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1 August 2013

Good growth expected in SA’s business events sector

The business events sector was an important contributor to the 10.2% growth in international tourist arrivals to South Africa in 2012, and can look forward to further growth in 2013.

Nina Freysen-Pretorius with Tourism Minister Marthinus van Schalkwyk  Nina Freysen-Pretorius with Tourism Minister Marthinus van Schalkwyk 

Even in world regions characterised by low or no economic growth, we can still look forward to a period of moderate expansion in meetings, events and business travel. In those world regions with fast-expanding economies, such as ours, much greater growth can be expected. – Tourism Minister Marthinus van Schalkwyk

This was the message from Tourism Minister Marthinus van Schalkwyk during his keynote address at the Southern African Association for the Conference Industry (SAACI) congress held at the Boardwalk Convention Centre in Port Elizabeth from 28 to 30 July 2013.

'Even in world regions characterised by low or no economic growth, we can still look forward to a period of moderate expansion in meetings, events and business travel. Most indicators point to at least a modest increase in demand and prices in 2013, while in those world regions with fast-expanding economies, such as ours, much greater growth can be expected,' he said.

He said Africa is at the forefront of global growth, with seven of the world’s fastest-growing economies in Africa.

According to statistics from the International Congress and Convention Association (ICCA), 304 association meetings were held on the African continent in 2012, just 2.7% of 11 156 international meetings held globally in 2012. Of these, South Africa hosted 97 association meetings, followed by Kenya with 29, and Morocco with 23. South Africa is currently ranked 37th by the ICCA on its list of worldwide country rankings.

In her opening remarks, Nina Freysen-Pretorius, SAACI national chair, called on South Africa’s business events industry to improve the country’s ICCA worldwide ranking and its professionalism.

'It is incumbent upon all SAACI members to work towards attracting more international association conferences to our wonderful country. It is just as important that the services levels provided by all suppliers meet the delegate expectations, that we raise the bar in terms of our service delivery, and that South Africa remains a value-for-money destination,' she said.

She also called on business events service providers to become SAACI accredited, and for accommodation establishments and conference venues to become star graded through the Tourism Grading Council of South Africa.

'The importance of tourism grading is that you then have properties that are of comparable standard, so that clients know what product they’re going to get. This is vitally important for the growth of the industry. Accreditation is also vital for the industry to self-regulate and so we know what service providers can actually deliver,' she said.

Freysen-Pretorius also commented on the issue of subvention funding: ‘Gone are the days when subvention funding was considered a "nice to have". Today, clients' RFPs are asking what subvention support a country, city, venue, organisation or association will give, and this is having a direct impact on their decision-making.'

South Africa's National Convention Bureau (NCB) has so far secured 88 major bids for the next four years. Jointly, these bids will inject about R2.6-billion into the tourism economy and bring an estimated 200 000 delegates to the country. The biggest bid won thus far is the 21st International AIDS Conference to be held in Durban in 2016.

The NCB launched its new business events tourism campaign, 'Rise with Us', at SAACI 2013, which is aimed at attracting more business events to South Africa. According to Van Schalkwyk, 'Through the campaign, we are asking the world to "Rise with Us" because South Africa offers value for money, is economically and politically stable, has a proven track record, and is a safe and secure destination.'

Delegates at the conference also heard from Dirk Elzinga, MD at CIC Convention Industry Consultants, who spoke of new convention centres being built or being considered in other African countries – a new convention centre has been built in Lilongwe, Malawi, while one is being considered in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

Freysen-Pretorius said it is an opportunity for those countries to attract business, create jobs and uplift Africa. 'With Africa’s growing economies, international associations are now looking to the continent to grow their membership bases,' she said.

Alec Gilbert, CEO of Australia’s Adelaide Convention Centre, told delegates the fact that South Africa is a long-haul destination should not be seen as a barrier to hosting business events. He said Australia has been very successful in attracting international business events despite being a longer-haul destination than South Africa. He added that South Africa could take advantage of opportunities to attract business events from Europe, being on a similar time zone.

James Rees, executive director: conferences and events at ExCeL London, speaking about the London Olympics, highlighted the importance of having a team made up of both private- and public-sector stakeholders to attract major events.