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12 March 2013

Team SA – taking business events to the next level

It’s been a year since the South African National Convention Bureau started operations. During that time much has been achieved.

Amanda Kotze-Nhlapo, executive manager of the South African National Convention Bureau Amanda Kotze-Nhlapo, executive manager of the South African National Convention Bureau

We now have a coordinating mechanism to ensure that between ourselves we decide who has the best chance of hosting a particular event in South Africa, and we’re all getting behind that decision. – Amanda Kotze-Nhlapo, SANCB executive manager.

The South African National Convention Bureau (SANCB) has been putting in place key elements necessary to grow the business events industry in South Africa since its launch about a year ago.

One of the first things Amanda Kotze-Nhlapo did with her team after coming into office as the SANCB executive manager was to gather together all public- and private-sector business events stakeholders in South Africa. Together they took the initiative to create Team South Africa, a loose grouping of business events industry stakeholders working together to grow the industry.

Team SA then took this further at the Southern African Association for the Conference Industry Congress in July last year when it launched the ‘Win as One’ campaign – it called on business events stakeholders in South Africa to sign a pledge of their commitment to partnering together to grow the business events industry and position the country as a preferred business events destination.

The SANCB has in the past year also reached out to provincial and city convention bureaus, provincial tourism authorities, business events associations in South Africa and private-sector stakeholders to bring them into the fold.

Gary Grimmer, CEO of GainingEdge – a specialist international business events industry consultancy firm that has for the past year been assisting the SANCB to develop a national business events strategy – says this kind of collaboration is vitally important for a country like South Africa, which is competing in an intensely competitive environment and does not have the resources that some other countries have.

‘I think Team SA is a brilliant concept. The team is figuring out the best ways to get things done, and is working together collectively. For South Africa to be successful in growing its business events industry, Team SA really has to be collaborative and efficient in its marketing approach, and eliminate any inefficiencies in the system,’ he says.

To this end, Team SA has formed a coordinating council that comprises provincial and city convention bureaus, and the business events units of tourism authorities across South Africa.

‘We now have a coordinating mechanism to ensure that between ourselves we decide who has the best chance of hosting a particular event in South Africa, and we’re all getting behind that decision,' says Kotze-Nhlapo. 'Previously, we had competition. We now have "co-opetition" – a marrying of cooperation and healthy competition.’

She adds that including all nine provinces in the SANCB’s business events strategy opens up previously untapped opportunities and possibilities that can create a vibrant and sought-after business events industry in South Africa.

The SANCB, with a focus on dispersing the benefits of the business events industry to the far reaches of South Africa’s provinces, has done branding exercises in each province. The aim is to determine how each province should be positioned from a business events perspective.

The SANCB also spent the past year building systems, developing sales tools and bid-support mechanisms, and securing market intelligence.

Success of Meetings Africa 2013
One of the big successes of the year has been its hosting of Meetings Africa 2013. Exhibitors applauded it as the best Meetings Africa yet, citing the quality of the hosted buyers and brisk business as the primary reasons.

According to Kotze-Nhlapo, a focus was making Meetings Africa 2013 a truly African show: ‘The SANCB is committed to growing the association community in Africa. We need to create forums in Africa, like Association Day at Meetings Africa, where people can talk to each other. If we as Africa collaborate, we will do amazing business.’

Grimmer believes this could well be the African century. ‘I think Africa is going to change a lot in the next decade or two. There is going to be a lot more interest in trade and knowledge engagement with Africa by the rest of the world. South Africa is really well placed as the most experienced and convenient platform for these types of engagements,’ he says.

He agrees with Kotze-Nhlapo that it is critical for Africa to develop an association community. ‘If we have more active associations in South Africa and Africa that are connected into global associations, they can act as a conduit to getting more global associations to come here and engage with Africa.'

Another milestone that the SANCB has achieved has been the installation of a customer relationship management (CRM) system – a vital element if convention bureaus are to run efficiently, according to Grimmer.

‘Business events is a very tactical business that requires constant, effective communication with potential clients at the right time with the right messages. This cannot be achieved without a CRM database,’ he says.

He adds that the SANCB has achieved a world first in business events: ‘Just a year ago South Africa was one of the least technology-enabled countries when it came to business events. It is now leading the way. What the SANCB has done, which no other country has yet achieved, is to roll out a common CRM platform for all its key convention bureaus, enabling everyone to communicate through the same database and collaborate.’

In 2013, it’s business as usual for the SANCB, says Kotze-Nhlapo. ‘One thing we will definitely be looking at is formulating policies and criteria around subvention and bidding. Another is to look at how Team SA can best pool its sales and marketing resources to achieve its desired outcomes. We will also be following up on leads, embarking on sales missions, and appointing representation in key markets.’