Business travel industry generates billions

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People might cancel their holidays for crises such as the outbreak of the new coronavirus, but most business meetings and conferences still have to go ahead.

This was the message from Kwakye Donkor, chief executive of Africa Tourism Partners, at the first day of Meetings Africa, a three-day gathering organised by South Africa Tourism that draws delegates from across the continent to the Sandton Convention Centre.

“Whether there is a crisis anywhere in the world, whatever the issue is, any meetings, any conferences, they will still run,” he said. “A lot of times you hear there is a problem at the airport, fewer people are travelling. Anywhere in the world, whatever the issue is, any meetings, any conferences, they will still run. Now if you are on holiday, you can find a way to postpone, but when it’s business, it’s business.”

He told delegates, to some laughter: “We all know what’s happened around the world now with the coronavirus, but we’re still here now, aren’t we? We don’t know where each other have come from, we don’t know where we have been the last few week or two, but we are here because we still want business, so it’s either business or death; but we chose business.”

He said this was to illustrate that the business travel industry is a very important economy on its own, and that it extends beyond mere tourism.

Donkor said that in South Africa in 2015, the total contribution to the economy generated by the business travel industry was R75-billion. There were 110 000 exhibitors during that period, and R11.1-billion was spent directly. The total of foreign visitors was 4.9 million. “We don’t appreciate the contribution the industry makes,” he said, “and it’s something we should cherish.”

Donkor added that the whole of Africa could benefit from this. “If we work together as Africa, we will be able to double or triple or quadruple what South Africa has done.” He emphasised that the industry would need solid infrastructure and solid resources to drive it.

Economist and founding director of Nascence Advisory and Research, Xhanti Payi, said the business travel industry on the continent should think through its offering. “How do we make sure that we leverage the different opportunities for the continent?” he said. He also urged delegates to spot opportunities and take full advantage of them.

Payi said business travel is a lucrative industry as business travellers always spend more than those travelling with their own money, because such people are often on a budget. “It’s always easier to spend someone else’s money,” he quipped.

Doris Parsons, director and partner of SRC Agency, said Africa should take advantage of the change in narrative about the continent. Whereas it used to be that it was a continent of hardships, now the narrative is that Africa is rising. “This means that the continent has something to offer,” she said.

Frank Murangwa, director of destinations marketing at the Rwanda Convention Bureau, said Rwanda would soon be hosting the Commonwealth Heads of State and Government Summit, one of the biggest events in the world. “We would not have been doing this if Rwanda wasn’t capable or ready for it,” he said.

There was a strong focus on sustainability and green conferencing at Meetings Africa, with several speakers saying this had become a necessity rather than a mere luxury.

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