Business of tourism

Events are a major sector in the business tourism realm and all eyes are on South Africa in anticipation of the world’s biggest event that will hit our shores in less than three years, the 2010 Fifa World Cup.

Denise Kemp, chairperson of the Southern African Association for the Conference Industry, said 2010 will give the industry a unique opportunity to market itself to the world.

“Direct business will not necessarily flow during the tournament itself, but the spin-offs for business tourism afterwards are likely to be huge, depending, of course, on the level of success of the tournament.”

There are some major challenges that need to be considered in advance. Safety and security concerns are the single biggest barrier to tourism growth for the country and the industry has taken upon itself the task of improving these through the various associations within the sector. This was decided at a workshop hosted by the Tourism Business Council of South Africa and attended by 120 industry representatives in April this year.

Presentations demonstrated a high level of commitment to addressing this issue, including recommendations for more coordinated communications, a central tourist help line, and improving signage, lighting and security at key tourism destinations.

The input from the workshop was consolidated into a brief for government to incorporate into its strategies and plans.

Another major challenge is the skills shortage in the industry, from the technical to food and beverage, right through to senior management.

Industry and tertiary institutions should be communicating more closely. Tertiary institutions should be providing the sector with the required qualifications, specifically on the technical side of eventing, which has a huge skills shortage.

The problem is that the tourism industry does not want to take the time to train “inexperienced” graduates, so look to fill vacancies with experienced staff, which leads to poaching.

Another challenge is having sufficient “hotel rooms” available for 2010 versus an “oversupply” of hotel rooms after 2010. Sustainability is key. The solution may be to offer not just a hotel, but also conference facilities that can be used before and after 2010.

Conferencing is a huge market internationally and is becoming more so locally as the international market looks to South Africa as a meetings and conventions destination.

The Industry Trends and Market Share Report issued at EIBTM, a global meetings and incentive exhibition held in Barcelona, in November 2006 found that the United States, South Africa and Thailand are the favoured choices for long-haul by meeting planners. European cities continue to perform well as meetings destinations, with seven of the world’s 10 most popular venues — Vienna, Barcelona, Berlin, Paris, Amsterdam, Budapest and Stockholm. Research shows that Spain is the most popular destination, with France and Italy scoring highly. China and India are tipped as future market leaders, with China’s stated aim to have 120 world-class conference and exhibition centres by 2020 becoming a reality.

Irene Costa is the editor of Southern Africa Conference, Exhibition and Events Guide

Facts and figures

  • The International Congress and Convention Association currently ranks South Africa 31 in the global congress and convention rankings.
  • South Africa is the top meetings destination in Africa, followed by Egypt and Tunisia, and accounts for more than 63% of all conference activities in Africa, with the industry producing R21-billion a year.
  • Business travellers spend three times more than leisure travellers and up to 40% of business travellers return to a destination within five years.
  • Business tourists currently make up 5% of South Africa’s tourism market.

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