/ 3 March 2024

Business tourism on the up, says De Lille

Delille (1)
Minister Patricia de Lille. File photo

South Africa’s business tourism industry is showing positive signs of recovery after taking a heavy knock from Covid-19, with trade-show Meetings Africa having generated R488 million in the past year and on track to surpass that in 2024, Tourism Minister Patricia De Lille has said.

Meetings Africa is a platform where hotel groups and tourism associations from across the country and continent exhibit their products and services. The exhibitors are paired with buyers who are international visitors with an interest in and the capacity to host conferences or meetings in various fields.

Speaking at the opening of the trade show — themed Africa’s success built on quality connections — at the Sandton Convention Centre in Johannesburg — De Lille said this was “a crucial time” for South Africa’s business events sector after years of decline. 

“The partnerships formed with various countries, both on and off the African continent, have been instrumental in the successes of the past years.”

“I have no doubt that even here at Meetings Africa, it will be clear for all to see that the African continent is the best place to bring all meetings, events, expos and indeed incentive trips,” she added.

De Lille said this year, the 17th edition of the event featured 380 exhibiting companies from 21 African countries, representing a diverse array of products and experiences in the continent’s business events industry, highlighting the growth of the trade show.

She emphasised that on the business events front, over the past year, the South Africa National Conventions Bureau (SANCB), together with its partners, secured international and local hosting bids.

Reflecting on Meetings Africa 2023, De Lille said that it contributed R388 million to the country’s economy, creating and sustaining 753 jobs.

“South Africa successfully secured 40 bids for the 2022/23 financial year. This is excellent news for the economy as it will contribute R338 million between 2023 and 2025 and attract more than 16,000 international and regional delegates,” she said.

De Lille told the Mail & Guardian that the country was able to welcome 4.8 million international tourists from January to July 2023 because of the increase in collaboration with other countries and more effort in creating more airline routes.

“We put a lot of effort into engaging directly with airlines to fly into our country and with that you cannot just give them a plan with leisure tourism. It has to [include] investment opportunities in your country, so it’s a combination, because the airlines also depend on the business class seats they sell to make money,” De Lille said.

She used the launch of the route to Sao Paulo as an example of the relationship and collaboration with airlines to attract visitors to the country and also said that there is a memorandum of agreement with Brazil.

“We look at how we can grow the business side between Brazil and South Africa, we look at their MICE [Meetings, Incentives, Conferences and Exhibitions] strategy and what other interests [there are], like how the black history in Brazil resonates with the black history in South Africa. The business must compliment the leisure,” she said

She said that before the pandemic, the key ways of marketing the country as a preferred destination were safaris – as a purely leisure destination.

“We only used destination attractions like Kruger National Park, Table Mountain and others. And yes, those sites will always be there, but you need to diversify your offerings so that you can attract different groups of people, so we then started introducing in 2023 an offering that was never put to tourists outside,” she said.

Director of sales at the Radisson Hotel Group, Sandra Kneubuhler, told the M&G that business had been good after the pandemic, with Cape Town bouncing back well. 

“Cape Town is doing exceptionally well with high levels of international leisure and business tourism. Johannesburg is doing okay, it has not quite returned to pre-covid levels and mainly because of concerns about safety and security. Also, the instability of load-shedding makes it less desirable as a destination for regional conferences,” Kneubuhler said.

She added that a convention like Meetings Africa is important for the hotel group, given their extensive African footprint.  

“‘Meetings’ is one of our sources of business, an important one. This year we are hoping to secure more future leads and bookings,” she said.

She said that all hotels need both leisure and business tourism.

“Business tourism is particularly for a place like Johannesburg as not many people come to the city for a holiday. However, those very people coming to Johannesburg for business might expand their stay and go stay maybe two nights in Cape Town or on a safari,” she said.

The writer’s attendance at the trade show was sponsored by South African Tourism.