There were 15 small medium-sized enterprises at Meetings Africa with stands; they were able to exhibit their services and mingle with buyers. The development stand was sponsored by the national department of tourism and the National Convention Bureau (NCB), which have been responsible for the Meetings Africa tourism lekgotla. The department, along with the NCB, offers SMMEs access to platforms such as Meetings Africa and other similar exhibitions to create opportunities to get more business, and possibly investors. The NCB further offers training for these SMMEs; the training includes how to conduct business operations, how to represent your business at exhibitions and various other skills.
“I started out with three rooms and now I have 45 rooms that I hire out in Kokstad,” says Siphokazi Thiam, the recipient of 2016 Emerging Entrepreneur of the Year Award and 2017 National Tourism Award. This year is her second Meetings Africa; she says that she’s met quite a few potential clients from interacting with people at the conference. She also notes that scooping up awards along the way makes the journey smoother because of the publicity and renown, and that the awards do a lot for SMMEs.
In addition to her guesthouse, Thiam has recently established the Rural Tourism Developers of South Africa, an organisation that seeks to help and upskill businesses in the rural areas of KwaZulu-Natal and the Eastern Cape. The idea came about because she wanted to help other upcoming businesses in the same way she wishes she had been helped, especially those operating under limiting rural conditions. “As someone who started my business in rural areas, I wanted to start an initiative that would help these businesses overcome some of the challenges that I’ve had to face when I first started out,” she adds.
“If we want to offer unique experiences, we can’t do that without being inclusive and offering unique experiences that are offered by unique small businesses,” says NCB chief convention bureau officer Amanda Kotze-Nhlapo. “In addition to the training and giving them stands at Meetings Africa and other such platforms, we think it’s important that we also involve these businesses in our planning so that they can learn to play with the big fish,” she adds.
As a result, an SMME such as Zimasa Travel, which does tours, will take some of the buyers, visitors and organisers on post-Meetings-Africa tours around the country to make the most of their stay. They sell South Africa beyond the walls of the Sandton Convention Centre and their hotel rooms as the number one top destination for business and leisure.
The tourism industry has one of the lowest barriers to entry for people looking to join the field, and thus creates opportunities for more businesses to emerge. Many industries require a lot of capital for a business to become established. In the tourism industry, one can start out as a tour guide showing people around; from there an entrepreneur can start a small company that employs other people, notes Minister of Tourism Derek Hanekom.
The tourism department acknowledges that although there have been many businesses that have become successful without the government’s assistance, there are some systems in place to help these businesses rise, such as the Tourism Transformation Fund. This provides support in the forms of grants, equity and a loan that is capped at R5-million for black-owned businesses. This is an initiative in partnership with the National Empowerment Fund that is helping to transform the tourism industry.
“The people who are on this floor exhibiting are the brains of the world and the thought leaders ,because they are bringing business to our country across industries. And that’s why we need to include more SMMEs and black-owned businesses, to ensure that this process of rising is inclusive for everyone, ” says Kotze-Nhlapo. “It doesn’t matter what sector; all the sectors that are in line with the National Development Plan, those corporates are represented here, which means we have an opportunity to cut across industries in developing young and upcoming businesses.”
Travel blogger Katchie Nzama, who blogs at travelwithkatchie.com, notes that as a young person, Meetings Africa offers opportunities for plenty of collaborations with different businesses. Asked how she thinks South African SMMEs can improve their reach and grow, she says: “A lot of local businesses are offering wonderful services but aren’t doing enough work to ensure that their services are available for people who might be searching online. Learning Google and search optimisation and what it has to offer is a skill I think every SMME must acquire. You can learn a lot of things online for free. If more businesses learnt to optimise their websites, I think they’d go far in reaching more people, because digital is an essential part of our lives.”