220812: Durban Tourism CEO, Philip Sithole, with eThekwini deputy mayor Nomvuzo Shabalala, Nadine Heggie, international sales and marketing director at National Geographic; and eThekwini city manager Sbu Sithole.

Durban - Durban Tourism head, Philip Sithole, has launched a stinging attack on the organisers of the country’s first World Travel Market Africa trade show, accusing them of sabotaging the image of Durban and his organisation.

The international trade show took place in Cape Town last week.

On Tuesday, an outraged Sithole said Reed Exhibitions, in partnership with the City of Cape Town, had failed to deliver furniture to the Durban Tourism stand and also published incorrect contact details in the show’s visitor guide.

“We booked our stand well in advance and confirmed our furniture requirements when submitting our forms, but we arrived to find our stand had no furniture, our name on the board was incorrect and cables were protruding all over the stand,” he said.

“We were unable to put up our branding because even the brochure holders and tables that we ordered were not delivered. When we tried to contact the organiser her phone was switched off. It was very embarrassing as we were unable to represent Durban Tourism professionally.”

Said a visibly upset Sithole: “I strongly feel that we were sabotaged by the organisers in Cape Town due to the fact that far too many things went wrong for this to have been a simple case of human error or misunderstanding.

“The fact that we were the only exhibitors with all these issues raises even more suspicion and I am not going to accept it lightly.”

The event’s spokeswoman, Penny Fraser, rejected the allegations of sabotage and cast blame on Durban Tourism for the failures.

“We simply hire out space and had nothing to do with the furniture. That is something that exhibitors need to source directly from the show’s furniture suppliers,” she said.

“Durban Tourism officials only turned up on the day of opening and were not there a day before, which is the stand build-up day, so we were not aware of any of the problems they experienced until much later.

“As far as the claim of incorrect details being published in the guide book, we only include the information provided by exhibitors themselves so I assume someone in their office may have messed up and filled out the online form incorrectly.”

Asked about correspondence seen by the Daily News in which Fraser confirmed all furniture requirements booked by Durban Tourism, she said she only facilitated the request but that it was up to exhibitors to follow up directly with the furniture suppliers.

However, Sithole has hit back, rejecting the response.

Colour schemes

“Our contract was with Reed Exhibitions all along and not anyone else. We went as far as confirming colour schemes for the furniture so how can they now deny any responsibility?

“Our office never filled out any online forms and yet they included the name of a person who does not even work at Durban Tourism as our representative,” he said.

“Why would we spend over R56 000 on securing a stand and fail to provide the correct information and ensure that everything is in order before the opening?”

Sithole said Durban Tourism’s regional marketing manager had arrived a day before and “discovered all these blunders”.

“We represent Durban Tourism all over the world and know what processes to follow. Despite all these mishaps we continued to be at the stand and held more than 32 planned meetings with international buyers because we remained committed to selling our destination to the world,” he said.

“It is unfortunate that we were deliberately made to look unprofessional and foolish in Cape Town.

“Stakeholders are angered and rightly so because of the embarrassment and negative perceptions caused by our stand through no fault of our organisation, which is unacceptable.”

The World Travel Show is seen as a strong alternative to Durban’s Indaba, which starts this Saturday and runs from May 10 to 12. - Daily News