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November 30, 2015
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Sub-Saharan Africa: Lessons Learned in 2015


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Photo by Freeimages.com/Doru Lupeneau

As we head into a new year, full of positivity and expectation, Kim Muller looks back at the milestones the industry has undergone and the lessons we will take with us into the future. 

Much has been afoot in local and international business events in 2015, and as a result we look expectantly towards the new year. Not only have some of our most popular trade shows seen growth, but we have seen new associations formed, partnerships forged, new venues emerge and, of course, awards being won. That said, the industry has gone through some growning pains, according to Justin Hawes, Managing Director at Scan Display. “2015 was a tough year with clients expecting more and more value for their money,” he explains. “We have seen certain marginal shows losing exhibitors, however, we have also seen some growth from shows such as Meetings Africa, AfricaCom and Mining Indaba.” 

Craig Newman, CEO of the Johannesburg Expo Centre and African Board Member at UFI, agrees with Hawes. “The year 2015 has been an eye-opener in terms of revealing exactly what we can achieve as an industry,” he says. “South Africa’s exhibitions, conferences and events industry is fast becoming one of the country’s most important sectors to attract foreign visitors and investment and we have realised that South Africa, in particular, has the experience, the expertise, the knowledge and the infrastructure to become the official channel for large global companies into Southern Africa.”

Here’s a look at the highlights we’ve experienced, the trends taking shape, and our industry experts’ outlook for 2016.

Association Movements

Local and international associations have been on a rollercoaster in 2015. Perhaps the most notable change was the founding of the Association of African Exhibition Organisers (AAXO) earlier this year. Since its inception in August, the body has been hard at work with an Exhibitor Training Day in September and a digital marketing training session set for 10 February 2016. 

Most importantly, however, is their newly-formed strategic partnership with the Southern African Association for the Conference Industry (SAACI). AAXO was created to be the voice of exhibition organisers, and, according to the organisation, “the synergy between the two bodies and their interactions within the exhibition industry presented an opportunity for cooperation and resource sharing.” Says Adriaan Liebetrau, CEO of SAACI: “The key messages and take-aways from our congress this year was the need to collaborate. This collaboration is not just for our members’ individual businesses, but also for all the associations in the business events sector.” 

SAACI has grown in leaps and bounds this year. The organisation launched the Council of Events Professionals (CEP Africa), they established relationships in SA’s neighbouring countries of Botswana, Namibia and Zambia, they launched the Hall of Honour and Long Service Awards, and created a stakeholder database of about 6 000 companies. “SAACI membership grew and a lot of new and innovative things were launched such as our new interactive website and the SAACI Academy,” Liebetrau explains. 

South Africa once again rose in the International Congress and Convention Association (ICCA) rankings, as well as saw one of their own take the position of President. Nina Freysen-Pretorius of The Conference Company was elected late in 2014, and is the first African president of ICCA. “Having two South Africans on the ICCA Board, one at the helm, is a major boost for South Africa’s reputation as a business-events destination. It is proof that we have the skills, insight and leadership capability to grow and develop the business events sector,” SA Tourism CEO Thulani Nzima said in a statement. 

Last year SA’s global ranking as a business-events destination went from 34th place to 32nd, making it the highest-ranked destination on the continent. Cape Town remains the most successful city for business events, ranking 41st on the ICCA list, while Johannesburg improved its rankings by a remarkable 35 places to 101st. Durban ranked 125th, tied with the cities of Auckland, Basel, Bordeaux and Montpellier

ICCA recently released their new five-year strategic plan with six goals:

  • To develop new business opportunities and competitive advantage
  • Achieving full engagement with, and participation of, associations
  • To be a global knowledge hub
  • To expand their advocacy work
  • To develop a truly world-class, highly specialised Congress
  • Build an effective and sustainable organisation

In other news, The Exhibition and Event Association of Southern Africa (EXSA) has also been busy. The organisation recently held their annual EXSA Awards, and will be covering a number of aspects of the industry at their upcoming conference on 31 January - 2 February. SSQ Exhibitions, a member of EXSA, broke its own record at Bauma Africa with a total of nine international and local clients at a single event. Their Marketing Executive, Laurette Sibiya, has been nominated as Young Professional of the Year alongside Exhibition Stands and Events, ConCept G and Expo Solutions

The Society for Incentive Travel Excellence (SITE) held their Global Conference in late October, where seven companies were recognised at the Crystal Awards – two of which were South African: Dragonfly, awarded for Excellence in Incentive Travel – Africa/Middle East, and Walthers DBS, who took home the award for Most Impactful Effort Toward Corporate Social Responsibility in an Incentive Programme. SITE also announced their 2016 International Board of Directors, with Rajeev Kohli as the first SITE Board President from Asia, and Aoife Delaney as President-elect. 

