Opportunity for Africa

The meetings industry is a key economic driver


Africa is increasingly being recognised by the global meetings industry as a destination of choice; Meetings Africa provides a showcase for Africa’s diverse offering of services and products and a forum for African associations and African meetings industry professionals to partner in the ongoing bid to transform the continent. We spoke to Amanda Kotze-Nhlapo, Chief Convention Bureau Officer of the South Africa National Convention Bureau (SANCB), to find out more.

What are the objectives for Meetings Africa 2018?

Meetings Africa 2018 will build on the overall objectives of Meetings Africa. It is really creating a platform to showcase to the world what we can offer in terms of meetings, conferencing, exhibitions and the industry, not just in South Africa but throughout the continent. It is the biggest showcase that we have. Of course, there is a much bigger opportunity to then also influence not just travel and tourism but also economic development, because we attract people that will bring specific expertise to their field.

How does this help economic development?

Associations meet for three main reasons. First, education is paramount. Second, everyone needs to keep up to date with the latest regulations. Third, business networking is important. Whether people are travelling to South Africa for a finance meeting, a medical conference, a technological forum or an agriculture indaba, at the end of the day, meetings bring the foremost world leaders in their field to your country. In other words, a meeting, which is the result of a successful bidding process, is where the brains of the world come to look at opportunities in their field of expertise, and that’s how economic development can take place.

What is the importance of the bidding process?

We bid for international association and regional association meetings in exactly the same way as we bid for the World Cup. We need to make sure that our proposal is better than the next destination. We have to make sure that we have the infrastructure, the knowledge in that particular sector, that we have academics and professionals that are leaders in their field, because those are the criteria on which an association will base its decision to go to a specific destination. Scenery and wildlife are nice to have, but first and foremost they want to know what is in that economic sector.

Who are our chief competitors that you would be bidding against?

On the continent, our biggest competitors are Guinea, Egypt and Morocco, which is a hop away from Europe. We also compete South-South, against Argentina, Brazil and even Mexico sometimes. Then we also compete against Australia quite often. Meetings tend to rotate: for instance, every third year an association will say it must go out of Europe, giving us the opportunity to bid. That’s why Meetings Africa is such an important platform and why this sector is such a lucrative part of the tourism industry.

Just how big is the market?

There are 12000 meetings that rotate around the world annually. In Africa, per year, we host fewer than 350 on average a year, so the opportunity is huge. There are a lot of meetings that still need to come to Africa for the first time. For example, even though we had the first heart transplant in our country, we have yet to win the international society of cardiology’s conference. It’s a huge meeting—20 000 people attend the European conference. It’s actually ridiculous that those people haven’t yet decided to come to the continent where the first heart transplant took place, even we are in the forefront when it comes to cardiology. But you need the local community to buy into it – the local association of cardiology has to say, yes, it is a good idea, let us go and bid. It is quite a daunting task if you think about it, which is exactly where platforms like Meetings Africa come in, to tell the industry and the buyers that they have our support. We give a fully fledged service from the bidding right through to helping with the site inspections. We have won a good 60-70% of our bids. We also help with attendance and ensure that delegates have a memorable experience.

What is the opportunity for Africa?

There’s a huge opportunity for African associations to rotate on the continent. At Meetings Africa every year we have the AGM of the African Society for Association Executives, and what we do with them is really to start to encourage them to rotate their meetings. One year it will be here, the next year it could be in Zimbabwe, and the next year it could be somewhere in East Africa, and back to South Africa again.

If we can get Africa to move, we will help our continent to grow economically, because it’s our professionals, the ones who come up with ideas and do business networking at these meetings and conventions and exhibitions, that will help us to create jobs and grow the economy.

If you take the number one destination in the world for meetings, and conventions it is Paris. In Paris, 10% of their meetings are international association meetings, and 90% are European association meetings.

In Africa, Cape Town is the number one meetings destination, but 90% of the meetings are international meetings and 10% are African association meetings. We need to change this around.

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