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TThe 17th edition of Meetings Africa, a business events trade show owned by South African Tourism in partnership with Gauteng Tourism and Joburg Tourism, kicked off in style with a vibrant Business Opportunity Networking Day (BONDay) at the Sandton Convention Centre in Johannesburg.

This event has become a focal point for the business events industry, hosting insightful panel discussions and eminent speakers.

The BONday precedes the two-day trade show event at the same venue from Tuesday until Wednesday. 

The 2024 iteration has drawn an impressive array of exhibitors from 21 African countries, including new products from Egypt, Ivory Coast, Tanzania and Cape Verde. 

Among the highlights were several educational streams hosted for industry professionals, including innovation, sustainable tourism, and artificial intelligence (AI). Delegates learned from experts how these developments are changing the face of the Meetings, Incentives, Conferences, and Exhibitions (MICE) industry.

According to organisers, Meetings Africa 2024 aims to create a market access platform for African Business Events Products by facilitating quality connections.

The aim is to empower businesses with the latest global business event developments and encourage robust conversations towards innovative solutions.

Deputy Minister of Tourism Fish Mahlalela delivered a stirring address at the plenary session on the pivotal role of the event in facilitating knowledge exchange and fostering innovation within the tourism sector.

Mahlalela highlighted the evolution of Meetings Africa into a premier business events trade show in Africa, emphasising its significance in creating vital connections between buyers and exhibitors. 

He delved into the essence of knowledge exchange. He highlighted its role in fostering innovation, collaboration, and skills development. 

“The time has come for us to rewrite the narrative on Africa,” added the Deputy Minister, advocating for a vision that portrays the continent not as a land mired in stereotypes but as a vibrant and dynamic player on the global stage.

Several speakers emphasised the latent talent of Africans, calling for multi-national and multi-sectoral collaboration within the continent to unlock its true potential and showcase its exceptionalism.

South Africa is replete with examples of exceptional talent from science to education and from tourism to medical science.

One such fervent discussion on Africa’s exceptionalism occurred at a panel discussion titled “A Re-imagined Africa, a Showcase of Africa’s Exceptionalism,” where experts and leaders in some of these fields participated. One of the participants in the debate was Marjorie Brown, a seasoned educator and nominee for the 2018 Global Teachers.

She said teachers can upskill the continent’s youth through collaboration and not take away their vast potential. She noted that advances in technology and connectivity have made collaboration easy in this regard.

Brown is also the President of the South African Society of History Teachers, which runs webinars once a month. These webinars target academics and aspiring teachers.

Deputy Minister for Tourism Fish Mahlalela also emphasised the importance of collaboration in tourism. He said collaboration in tourism should see the industry’s growth beyond countries like South Africa, Kenya and Rwanda, which are already established destinations for leisure and business tourism.

Another exceptional South African, Professor Mashudu Tshifularo, also participated in the panel discussion. Professor Tshifularo is a renowned Ear, Nose, and Throat (ENT) specialist at the University of Pretoria in South Africa. In 2019, he led a team that performed the world’s first 3D-printed middle-ear replacement surgery. 

He advocated for establishing a one-stop shop to elevate the nascent field of medical tourism. “We need to set up proper infrastructure to exploit medical tourism, as patients worldwide want to come and experience our world-class expertise. Our currency makes it cheaper for the Global South to seek medical care here. Let’s exploit that,” he stated.

Dr Adriana Marais, a Theoretical Physicist and Technologist, spoke about how the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) project, an international effort to build the world’s largest radio telescope, is having a far-reaching impact on young South Africans, especially those in the Northern Cape. Citing the example of India, she said science can be used to improve access to healthcare and education for remote and rural communities. 

“We’re lucky enough to be living in an era with this revitalisation of space exploration on many fronts—from China to the United Arab Emirates (UAE) to the United States of America (US), with private players coming in to partner with governments. This is it, I believe, for humanity,” Marais added. 

In another development, Hlolohelo Zwane from the Tshwane North College has emerged as the winner of the 2024 Future Leaders Forum – International University Challenge held at Meetings Africa. 

Speaking after being crowned the winner, an elated Zwane emphasised the importance of the business events industry. “This event is so important because it encourages young people in universities and colleges to appreciate the broad nature of tourism and not only focus on the leisure side of it but also the business tourism side of things”.

Zwane had competed against James Kgabo from Tshwane North College and Anaïs Saayman from the North West University to represent the country on the global stage.

The competition – an initiative by the South African National Convention Bureau (SANCB) - was open to young people below 35 years old currently pursuing qualifications in Tourism and Hospitality.

This competition allows students to showcase their creativity in conceptualising, planning and coordinating business events.

As part of her pitch, Zwane presented on the Urban Townships Futures Summit, which promises to shape the future of South African townships through tourism.

As the 2024 Future Leaders Forum winner - International University Challenge – she won a sponsored trip to attend the global Future Leaders Forum at IMEX Frankfurt in May this year.

This puts Zwane in a position to win the coveted MPI Foundation Student Scholarship Award, which will be presented to the overall winner at the IMEX Gala Dinner in Frankfurt.

The Minister of Tourism, Patricia De Lille, will open the trading floor tomorrow. The two-day trade show wraps up on Wednesday.

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