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September 19, 2017
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Sub-Saharan Africa: Is Regional Positioning for Events Still Relevant?


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The South African National Convention Bureau, part of South African Tourism, has identified six market priorities consisting of the country’s key industries:

  • Business process outsourcing: Financial services; insurance; telecoms; after-sales; IT
  • Manufacturing: Automotive; chemicals; pharmaceuticals; agri-processing; electronics; biofuels
  • Creative industries: Film and video; music; crafts
  • Information and communication technology: Software development; electronic financial applications; fraud prevention
  • Mining and metals: Precious metals and minerals; mining expertise and technology; minerals beneficiation
  • Life sciences: Medical specialities; biotechnology; medical devices

Each of these market segmentations is based on historically strong industries as well as those experiencing good growth and the country’s ability to compete internationally in these areas of expertise. With South African Tourism’s ongoing efforts to highlight the opportunities available across all nine provinces, does it still make sense to cluster certain types of events in particular regions?

Infrastructure attracts events

James Seymour, CEO of Durban KwaZulu-Natal Convention Bureau, says regions and provinces develop a reputation for and expertise in hosting some events because of heritage and tradition. James uses as examples the Dusi Canoe Marathon and the Comrades Marathon. The Dusi is one of the most popular canoe marathons in the world that takes place downriver from Pietermaritzburg to Durban along a 120km stretch of the uMsundusi and uMngeni Rivers. It was conceived by Dr Ian Player during World War II and founded in 1951. The Comrades Marathon 89km ultramarathon running race takes place between Pietermaritzburg and Durban, alternating uphill or downhill every year. It was founded by Vic Clapham in association with the League of Comrades of the Great War (World War I) in 1921 in commemoration of fallen soldiers.

“Durban has one of the most significant sporting precincts in the country surrounding the Durban International Convention Centre, which is one of the reasons why Durban was chosen to bid for the Commonwealth Games 2022 [since rejected] and seen as the ideal city to host the Olympic Games. Most sporting codes are catered for in a relatively small area, from sports and exhibitions to outdoor venues plus accommodation,” James explains.

Musical events such as Music in the Mountains Festival at the Drakensberg Boys Choir School and Splashy Fen Music Festival in the Underberg are now fixtures on the annual music calendar. James says the natural beauty of the region enhances these outdoors festivals.

The Royal Show at The Royal Agricultural Showgrounds in Pietermaritzburg is the most significant multi-faceted agricultural shows in Africa because of the showgrounds. The showgrounds also host the Garden Show, a massive horticultural show, as well as other flower shows,” James adds.

Facilities are important but not always the most defining variable, James notes. Business events also depend on the level of specialisation of a field in the region. The University of KwaZulu-Natal has one of the most advanced environmental schools and as a result Durban has hosted major environmental and climate change congresses such as the United Nations Climate Change Congress (COP17). Authorities on the topic are based in the region, some within the eThekwini Municipality. This attracts other environmental congresses.

The DICC as a facility is designed to operate on one level and is located within a precinct that includes the Durban Exhibition Centre and space for marquees that can be closed off. The precinct is ideal to host congresses that require space and security for large events, he says.

KZN also has various other specialisations and associations that attract events to the region, including but not limited to sports; lifesaving; sugar cane; agriculture; ports; mining; engineering; manufacturing; pharmaceutical; optometry; oncology; palliative care; neuroscience; IT; and governmental mega-conferences. James says that where major associations and institutions are located becomes an important consideration when bidding for specialised congresses.

Incentives play an important role in the events industry, with corporates offering incentives such as teambuilding and getaways to their employees. While the Western Cape has traditionally attracted a lot of incentives because of its natural beauty, James says KZN is increasingly competing in this field because of its heritage and wealth of natural experiences, including mountains, beaches, historical sites, Midlands and the many top hotels and resorts in the region.

Corné Koch, head of the Western Cape Convention Bureau, says the region is strong in attracting medical sciences, information and communication technology and educational association business events. “A big draw card is that the destination hosts four of the country’s major universities and teaching hospitals. This provides a strong source from which to obtain business leads to attract these kinds of meetings,” she explains.

The universities also attract the educational sector meetings, with mathematics and science events taking place in the province.

Government’s role

James praises the South African National Conventions Bureau for its support, guidance, investment and willingness to help associations to develop bids and secure events. He says as a bureau they are in contact with other provinces’ bureaux on growth strategies, in some cases working together and in other cases competing for certain events. He notes that congresses and conferences also serve to kickstart industries in a region, which make them highly sought after.

Corné says that in an effort to drive economic growth, the Western Cape government has embarked on a programme to identify the economic sectors that will provide the greatest growth and job creation within a five-year plan. Three priority sectors that will provide high growth to the province have been identified as tourism, oil and gas and agri-processing, with part of this programme called Project Khulisa. The bureau, a division of Wesgro, actively pursues meetings that align to these sectors, which also links strongly with the work done in its trade and investment promotions teams

Corné adds, “The bureau is a member of the International Congress and Convention Association (ICCA). The association provide a valuable research tool to obtain leads for the destination. An annual submission of the type of international association meetings held in the destination places, cities and countries in a ranking model which is used as a valuable marketing tool when attracting new business.”

Corporate strategies

A business delegate has the potential to become a trader or investor and subsequently a leisure traveller. The Western Cape Convention Bureau’s strategy therefore also includes identifying meetings that provide opportunities for networking with local business which could ultimately lead to additional business conversion in these sectors.

Although the destination has a strong attraction for association meetings that traditionally take place at the Cape Town International Convention Centre, a lot of smaller and other types meetings take place at the various other conference and hotel facilities in the province. The bureau is not limited to attracting a certain type of meeting or size and has dedicated business development staff with a specific focus on types of business events.

The Western Cape is a large province with various hubs within it. Certain corporate hubs, like Century City, attract more corporate meetings while regions such as the Garden Route and Klein Karoo and the Cape Winelands attract a large amount of incentive travel meetings.

“The bureau ended its fiscal year on a high note, securing 33 new bids for the destination, which provide an estimated economic impact of R434m to the province. Fifty percent of these bids secured will take place during our traditional low season of April to September, which is always a challenge for us,” Corné notes.

“Wesgro reports to the Department of Economic Development and Tourism and we promote tourism, trade, investment and film, with dedicated divisions for each one. For the film industry, we have an office that promotes and works with that industry. We do not receive many requests for meetings for the film industry, but more so for film shoots, locations, catering and accommodation,” she adds.

The CTICC is expanding to attract and accommodate more events. CTICC 2 will host:

  • Third International Conference on Global Food Security from 3 to 6 December 2017
  • World Ophthalmology Congress in 2020 attracting 15 000 delegates, the largest event the centre has secured in its 14-year history
  • 18th International Congress of Immunology in August 2022 for experts in biomedicine, with attendance forecast at 6 000 delegates across both buildings

CTICC CEO Julie-May Ellingson gave City of Cape Town Executive Mayor, Patricia de Lille a tour on 6 September and says: “The CTICC has been a key driver of the region’s knowledge economy, a place where ideas are shared, investments planned, a platform for creativity and innovation and a stage where South Africans and Africans can take part in the co-creation of future scientific, technological and academic advances. CTICC 2 will no doubt bolster the centre’s credentials as a positive contributor to Cape Town and the Western Cape’s socio-economic growth.”


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