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March 1, 2016

Sub-Saharan Africa: Spotlight on PCOs in Africa

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It’s been said time and again by many in the industry and in many different ways – Africa is rising, and South Africa is in a pivotal position to facilitate and be part of this continental growth. At the forefront is the MICE industry, introducing internationals to the natural wonders of the continent, its top-notch hospitality, and ever-developing convention and conference infrastructure. 

professional conference organizer
Photo by Freeimages.com/Carlos Chavez

The Year That Was

Many PCOs have reported strong progression, new developments and, of course, some exciting events organised. We spoke to five of these top conference organisers to find out what their highlights were.

Conference Consultancy SA has seen many milestones, thanks to an intensive review of their mid- and long-term business plan. Says Danielle Henn, Operations Manager: “The success we saw in 2015 was mainly as a result of our 2014 goals and our 0% staff turnover – in fact, we added two more positions to our establishment to meet demand,” she explains. “In 2015 we have organised more conferences than before, more efficiently and with greater effect...Our client base expanded, and ultimately our Managing Director, Pieter Swart CMP CMM, has been recognised by the Professional Congress Management Association (PCMA) as Global Meeting Executive of the Year 2015, awarded at IMEX Frankfurt. 2015 also saw our internal commitment to professional development with two of our executives studying towards their Certified Meeting Professional (CMP) designation.” Both Danielle Henn and Corné Engelbrecht passed this stringent exam on 27 January – adding to Conference Consultancy South Africa’s achievements. 

2015 was an eventful year for Event Dynamics, a division of Tourvest Destination Management. Says Gugu Buthelezi, Team Leader for the Government and Association Division: “Two of our biggest highlights include successfully organising the South African International Renewable Energy Conference in Cape Town, which saw 3 000 international and local delegates coming together to discuss issues around renewable energy. We also had some restructure within the team which has been implemented to create a focused approach in the Association and Government Space, and to create opportunities to upskill current staff in this specialised space.” 

MCI Group, whose association business in SA is predominantly healthcare, finance and education, delivered a growth of almost 10% on Gross Margin – a great feat considering the current economic climate. “2015 was a growth year on a group level for MCI,” says Sylvia Andres, VP of Marketing and Communications, “New offices in the USA, new partnerships with global partners such as Emirates and Expedia are testimony to this…2015 was an investment year for MCI South Africa. That being said, we have started making in-roads with both the local corporate and association market and are optimistic for the years ahead.” In Africa, they successfully activated two high profile international association conferences for the Project Management Institute and the African Securities Exchange Association

Scatterlings Conference and Events have seen some tremendous growth, having secured a number of significant, large international association conferences until 2018. 2015 was another year of stellar performance, says Managing Director Rowan Moss. “Highlights included the organisation of the World Congress of Pharmacology at the CTICC and the International Mineralogical Congress at the Sandton Convention Centre. Other key conferences included another spectacular SAPOA Convention, IFLA/LIASA Conference. Scatterlings continued is successful Medical congress with the WITS Paediatric Fund conferences, WITS golf day, ICPA Conference, SA HTA Conference, National Blood Transfusion Congress as well as the Microscopy Congress. Scatterlings also did extensive work in the construction sector with the Master Builders Southern Africa conference, the SACPCMP Conference and the WABER Conference in Ghana.”

Tribal Meetings has also seen growth, although not in the same way as 2014, says newly appointed CEO, Nadia Allie. “We have added four new clients to our database who have given us good turn over for 2015,” she explains, adding that they are in the process of expanding their DNC division to increase their flagship products whilst maintaining their presence in the conference arena. After fourteen years at the helm, Muhammad Khan has resigned as CEO and Allie, who has been Acting CEO for the last few years, has taken over the position. 

Forging Ahead into New Markets

Although 2016 is set to be a year of consolidation for MCI Group’s business in South Africa, the company is growing its Johannesburg offices, and plans are underway for a satellite branch in Durban. Andre says the future of MICE in Africa looks bright. “On an educational level, there is enormous potential for international associations to grow their membership by hosting congresses in Africa...strong currency exchange rates also make Africa a more attractive destination for the international market. For the incentive market, there are many spectacular, luxurious, yet affordable destinations in Africa, if you know where to look.” She goes on to say that South Africa’s place on the continent is secure: “Not only are there a huge number of South African professionals and academics gaining notable reputations on the international stage, the country itself is world-renowned for its beauty, diversity and hospitality.”

Scatterlings will continue with repeat business from Europe, after having organised conferences in Zambia, Mauritius, Rwanda, Ghana, Kenya and Namibia recently. A bulk of their 2016 conferences is located in the SADC, says Moss. “Scatterlings Conference and Events is organising all the conferences for the African Union Foundation and this exposes us to the entire African continent…Our big congress for 2016 is the World Psychiatry Congress at the CTICC.” He says South Africa will remain a powerhouse in the MICE market. 

Tribal Meetings will continue investing in the USA. “We have done good business from the USA for the last 16 years and have grown in this market,” Allie explains, although she adds that Africa is the new economy. “If one considers that four of the fastest growing economies in the world are in Africa, one in three people are moving towards becoming middle class in a population of 1.1 billion, that number presents a huge opportunity…The MICE industry should be poised to exploit this opportunity.”

Event Dynamics will focus on growing business in the Association and Government space says Buthelezi. “A crucial element of this space is to have skilled staff as this is how we win tenders; upskilling or developing the current team is therefore a key focus area for 2016.” She goes on to say she is confident in SA’s place in Africa’s growing MICE economy. “South Africa has always been the gateway into Africa for the MICE space. With the current status of the Rand, hosting conferences or events in South Africa is fast-becoming an attractive alternative option. Confirmed conferences in South Africa are seeing maximum capacities of international delegations which are also boosting our touristic portfolios.”

Conference Consultancy SA will be maintaining their business plan in 2016 and looking into the future to optimise their core competencies and build on the existing focus areas. “Our focus will remain on servicing our local clients, however some of these clients are broadening their scope into Africa and East Africa in particular,” Henn explains. “Generally, our off-shore expansion is with clients in North America and Europe, and we will continue to grow that business.”

PCO Achievements

These are just a few of the high level events and feats by PCOs, a testament to our industry’s ever-growing success. 

* MCI’s team successfully produced a congress with over 14 000 participants while managing 2 other huge congresses in Toronto (7 000 delegates) and Korea (7 000 delegates), MCI USA was launched, and won two ICARUS awards.
Scatterlings have secured a number of international association conferences including: INTS 2016, SAVCA 2016, Rotary International Presidents Conference, World Council of Entersomal Therapists, SA HIV Clinicians Conference, South African Diabetes, Endocrinology and Metabolism Congress, National Pharmacy Congress, World Psychiatry Congress 2016, Joint Assembly of IAMAS, IAPSO and IGA 2017, and International Congress of Endocrinology 2018 with 8 000 pax.
Event Dynamics organised the South African International Renewable Evergy Conference with 3 000 pax, and SAIREC 2015.
Conference Consultancy SA Managing Director, Pieter Swart CMP CMM, received the PCMA Global Meeting Executive of the Year 2015.

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