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February 24, 2014

Meetings Africa 2014: Is This Outboarding?

IMR is on location at the ninth annual Meetings Africa in Johannesburg, a not-for-profit show owned and organized by the South Africa Ministry of Tourism, where an interesting debate is underway.
First, some background: Meetings Africa attracts nearly 200 hosted buyers and involves substantial financial and human resources on the part of the Ministry to organize. The event aims to promote the whole of Africa's convention and meetings offer under the banner of "Advancing Africa Together." It is a strategic continental destination marketing effort that has seen support from many of sub-Saharan Africa's leading venues and destinations.

The event also invests substantially in education and networking events including an Association Day supported by ICCA and AIPC, followed by a two-day trade show with a gala evening in between—all of which is hosted and funded by the Ministry and its business tourism body, the South Africa National Convention Bureau (SANCB).
At last year's Meetings Africa, however, the senior management of Reed Travel Exhibitions (owners of megabrand travel and meetings event portfolios including the IBTM's and World/Latin America, and Arabia Travel Markets) were being shown the full red carpet treatment amid rumors of their imminent acquisition of Africa's leading leisure travel trade show, Indaba, and its business event sister event: Meetings Africa.
But subsequently, negotiations broke down and Reed decided instead—as is their prerogative—to launch their own independent for-profit events for Africa's leisure and business travel sectors, co-locating them in Cape Town's CITCC later this year under the banner of Africa Travel Week. These events check the regional box for the IBTM and Travel Market brands, and enable access to the fast-emerging markets of Africa where enormous growth in infrastructure and access are complemented by global demand for Africa's resources, destination appeal, and business potential.
As we arrive in Johannesburg, the battle lines are being drawn between the public sector alliances of Africa's tourism departments supporting Meetings Africa, and the world's largest organizer of professional travel and meetings trade shows in the world looking to their launch later this year. The tactics have reportedly turned nasty as RTE host a concurrent cocktail party immediately adjacent to the Meetings Africa Gala evening, inviting key buyers and exhibitors alike to attend.

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SANCB are crying foul—suggesting that RTE is "outboarding" their event.
As we discussed last year in several articles, outboarding is when a company that should be a sponsor of an event instead decides to host their own competing event without the consent of the original event organizer. Outboarding steals from event organizers directly by costing them revenue from the potential sponsor, as well as revenue from any other sponsors of the outboarded event that might have otherwise been spent on official events. Outboarding also steals attention away from official sponsors of the official event, drawing attendees and media attention away from sponsors. Lastly, it is deceitful and harmful to attendees by confusing them into thinking they are supporting the official event when really they are not.
No one can argue that RTE or IBTM Africa should be a sponsor of Meetings Africa, and no one would expect the SANCB to roll out the same red carpet for them, let alone invite them to their own party. So the question is, under the aforementioned definition, is RTE guilty of outboarding?
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While there does appear to be something cynical about this hijack of the opportunity afforded by the SANCB and the Ministry of Tourism, RTE could reasonably argue that they are promoting an event that will bring more business travelers to South Africa, and further growing the market and business events opportunity for Africa as a whole. RTE could further argue that IBTM Africa is showcasing another gateway South African city and depositing a potential legacy beyond tourism that could have been located elsewhere in Africa where new infrastructure and airlift is being developed—in Tanzania, Rwanda, Kenya, or even Nigeria.

Nevertheless, it is understandable that emotions are running high here in Johannesburg, with the SANCB arguing that what is good for the goose could also be good for the gander. Observers from the international destination marketing community may themselves wonder if this is an open invitation, if not an excuse, for them to "outboard" Africa IBTM in Cape Town, World Travel Market in London, EIBTM in Barcelona, or any other of RTE's portfolio of business events.
Given the historical context behind events in Johannesburg this week, should (for example) the owners of AIME in Melbourne—the only other government owned regional event other than Meetings Africa—be asking themselves of what the consequences might be should the Melbourne CVB remove Reed's management its event in Australia?
Outboarding or not, this is the question.

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About the Author: James Latham

James Latham





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