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December 18, 2018

Sub-Saharan Africa: Lessons We Take into 2019

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The Event asked African industry experts and stakeholders to share the important lessons they have learned this year, and what they will carry with them into the future.

Lindiwe Rakharebe, CEO of the Durban ICC

“Innovation is key”

The Meetings, Incentives, Conferences and Events (MICE) industry is an important component to the South African tourism industry and the country’s economic development, as it contributes to a wide variety of sectors. For every individual attending a conference or exhibition, either as an exhibitor, delegate or visitor, there are positive economic spinoffs for local businesses.

The Durban International Convention Centre, as a trailblazer in attracting local and international events to the country has a mandate to be a catalyst for economic development and job creation in the City and KwaZulu-Natal. Despite an increasingly competitive marketplace both locally and globally, the Durban ICC contributed R4.7 billion to the country’s Gross Domestic Product last year. Furthermore, 9 474 jobs were created as a result of the Durban ICC’s activities over the past financial year. This clearly demonstrates that Durban is open for business; however, with regard to business tourism, more emphasis should be placed on marketing South Africa as a safe and easily accessible destination which offers world-class facilities and infinite possibilities – not only for African-related conferences, but for international events and conferences as well.

Considering our trading environment in this Fourth Industrial Revolution, venues need to contemplate the use of new technologies that are transforming the way we live and work have become increasingly important. Venues today do not only need to provide high-speed internet connection and helpful apps, but also technologies that will ensure that the guest's journey is easy and efficient throughout the entire event experience.

Innovation is key, and one needs to constantly reinvent the business model in order to remain relevant. Other trends to look out for in 2019 include being open to developing innovative conference platforms and the use of modern technology to deliver a unique experience for our attendees.

Carol Weaving, Managing Director at Reed Exhibitions

“It’s survival of the fittest”

2018 was a tough year politically and economically across the board. It’s critical to keep your team motivated and empowered. Many entrepreneurs and companies have had great success starting up in a tough economy. Our industry is no different. We have launched extremely successful events in a tough economy such as Comic Con Africa with a record breaking attendance which proves there are always opportunities. It’s critical that we must put the visitor/buyer first. If the visitor and buyer comes to our shows, so will the exhibitor. It’s essential that we use data to measure each events success to ensure we generate an excellent ROI for our clients. Furthermore, we need to continue to

spread the word of why exhibitions are far superior to other marketing channels. 2019 will see survival of the fittest in my opinion. Mediocre shows and events are no longer good enough. Customers are king and we need to re-invest time and money to ensure our events are sustainable and continue to grow despite the macro trading conditions.

Craig Newman, UFI President and CEO of the Johannesburg Expo Centre

“Hard work pays off”

If there is one thing we learned this year it is that hard work pays off. Extensive effort went into planning in 2017 to ensure that as a venue we were busy during 2018 and that effort paid off.

Hard work pays off. Staying focused pays off and we intend to take these lessons with us into 2019. As a business, we need to stay on top of our game and continuously work on how we present our services and offerings to our clients. At the end of the day, you are only as good as your last event.

As always, we will go into 2019 on top of our game, ready to meet and exceed client expectations and secure new exciting exhibitions and events at our venue. Watch this space.

Justin Hawes, Managing Director at Scan Display

“Deliver value to clients”

This has been a tough year in the exhibition industry as our clients have reduced their spend on exhibition stands and have also demanded greater returns from the exhibition medium.

At Scan Display, we introduced a fabric pop-up system which has significantly reduced the cost of exhibiting and the effort involved, as it is essentially a ‘do-it-yourself’ product. The system can be re-used over and over, making it a great ‘green’ product. We’ve had a huge demand for this pop-up, showing us that the MICE industry is looking for value and, increasingly, eco-friendly solutions.

We recently ran a Black Friday promotion where we offered roller banners at a very good price. The uptake was high compared to what we would have seen a couple of years ago, when our target market wasn’t as value-sensitive. The positive response we received confirms how important value-for-money is in the MICE industry.

The main lesson we have learned this year is that we must continue to deliver the value our customers are after and provide eco-friendly product offerings.

Devi Paulsen-Abbott, Vice President at dmg events

“If you want to go far, go together”

“If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” (African proverb)

In 2018 we were reminded that as Africans, this concept is in our DNA. ‘Masihambisane’, a Nguni word loosely meaning ‘let us walk the path together’ reminds us that there is an undeniable power in numbers. If one person can’t accomplish something on his or her own, two or three or more people may be able to get it done even better. As a business, dmg events will continue to take into 2019 this important mantra – collaboration makes us all winners – and we so appreciate the amazing collaborative environment our partners, customers, competitors and suppliers have provided in 2018.

Minister Kganyago, Manager: Business Events Marketing at ATKV

“Bleisure is boss”

What a year! So much to do, so little time was the daily situation for most of us trying to survive the rapidly changing and demanding business events world. No day is the same in this complex yet interesting industry. Hence it becomes almost very challenging to mention, in brief, the lessons learned in this eventful year of 2018.

