Cape Town - Growing the Africa events industry by encouraging meetings of local associations to rotate on the continent, could offer a huge opportunity, according to Amanda Kotze Nhlapo, executive manager of the SA National Convention Bureau (SANCB).
"South Africa, for instance, still only hosts about 10% of all the meetings of African associations - some years only 5% or 6%. There are 2 000 active African associations of various sizes with the average of between 100 and 200 delegates each," she explained.
"The potential for growing it is therefore huge, but we cannot do it by ourselves. We have to work together."
She told Fin24 on Monday that this potential will also be in the spotlight at the upcoming Meetings Africa 2016, described as Africa's business tourism lekgotla.
It takes place from February 22 to 24 at the Sandton Convention Centre in Johannesburg. The theme is "advancing Africa together".
Another focus area for meetings Africa is to think of innovation, according to Kotze Nhlapo. She pointed out that the fastest growing economies in the world are still in Africa and, although SA is not growing at a very fast pace, the economy is still growing and the events industry can help this growth.
The vision of African association meetings rotating on the continent is now much more tangible with the Society of African Business Executives planning to open an office in Gauteng.
In her view this shows the realisation of the potential which lies in the events industry in Africa. Hosting trade shows locally also hold a lot of potential, she said.
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Using technology to enhance meetings taking place in SA and the rest of Africa and also focusing on meetings in the tech field, is another potential for the local events industry to explore, she said.
Research by the Convention Bureau identified that medical science and natural science are other areas to explore for the meetings and convention sectors.
One of the challenging impacts of the weakening rand is the negative impact it makes on the bureau's marketing budget.
"We need to keep on reminding people of our events offerings, so it is very important for us to be active out there. The rand's depreciation makes it more difficult and so we have to find innovative ways to introduce ourselves and be visible at trade shows, for instance," she explained.
"Yes our businesses see opportunities, but we have to be smarter, be very clear on where to participate in trade shows and be able to show a return on investment (ROI)."
Kotze Nhlapo is still very positive about the ability to show such ROI for SA businesses.
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Another important trend in the events industry to explore, is the need to see if that event has left a lasting legacy on the place where it was hosted.
"This is definitely something becoming very important for associations. It is way beyond ticking the box or people coming as a delegate and you measure the tourism impact. Delegates and organisers are looking for a cause to support and to be a front runner in leaving lasting legacies in developing countries," said Kotze Nhlapo.
With the competition between destinations growing constantly, this element is a good one to enhance, in her view.
"I think SA and Africa is very good in delivering on that aspect, so we will still focus on it and I believe we will have good outcomes," she said.
So far the Convention Bureau is still on target with the events it has secured. The economic impact is estimated to be R3.1bn and possibly more up to 2020.
"We know 2016 will be difficult. For the meetings industry the economic and and political stability of SA and Africa must be a top priority. This kind of instability is why people sometimes hesitate to hold meetings here."
At the same time, the Convention Bureau still has a 70% success rate in the bids for events it puts in.
"Most of the times when we did not succeed with a bid, it was for some small thing another country could offer. And usually we came second and not third, which is a good sign and makes me positive about SA retaining a good position in the industry," she said.
"By the African events industry moving from internal competition to so-called 'co-opetition', the continent can send a strong signal to the world. Africa is still the flavour of the month and delegates want to come and explore."
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