Meetings, conferences and conventions attract one million international delegates to South Africa annually, says Amanda Kotze-Nhlapo, Chief Convention Bureau Officer for the South African National Convention Bureau.
Speaking at IBTM World 2018 (Institute of Business Travel Management) in Barcelona on November 27, Kotze-Nhlapo said domestically, there were 211 000 meetings, conventions, and conferences hosted in South Africa each year. This amounts to a contribution to the GDP of around R115bn (€7.42bn) per year.
How competitive is South Africa?
“South Africa is ranked 34 in the world as a meetings destination, and number one in Africa and the Middle East,” said Kotze-Nhlapo. She puts this down to South Africa hosting more meetings per year, and on having a very strong academic and professional network as a country. “Cape Town is the number-one city in Africa and the Middle East, and it is quite far ahead,” she said.
Despite South Africa’s strong position internationally, Kotze-Nhlapo is positive that there is still growth potential. “As a national convention bureau, we are only six years old,” she said. “[But] we have already doubled the number of bids that we do. We started with 50 plus, now as a country we are doing 100 plus bids per year.”
The advantage of the MICE industry over the leisure travel industry is in the number of travellers it can bring at a single time. “For example, we are bidding for ophthalmology conventions and meetings. In 2020 we are hoping to have between 10 000 and 15 000 delegates,” said Kotze-Nhlapo.
She pointed out that when it came to travel on this scale, it was worth remembering that it was a small board of people that could make the decision to send thousands of people to the country, compared with leisure travellers who could pick a destination from anywhere in the world. Additionally, because the traveller’s company will often organise the travel, travellers may have more disposable income to spend once they are here.
Who is SA competing with?
As the top MICE destination in Africa and the Middle East, South Africa is competing against destinations such as Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Australia, Canada, and Korea. Earlier this year, President Cyril Ramaphosa announced a doubling of South Africa’s tourism budget. Kotze-Nhlapo said government had provided R90m (€5.8m) for a bid support programme to help South Africa compete internationally.
Despite Rwanda growing rapidly as a MICE destination recently, Kotze-Nhlapo pointed out that there was not really any competition at the moment between Rwanda and South Africa. “We are so far ahead. In 2017, we hosted 125 events and association meetings. Rwanda had 20. For South Africa, the competition is with places like Dubai,” she said. “I want Rwanda to have 125 meetings, because then South Africa will have 200-plus meetings. This industry is not about competition, it is about ‘co-opetition’.”
Kotze-Nhlapo said what Africa needed was more convention bureaus. “As Africa, we need to grow together,” she said. “For example, there is a big, international Bee Keepers conference in Ethiopia, and we are supporting them because we need Africans to move Africa forward. Then people will start saying that yes, Africa can do it.”