But if I must focus on one lesson, it would have to be the new industry term coined: ‘bleisure’. A term coherent with the shift we are currently experiencing in the industry, from product focus to experience focus. This is as a result of the growing demand where more and more delegates want their business event travels packed with not just business objectives but with experiences that will leave them with long lasting memories. The term ‘bleisure’ advocates that business events should allow delegates to mix business with pleasure. This necessitates that participants providing products and services in this part of the industry must apply a fresh approach in thinking when packaging their offers in order to satisfy this trend.

With this type of situation, we learned that unconventional ways of doing things become the norm, from setting up the meeting venue to running the programme. Delegates are also now given the power to influence the architecture of their business meetings or conferences. All in an effort to debunk the idea that conferences need to be monotonous. Something to take into 2019, if anything, would be the cognisance that business events – be it a meeting or conference – require a good mixture of product, service and most importantly, unique and memorable experiences.

Gary van der Watt, Managing Director at Resource Design

“From green to sustainable”

The past year was a bit of a roller coaster. Locally, internationally, financially, politically – and no less in our industry. Considering green in MICE it was good year, but not game-changing.

There were, however, key shifts. In amongst others, social awareness concerning findings on microfibres in fabrics, the ditching of plastic straws, the 3R’s of green became 4, and even Tesla outselling Mercedes-Benz in the USA. Overall, global companies have added to, or replaced their mainstream offerings with sustainable options.

Having the privilege to engage internationally on sustainability in both Sweden and the Netherlands this year, we realised this clear shift from green to sustainable: an area where astute businesses are paying close attention going into 2019. Sustainability seeks to protect the environment and be financially viable, but also to improve quality of life for people – while greening has a more limited, short-term implication.

Business and government awareness of CSR, job creation and local content each form a fundamental link in a circular economy approach. Our forecast is that green thinking will evolve into sustainable thinking in SA – much as it has globally. The reason is mainly because greening has been largely

superficial. LED lights, recycling at source, water awareness and the ‘usual’ steps. The usual being the most basic standards and expectation level – with no long-term value socially or economically. Without fundamental and long-lasting change, greening runs the risk of degenerating into greenwashing.

As a green-economy company, we are very upbeat about 2019. The MICE industry has the power and capability to bring about substantive change. Go green, grow to be sustainable.

Corne Koch, Head of Cape Town Convention Bureau

“Destinations cannot be isolated”

During the past year, the Western Cape has been affected by its worst drought, which led to many challenges and negative perceptions that had to be managed in terms of marketing messaging. Tourism is a key economic driver for the Western Cape with over 300 000 direct, indirect and induced jobs. In an effort to ensure that the message, ‘the Cape is open for business’ is marketed, government and key tourism stakeholders came together in creating positive messaging about the crises and how visitors are still welcome to travel to the Western Cape. In addition, the ‘Nowhere Does It Better’ campaign, a further effort and driven by Wesgro, devised a plan to put the province back on the international tourism consideration list. This is a historic first, identifying that it is a shared responsibility to change the narrative about the destination and the power of a single voice is more impactful than separate messages.

The key learning here is that destinations cannot be isolated from partnerships with their local tourism community, as this sector no longer operates in isolation. Due to fierce international competition, the success of destinations will be determined by how well that destination operates as a unit, in providing the same message to both travel buyers and visitors.

Going into 2019, the value meetings created beyond a business event will continue to gain momentum. More than ever, the business events industry and its professionals need to focus on advocating the stories of business events, and facilitating economic, professional, academic and community advancements created by a meeting.

More and more cities and destinations is creating knowledge hubs and centres of excellence around their key economic drivers. The business events sector will continue to play a crucial role in attracting business events to their destinations and cities which comply with the economic planning for that destination.

Shaun Bird, GM of Sandton Convention Centre

“Back to basics”

In 2018 we focused on several areas that are giving us the edge and will be carrying this strategy through to next year. Our focus areas included improved engagement with government and city authorities, such as tourism associations, roads departments, SAPS, among others. Sandton Convention Centre is paying particular attention to focusing on proactive engagement by working with the city role players at client enquiry stage in terms of ideas and suggestions for innovative solutions in meeting the requests and requirements of our clients. Sandton Convention Centre may not have the luxury of outdoor spaces, so we need to be creative in how we use our offerings by working closely with the relevant authorities in paving the way for productive relationships.

Environmental practices are also an ongoing priority for Sandton Convention Centre, as they are within Tsogo Sun as a group. Sandton Convention Centre is increasing recycling efforts as well as water and electricity-saving initiatives. Apart from the positive impact these have on the environment, it also makes good business sense as water and electricity account for a large percentage of operational costs. Creative ideas are encouraged and any suggestions are considered on merit.

Operations-wise, Sandton Convention Centre is going back to basics by streamlining processes and systems and ensuring an improved customer-centric approach for all our events. We have a dedicated operational manager for each event, who is hands-on and fully customer-focused.

The convention centre’s world-class food offering also sets us apart, with creative customised menus and delivery, which includes everything from live cooking stations to street food type stalls and fine dining, our offering is so diverse and can be tailored to suit each client’s needs. Our chefs are delivering fresh and flavourful dishes that are the mark of a luxury property and experience. All of this combined results in winning differentiators for Sandton Convention Centre.

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