, including geopolitical instability around the world, the fact that modern travellers want to give back (hence the rise of activities like voluntourism), technological developments such as augmented reality, and the desire for authentic and memorable experiences. Other insights she shared included the growing trend globally of solo women travellers and the fact that by 2020, millennials will account for 50% of travellers globally. She asked delegates how their attractions would prepare adequately for these.

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Sibusiso Dlamini, head of operations at the City of Tshwane’s Resorts and Reserves department: "It's been great." (Image: Gauteng Tourism Authority)

Design expert Cathy O’Clery of Platform Creative Agency gave a thought-provoking talk on why South African attractions should be harnessing emerging African design aesthetics in the products that are sold at visitor attractions, rather than just selling bland and boring curios that have little to do with the actual attraction.

“It’s been a very eye-opening conference for me,” said O’Clery during a break. “The attractions industry is an extremely professional industry that’s not getting enough credit. Tourism and design in South Africa go hand-in-hand and I wish there were more ways we could overlap.”

Collette van Aswegen of the Table Mountain Aerial Cableway Company talked about the importance of using social media to communicate well during a crisis. She shared a case study of an accident in which two climbers died on the mountain in January 2018 to show how quickly tourists and the media will jump to social media to air their opinions – and how important it is to communicate clearly and quickly in a crisis.

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Keynote speaker Dr Kiera Schoeman. (Image: Gauteng Tourism Authority)

Delegates said they had thoroughly enjoyed the conference. “A lot of things are coming out that are close to the heart,” said Sibusiso Dlamini, head of operations at the City of Tshwane’s Resorts and Reserves department. “Universal access is one, the movement of tourists and littering is another. There are a few things that need collaborative thought, such as crime and pollution. It’s been great.”

Leesel van Louw, who works for Joburg City Parks and Zoo, said, “I think it’s very informative. There are a lot of innovative ideas we can take back to the zoo.”

Her colleague, Noeleen Mattera, added: “I liked the talk on accessibility and now understand the physical challenges people with disabilities face better. The conference has also given me some good ideas on increasing footfall in our parks.”

The conference garnered a lot of interest outside the conference room, too, with #Attractions18 trending on Twitter in South Africa throughout the day.

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Sabine Lehmann, chair and founder of Attractions Africa. (Image: Gauteng Tourism Authority)

Sabine Lehmann, chair and founder of Attractions Africa, said, “We are delighted to be back in Gauteng for a second year, particularly as there are so many attractions here that are joining us, including the Apartheid Museum, Johannesburg City Parks and Zoo, Sowetoo Tours, Gold Reef City, the City Sightseeing open-top bus in Joburg and others.”

She added, “We want the tourism community to understand the role attractions play and how vital and varied their role is in developing tourism. Attractions managers must deal with many elements such as visitor experience, food and beverage services, retail and maximizing income through various revenue streams. This conference supports this complex role.”

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Gold Reef City entertainers at the conference social event. (Image: Gauteng Tourism Authority)