The Meetings, Incentives, Conferences and Exhibitions (Mice) industry has enjoyed impressive growth in the past few years and there’s been efforts made by the government to take advantage of the growth by expanding the opportunities that the industry has to offer. There are about 800 000 people who travel to South Africa annually for business and the numbers seem to be increasing, which means we need to strengthen our capacity by ensuring we have adequate resources to cater for this market.
Leisure tourism is a successful industry in its own right, which is no surprise given our scenic country and superb weather, but it doesn’t compare to the success of business travel. “We’re seeing a raise in business related travels, with people from other African countries coming to do business here. The impact of having exhibitions centres, exhibition facilities or conference facilities is an important one to our economy, and the marketing that goes into that is different to leisure travel,” says Tourism Minister Derek Hanekom.
The tourism industry has, through its events and exhibitions, sustained about 47 000 jobs. According to the chief executive of South African Tourism Sisa Ntshona, South Africa is said to have secured event bids that are estimated to contribute more than R2.2-billion to the economy.
Putting a bid together to host a conference requires hard work, detailed planning and lots of networking. Meetings Africa is an important platform for buyers who are looking for people to host their conferences and service providers who are in turn looking for business.The Mice industry attracts people who are traveling into the country for business, conferences and exhibitions.
“When the business travellers are here, they are also still tourists and we do our best to make the most of their stay. We see the moment as a marketing opportunity because a lot of the events have an international profile. Many people who attend the conferences want to share their experiences online with their friends, so it allows us the opportunity to market South Africa to the rest of the world,” says Hanekom.
A lot of people who have come to attend Meetings Africa are people who wouldn’t ordinarily come to South Africa for leisure; they are here because of the conference. But, during their business visits, they are also going to go to restaurants, try out different places, buy gifts and spend their money one way or another. “Research has also shown that about a third of the people who come to South Africa for the first time because of a business trip have returned for a leisure trip, ” says Hanekom.
The role of the National Convention Bureau (NCB), which organised Meetings Africa with Synergy Event Group, is to help associations and groups of people put together bids to host conferences, and to ensure that South Africa has a presence at conferences and exhibitions abroad. Through the NCB, the government has provided support to people writing bids to host conferences, and are seeing more people proposing to host more conferences. The number of proposals has doubled, says Hanekom. But he says that progress will only be seen after a while because of the nature of bidding, which means most results will come out in a year or two, and the conference will only be hosted after about four years.
“All signs are that the industry is growing rapidly. One of the most reliable tests of this statement is the fact that new conference centres are constantly opening and that there is plenty of money being invested in the industry,” he adds.
Meetings Africa is the premium event, with plenty of networking opportunities, because of how it brings the buyers and hosts together, under one roof, to create opportunities for them to work together. Tourism is an employment-intensive sector. Any growth in tourism results in more jobs.
Buyers (who have been invited from 65 countries) are looking for service providers to host their events for them. There is a diary system to ensure that buyers and service providers meet. “This is how we ensure that everyone involved has a return on investment. You have 20 minutes to meet with one organisation and when that 20 minutes is up, you move on to the next as part of the diary allocation. Every buyer signs a contract to meet with 20 exhibitors for the duration of Meetings Africa, which comes down to 10 exhibitors a day,” says NCB chief convention bureau officer Amanda Kotze-Nhlapo. This creates serious opportunities for employment and other collaborations that could lead to even more employment.
The Mice industry is an important one, because it creates a think space for various industries to convene and have industry-altering conversations about the future. Every year, South Africa hosts 211 000 regional, national and international meetings, conferences and exhibitions. These platforms allow for people within very specific industries, with very focused interest opportunities, to meet up and think about possible collaborations that could lead to more employment opportunities.
“I’ve been very impressed with the quality and detail of meetings and pitches I’ve had with people. People here know their products very well and can speak at length with detail about their products; as a buyer this makes my life so much easier, because I know very well I am getting myself into, ” says Nalan Yesilyurt, a buyer from Turkey.
Meetings Africa creates the necessary opportunities for business to take place and seems to occupy an important moment in the development of our economy, both locally and overseas. “The exhibitors aren’t travel agents. They are change agents, because of the importance of the Mice and travel industries to transform our economy,” adds Kotze-Nhlapo.