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March 3, 2015

Meetings Africa Focuses on Specialist Associations; Improved Communication

by Carryn Gabriels

The Sandton Convention Centre hosted a showcase of Africa’s diverse offering of services and products at Meetings Africa 2015 from February 23 to 25. The three-day event is a quintessential platform for African associations and international meetings industry professionals to partner and strive to grow the industry.

BOND Day (business opportunities and networking day), on the 23rd of February, saw ICCA, IMEX-MPI-MCI, Event Greening forum, and CEP Africa together with EXSA, IFEA Africa, SAACI, and SITE, hosting forums throughout the well-equipped venue of SCC.

Meetings Africa 2015 was officially opened on Tuesday, 23rd of February, with a keynote address from the Minister of Tourism, Derek Hanekom.  In his address, the Minister of Tourism said, “In these ten years, the African business events industry has emerged from obscurity to become one of the most exciting sub-sectors on our continent’s tourism landscape. We have demonstrated that we can function well – in fact, very well – in a market that demands accessible, professional, value for money business-event products and services.” He went on to list the merits of Meetings Africa’s ROI for both South Africa and the continent, while the Mayor of Johannesburg, who addressed the audience before him, proudly shared all of the city’s accomplishments in the past few year – including successfully hosting Meetings Africa year on year.  He went on to heartily welcome all in attendance from media and exhibitors to hosted buyers and rang the bell and signify the event’s official opening, before heading off on the much-anticipated exhibition floor walkabout.   

The day’s highlights included a Media Face-off, comprising interesting discussions between a panel of  representatives,  on the contribution of business tourism to the African continent, the readiness of Africa for business, and issues around travelling freely within the continent and concerns such as Ebola. The panel consisted of Thulani Nzima (CEO of South Africa Tourism), Nina Freysen-Pretorius (ICCA President), Jeffers Miruka (African Association of Agricultural Economists), Victor Kgomeswana (CNB) and was facilitated by Nozipho Mbanjwa (CNB).

CEO of SAT, Thulani Nzima, opened the floor by stating two key focuses and objectives in the tourism sector: Creating job opportunities and bringing investments into Africa. A consensus was reached early on in the Face-off that having a focus on associations in specialist fields will lead to increased business being brought to Africa.

African economics expert, Victor Kgomeswana, urged that Africa doesn’t compare itself to Europe or North America as Africa has its own appeal and attraction to international business and will for many years to come. Instead, he suggested that Africa capitalizes on the spin-offs of government business and bilateral agreements that drive business tourism.

The issues around air capacity and Ebola all earned the consensus that education and communication is the key. On the surface, SAA stopping flights to BRICS destinations seems negative. Nzima points out that the benefits of this move include an increase of gateways to China, and an increase of footprint and seamless connectivity between flights. The Ebola pandemic was acknowledged with grace and an emphasis on facts that put the pandemic into perspective. The difference between and perceived risk was brought to attention. With communication and education, perceived risk becomes void, and only the reality remains. The reality of Ebola is that it affected travel, both business and leisure, to Africa. Yet this reality was a direct result of unclear communication and lack of education. The reality was that Ebola only affected a small part of West Africa.

In conclusion, the panel suggested that the increase in business travel and investment in Africa, is achievable through working toward a regional experience rather than a territorial one, and creating a multi-lateral Africa with a common destiny.

The much anticipated Meetings Africa Gala Dinner ended proceedings of the first day of the successful event. A live band, dancing, and delegable cuisine comprised the evening, together with the interest talk by Harvard Graduate and Rocket Scientist, Siyabulela Xuza, who started his career building a rocket in his mother’s kitchen in a township in the Eastern Cape.  

The final day of the conference included a Unique Speaker Bureau (USB) hosted breakfast which presented a range of incredible speakers and businessmen and businesswomen, coupled with light confectionaries and caffeine to kick of the early start.

Gauteng Convention Bureau accepted the mega stand award for the second year running, at the Green Stand Awards later on the last day.

In conclusion, it is predicted that Meetings Africa 2015 will yield R1-billion (around $100-million) over the next two years, says Minister Derek Hanekom. “According to research conducted by the South Africa National Convention Bureau, 40 percent of all convention delegates attending meetings in South Africa return in the next five years as tourists, boosting tourism growth and job creation years into the future.“We have already secured 177 major international association meetings for the next five years -thereby attracting a quarter of a million delegates with an estimated economic impact of R3.5-billion,” the Minister said.

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