As the Captain asked of his first officer ‘Do you see any ships on the horizon?’ to which he replied:   ‘No Sir – I see no ships – only hardships’.

Although not quite hardships – the industry’s loyalty to this annual government-financed exhibition with a history of some 30 plus years – is starting to take recognisable strain.

A crowded room of mainly SATSA members were mulling over another Indaba year with a similar scenario during a SAT briefing on Indaba 2014 at the Sandton Convention Centre.

Entitled ‘Briefing the Tourism Industry on the Changes to the Indaba’ by Jan Hutton, Chief Marketing Officer at SA Tourism – it was clear the myriad of real concerns, from an exhibitor’s survey undertaken at this year’s Indaba did not warrant a mention during the over hour presentation. The MICE Academy can only interpret this to mean that these surveys are not taken seriously or the silo syndrome persists in which marketing has little bearing on exhibitor’s practical on-the-floor concerns.

Putting any form of competition aside which looms on the 2014 horizon – the SATSA delegation were outspoken in relation to:

  • Unreadable name badges;
  • High noise levels inhibiting sales conversations;
  • Untrained SMMEs;
  • Roving and coffee bar ‘exhibitors;
  • Buyers whisked-away during show days by SAT;
  • Unmanned stands and early stand departures;

to name but a few of the ongoing and tiresome repeat complaints.

Effective marketing was explained as creating a positive awareness and is not necessarily measurable against actual ‘buy-in’.    Also the conceptual aspects appeared to have limited links within the practical application on exhibition days.

Conceptual changes included more one-on-one opportunities with casual, relaxed seating for negotiations to take place between exhibitor and buyer. A Buyer Connect concept in which buyers sat behind counters while exhibitors queued to have one-on-one discussions was regarded as intriguing.  Intricate planning would be required if this idea was to fly within the southern African region.

The Academy are not in the tourism industry yet the general ‘take’ was 2014 may be the last chance for many while others had already decided to jump ship

Regrettably the presentation was marred by poor visual text, unfortunate lighting and limited sound.  Presenters have one chance to convince their potential market, failure to do so could mean for every one negative impact, 5 more – in the coming months – may be adversely influenced.  The strength of ‘word-of-mouth’ can be very powerful indeed.

One question from the floor towards the end of the session – summed-up what many were thinking ‘There are several shows in 2014 – who do you think will still be around in say three years time?’  A pertinent point to ponder going forward.