Meetings Africa 2015: AIPC Summit Reveals Growth, But Challenges Remain
Leading up to Meetings Africa held last month in Johannesburg, the Business Opportunity and Networking Day (BOND) included the inaugural AIPC Africa Summit pitching Africa's maturing meetings infrastructure against concerns for the skills capacity required to manage and market it competitively.
African convention centers, according to the AIPC 2014 Study (and confirmed in the Opening Address by the organizations' executive director, Rod Cameron) saw the greatest percentage increase in revenue reported by centers in any other region of the world from when its survey began in 2011. Africa's rising stock also reflects an increasingly successful strategy on the part of governments to attract international conventions as part of their development strategies, matched by a healthy appetite among international institutions and professional communities to access the African marketplace.
In this report from Africa's flagship event arranged by the SANCB (South African National Convention Bureau), commentators confirm that governments within Africa are supporting their growth strategies by investing in their convention centers—an approach endorsed by MCI group president, Robin Lokerman.
“We believe we need to align the inward investment strategies of government with the targeting of the events that they want to bring to the city,” Lokerman said during the conference. “Associations are the key link—the channel—to bring international thought leaders from within the different business sectors [identified for growth] to Africa.”
And convention center investment is not limited to Sub-Saharan Africa. The Summit included speakers from new convention facilities opening in Rwanda supporting the East Africa Community, and to the West in Nigeria—Africa's largest economy (at least prior to the recent falls in oil prices and those of other commodities).
Africa's Growing Pains
However, the AIPC Africa Summit also revealed that the South African convention center managers, especially of publicly owned facilities, are facing challenges imposed through social legislation.
Julie-May Ellingson, chief executive of the Cape Town International Convention Centre (CTICC) and Nicolette Elia-Beissel, acting chief executive of the ICC Durban, expressed concerns about the Municipal Finance Management Act, which imposes supply chain management and procurement protocols which are compounded by compliance regulation.
Ellingson explained that the mandates of her convention center to create local jobs from within a sector deemed as "Tourism" (thus attracting low-skilled entrants) is further impacting the center's ability to deliver the parallel mandate of business growth. Ellingson also pointed to a competitive landscape for senior convention centre management as Africa [and nearby Middle East] step up their infrastructure investments. South Africa, she intimated, has exported much of its senior center management capability (to Sydney NSW, and Kuala Lumpur, for example) and this could ultimately impact the performance of its centers.
|Legislation is hampering state-owned facilities such as CTICC|
These are growing pains that industry consultants in Africa—such as Gaining Edge, The Business Tourism Company and CIC Convention Industry Consultants—need to respond to in rapid time and ensure that their government clients address, not just in South Africa, if they are to furnish the convention centre investments with competitive software. The "if you build it, they will come" approach is clearly insufficient for attracting sophisticated clients in such a competitive international meetings marketplace.
But despite such growing pains, Africa's conventions capability is rising in parallel with demand from a maturing national association sector which is itself building regional and global connections. The arrival of MCI and initiatives such as the Meetings Africa Association Day will accelerate these connections, enable knowledge transfer and ultimately the economic development that convention centers will support.
So while Africa is traveling up the conventions industry league tables, the reality is that its journey has only just begun and organizations such as AIPC, ICCA, and PCMA must continue to be on hand to ensure that Africa's capacity is matched by its capability. The rest will be history as Africa secures its rotation on the global associations circuit – something that ICCA's first-ever African President, Nina Freysen-Pretorius, called for while live on CNBC Africa from an event that emphasized South Africa's credentials.