Meetings Africa Encourages Advancing Africa Together

Sandton Convention Centre, Johannesburg
Sandton Convention Centre, Johannesburg

Africa is growing in the meetings industry. At Meetings Africa 2014 at the Sandton Convention Centre in Johannesburg, the “Advancing Africa Together” theme continued throughout the conference and was evident during the 5-person media panel discussion held on Feb. 25.

The panelists consisted of Thulani Nzima, chief executive officer of South African Tourism; Mike Schussler, a local economist; Mati Nayazema, executive director at the Sandton Convention Bureau; Beatrice Makawiti, sessional lecturer at the Technical University of Kenya and former executive director of the Kenyatta International Convention center; and Martin Sirk, chief executive officer at the International Congress and Convention Association.

Nzima said that buyers first consider the continent before the country before the province or city. That combined with the fact that African countries grow at different paces isn’t helping the case for Africa because most of the countries are growing alone or in isolation. He believes that together the countries can change the “we didn’t know you had the infrastructure” perception that several international travelers have about the continent.

“There’s a need for constructive competition where we’re cooperative together,” says Nzima.

Schussler added that Sub-Saharan Africa is the second-fastest growing economy in the world today and meeting spaces in Africa have doubled in the past 10 years. As such, the continent as a whole has to address issues between various African countries in terms of visa and passport options as well as airlift so business travelers can travel more easily throughout the continent.

After the panel discussion, I discussed the growth of Africa and specifically South Africa for meetings with Amanda Kotze-Nhlapo, executive manager, conventions bureau at South African Tourism. She says that more and more groups are coming because visitors describe it as a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Because of that, about 40 percent of delegates always bring an accompanied person.

“It’s always easy to sell this destination to this industry because delegates aren’t coming on their own pocket,” says Kotze-Nhlapo. “We have a variety of offerings outside just your meeting that you will have. It’s a very easy delegate-boosting destination. We can sell first-class infrastructure and then a safari pre- and post-visit.”

Kotze-Nhlapo says a study from a few years ago reported that 40 percent of all delegates coming to South Africa come back within five years for a holiday. Plus, with $1 to R100, it’s a good value once travelers arrive.

“It’s an absolute destination that we have the ability to be an attractive tourist destination with the infrastructure to hold a meeting,” says Kotze-Nhlapo. “The other thing I would say is that because the economy is growing so fast, it is valuable moneywise. If you bring your group, you can with a very tight budget give them a 5-star plus experience.”