“It has been very encouraging to see MICE development in various African countries during the past few years. New convention centres opened in Nigeria and Rwanda and a few leading South African incentive houses even opened offices in these regions. Zambia has done really well in recent times, and Zimbabwe has been making a marked effort in encouraging MICE business by creating hosted buyer programmes around relevant expos,” shared Tes Proos, SITE President Southern Africa and Owner of Crystal Events & Incentives.

Association executives across the continent have come together to form the African Society of Association Executives, which will launch at the upcoming Meetings Africa show. It is aimed at raising the profile of member-based organisations and improving skills in the sector. 25 members will represent every region of Africa, especially since it’s estimated that more than 700 associations operate on the continent. 

The CTICC announced in August that CEO Julie-May Ellingson was the first ever African representative to be voted onto the board of the International Association of Convention Centres (AIPC).  “In a highly competitive global market we need to think differently with collaboration being the key to success,” she said. 

Going Green with Gusto

There’s been a strong trend towards greening events and exhibitions in 2014, which continued into 2015 and will, no doubt, play an increasingly important role in the industry. From a stand-building perspective, there’s been an increase in the use of wood rather than aluminium systems, as well as a greater use of fabric on exhibition stands, says Hawes. “We have been involved in developing a variety of green product offerings. For example, we can now offer LED lighting for shell scheme projects.” The fabic shell scheme is fast-becoming a popular and affordable alternative to conventional options. SSQ Exhibitions’ Laurette Sibiya adds that they are “seeing a gradual move or shift from green dominant stand design to more of a collaboration between green and contemporary. We’re also seeing an increased use of abstract and creative furniture and custom stand elements.”

Hotel Verde scooped up a number of awards this year for their green building design, the most pretigious being a second Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Platinum Green Building Certification by the US Green Building Council – the first hotel globally to achieve a double certification. 

The Event Greening Forum (EGF) is constantly pushing the industry to greener pastures, through education, awards and awareness programmes, as well as the development of guidelines. In 2015 the Forum has been developing a set of minimum standards for responsible events. “The reality is that each of the different role players, from organisers and exhibitors through to client and visitor, each play an important role and can each contribute towards the overall success of a sustainable event,” the EGF explains. 

Innovation and Growth in the Industry

Tourism took a knock with the Ebola outbreak in West Africa impacting travel to the entire continent. We have, however, seen a silver lining with stronger marketing and education around the subject – and the situation has mostly cleared up. Local businesses were also affected by the visa regulations introduced last year, with Tsogo Sun reporting a dip in demand as a result. According to September figures from ForwardKeys, a travel data intelligence company, international arrivals declined by 6.8 percent between September 2014 and May 2015. The Inter-Ministerial Committee is now handling the situation and has put interim changes in place to support tourism despite visa issues. 

In the conferencing and exhibition sectors, a number of new and refurbished venues have become operational, with some opening their doors in the new year. These include Century City Conference Centre, Aquila, Lanzerac, Rustenburg International Convention Centre and Tshwane International Convention Centre. South Africa has also been moving towards creating better accessibility for people with disabilities. 

The digital world has taken the continent by force. This was apparent simply in the sheer size and interest in telecommunications and broadcast sectors at AfricaCom this November. Many local companies have joined the worldwide web – or have revamped their digital offerings to appeal to a greater, younger and more tech-savvy audience. Eventing apps and event technology have also seen a marked increase in innovation, with parts of South Africa launching free wifi pilot programmes. As ICCA President Nina Freysen-Pretorius said in a recent letter to members, “the communication has become constant, and the communities are virtual as well as face-to-face”.

A Peek At 2016

SAACI CEO Adriaan Liebetrau says we can expect a challenging year ahead. “Corporates are shifting to an in-house model, or splitting up services using the traditional PCO for certain services that require advanced skills,” he explains. “I think 2016 is going to be a very tough trading year and business as normal is not going to work. Association budgets are very tight and it is only going to add more pressure on congresses and events. Government is cutting back on spending specifically when it comes to travel.”

Meanwhile, speaking at ibtm world in Barcelona this November, Minister Derek Hanekom outlined South Africa’s promising outlook for the future. The South Africa National Convention Bureau (SANCB) has secured 163 bids for the country between 2016 and 2020 from diverse industry sectors.

Collectively they are expected to bring over 150 000 delegates to the country, and contribute approximately R3.1-billion to the economy. “The potential for Africa for the business-events industry is exponential,” he said, “The tide has turned; we can see that our growth opportunities are now within the African market. There are 770 registered African associations on the ICCA database. 178 of these are based in South Africa and 592 on the rest of the continent and 218 regional conferences were registered on the continent in 2014 resulting in 610 events over the last five years.”

Expo Centre’s Craig Newman has a positive outlook for the twelve months ahead: “I believe that international exhibitions and events companies will continue to look at new opportunities and partnerships here, having recognised the growth potential of the African market. Those companies that are looking to alternative markets to grow their income, companies, their footprint and their revenue should only be looking in the direction of Africa.”


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