Africa Travel Week

It was like a light striking a crystal with Anita Mendiratta

A committed Tourism & Development practitioner, author, diplomat and on-air presence, Anita leads ANITA MENDIRATTA & Associates, a highly respected, London UK based international consulting firm. With 20+ years of professional and living experience across almost all continents, Anita has an innate ability to feel the ‘heartbeat’ of economic, social, political and environmental dynamics of nations in times of both growth and crisis.

Most recently, Anita has taken on a critical global role as a trusted advisor of government and business leaders seeking to understand the impact of COVID-19, guiding them through short, medium and long-term decision-making to re-build the strength and sustainability from not just an economic perspective, but from a humanitarian perspective.

Tell us a little bit about your background and how you came to be in your role today

I have had the blessing of being able to travel since from a very young age as my extended family lived half a world away from Canada, where I was born and grew up.

While my professional foundations were with IBM (Canada), Unilever (Malawi, UK, South Africa) and The Coca-Cola Company (South Africa), my first exposure to tourism, from a professional perspective, was over two decades ago when I was working with an exceptional global marketing consulting firm – WPP’s Added Value Group.

As part of my portfolio, I had the pleasure of leading nation branding projects. That was my first exposure to the business of tourism and working with government and private sector stakeholder communities.

It was like a light striking a crystal – the array of learning in terms of tourism insights, scope of economic impact of the sector, and complexity of stakeholder dynamics was remarkable. Something clicked – my profession turned into my vocation.

Today, many years, countries, clients and air miles on, I am blessed to be leading my own global consulting firm – ANITA MENDIRATTA & ASSOCIATES – working closely with leaders in governments, businesses, and international organisations across the Tourism, Aviation and Development sectors. – WWW.ANITAMENDIRATTA.COM.

Tell us a little bit about your day-to-day

That is an interesting question, because of these interesting COVID-19 times.

Pre-COVID, day-to-day I was blessed to have some degree of predictability. While each and every day is slightly different as a result of a diverse portfolio of government and business sector clients across the world, each with different needs, mandates, leaders and time zones, the pressures and priorities were managed like an accordion: sometimes intense, other times less so.

Since Q1/2020, the intensity has elevated dramatically as every single client and country has faced very real, very raw challenges as a result of the pandemic, especially our travel & tourism sector.

This has put leaders into unique positions of both professional and personal challenge.

I am blessed that when facing crisis, making sense of it, and making plans to get through, clients have turned to my business for stability, security and support. This means day is on-duty, on-call, and grateful to be on their speed-dials.  All Clients’ needs and nuances are respected with strictest protocols when it comes to bespoke delivery and, critically, discretion. Everyone is precious.

On a personal note, how has travel changed your life?

While the experiential, educational and emotional ways that travel has changed my life are numerous and invaluable, as an over-arching answer I would say that travel has embedded in my mind and heart a deep sense of gratitude, humility and responsibility to make a positive, purposeful difference. A love of travel has become a labor of love – travel & tourism as a sector today the heart of not only my profession but my vocation.

What are the key challenges you see for the travel and tourism industry

COVID-19 has been paralysing for the global travel & tourism sector, as we all know too well.

As I often say, there is no ‘going back to normal’ as there is no ‘back’…and there certainly is no ‘normal’. Nor is there a ‘new normal’. It is about rebuilding for the next normal, and then the next, and then the next as:

  • COVID-19 management, vaccination roll-outs and protocol adjustments occur,
  • Aviation is then able to re-activate domestic, regional and international air travel to enable travel at scale, and
  • Traveller confidence levels are able to rebuild not only as regards health & security safety, but also trust in regulations not changing to risk travellers being grounded and/or quarantined.

We have all been wired to stay apart, stay home, and stay away from travel to be able to stay safe this past year.

Re-establishing a travel & tourism restart will be highly dependent on trust, in all aspects of the travel experience. As the Secretary General of the UNWTO, Zurab Pololikashvili, has stated repeatedly through these COVID-19 times: “TRUST is the new currency.”

What are the key opportunities you see for the travel and tourism industry?

There are numerous opportunities that have been unlocked as a result of this period of crisis and resulting grounding.

The closure of borders and skies by government at the peak of the pandemic and now the cautious easing of these closures to enable a cautious sector restart, has created unique opportunities such as leveraging the focus on domestic tourism as a critical means of lifting the baseline of year-round travel demand. This offers huge potential for dispersion beyond traditional tourist destinations and attractions.

In terms of regional tourism, we are seeing the re-build of the sector through especially aviation route development and then this can be seen as an international invitation emphasising lesser known / further afield destination offerings within familiar destinations, and others.

What is most important for opportunity identification, however, is leaders recognising that this time of global grounding has evolved not just the value of travel, but the values – the meaning of travel is not what it was pre-COVID. Travellers of the future must be honoured, invited and respected based on evolved travel aspirations and motivations.

What should travel and tourism professionals be doing to add value to travel and tourism on the African continent?

One of the greatest opportunities for African travel is respect, appreciation and investment into African travellers.

As indicated above, traveller desires, motivations and aspirations need to be looked at afresh. We are all travellers, and we have all been barred from travelling 2019-style for the past year.

Rebuilding travel & tourism means rebuilding the economic and social foundations for truly sustainable, meaningful, equitable and inclusive growth and development.

Connecting, coordinating and co-creating a stronger, smarter, more synergistic plan of action and innovation for Africa-wide tourism restart at both supply and demand levels. African travellers are Africa’s greatest opportunity.

What do you foresee travel and tourism will look like post COVID-19?

Post-COVID19 we will all be living in a world of re-defined value and values. No one in the world will come through this time unaffected.

COVID-19 has been traumatic for our shared world with the global community having suffered profoundly in terms of loss of lives and livelihoods. The future of travel & tourism will be, and already is, more sensitive to the impact we have on people and places we visit. This is a very good thing….

What is the importance of travel and tourism shows like Africa Travel Week, including World Travel Market Africa?

Mother Nature knows what she is doing. We were all moving too quickly and our sector growing too strongly, for us to stop and look thoughtfully, seriously and responsibly at issues such as overcrowding, inclusivity, sustainability, and more importantly, travel & tourism’s ability to directly support the UN SDGs.

And so, Mother Nature said ‘stop!’ We have been given this chance to recognise both the blessing and responsibility of our sector, each of us as leaders now being called on to make conscious choices, play active roles, in reshaping the future of our sector for the benefit of all – especially SMEs, women and youth. 

ATW and WTM Africa are critical in providing platforms for the honest conversations we need to have now – conversations we know will enable the thoughtful, accountable ideation we need to mobilise a more coordinated, committed and united travel & tourism future.

Africa Travel Week

Africa Travel Week (ATW) focuses on inbound and outbound markets for general leisure tourism, luxury travel, LGBTQ+ travel and the MICE/business travel sector as well as travel technology. Shows include: ILTM Africa, WTM Africa, EQUAL Africa, ibtm AFRICA, Travel Forward, Sports & Events Tourism Exchange and African Tourism Investment Summit.