CTICC CEO, Taubie Motlhabane shares details of a long journey and hard work to ready the venue and region to host events again.
Covid-related challenges have forced the meetings and events industry in Africa, as elsewhere to innovate, adapt and re-examine its business and strategies.
At the country’s flagship centre for major international events, Cape Town International Convention Centre, (CTICC) management notes that the booking pace is slow at time of writing, especially with the local corporate and international markets. “We are more optimistic about the second half of 2021,” says CTICC CEO Taubie Motlhabane. “Most organisations are looking forward to the third and fourth quarters of 2021 in anticipation of vaccines being available by then in certain parts of the world, and we are hopeful that lockdown levels will be lifted as a consequence.”
Despite the business events sector being one of the hardest hit as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, Motlhabane believes there has been a continued interest in hosting conferences, meetings and incentive travel in Cape Town. She says that since the start of the lockdown in March, the CTICC and the Cape Town & Western Cape Convention Bureau have been focussing on their long-lead business and helped secure 17 new business events (11 for the CTICC), all due to take place between 2022 and 2024. “This is testament to the resilience of the destination, and the continued interest in hosting global business events in the region,” Motlhabane says.
The CEO is also confident that the local (Cape Town and Western Cape) conferencing and events industry has successfully demonstrated that it can resume business safely and responsibly – adhering to prescribed social distancing regulations, ensuring all delegates wear masks and sanitise regularly. The destination has also proved able to pivot to new digital formats for events, successfully hosting the Proof of Concept event and being one of the recent regional hubs of the ICCA Congress.
Despite the imminent rollout of Covid-19 vaccines around the world, Motlhabane anticipates that once events start happening again, there may initially be a decrease in delegate numbers due to a natural apprehension around travelling and gathering. “This means that the tourism industry must continue implementing strict health and hygiene safety protocols to boost confidence and protect clients, suppliers and workforce. Eventually, the numbers will go up again,” she says.
For those looking at hybrid options, the CTICC now offers a specially designed studio for hosting digital events. Motlhabane notes this will allow the venue to scale up its face-to-face events safely and manage the numbers responsibly as they increase.
“Business events are catalysts for change, and the reason we host these will remain the best way to advocate for having meaningful interactions. Going forward, meetings are likely to be more focused on the needs of the clients and venues must put this at the core of their new client engagement strategies if they hope to remain competitive,” the CEO notes. And Motlhabane thinks destinations need to become more actively involved in developing meetings and concepts, building new partnerships, and serving geographically smaller but deeper markets. “Strong professional engagement opportunities would be another key focus by which destinations could play a role,” she says, adding: “Destinations will remain important settings for authentic meetings – those that offer opportunities for personal and professional development could certainly be in higher demand.”
The CTICC’s partnership with the Western Cape Department of Health and its hosting of the 862-bed Covid-19 medical facility, the Hospital of Hope, during the peak of Covid-19 infections in mid-2020 was an illustration of how the team could deliver the highest standards of hygiene and access-control protocols at the venue.
A client-facing C19Care programme is now in place and focused on health and safety procedures from arrival right through events; on external and internal signage and producing food and beverage service options to minimise risk. These efforts have helped the venue gain the global WTTC Safe Travels Stamp and prove it is ready to open its doors again.
Motlhabane concludes that few in the MICE industry anticipate 100% “occupancy” of venues for some time, and a sense of realism is in order when projecting future turnover. “All indications are that recovery will be slow. We are, however, hopeful that with the roll-out of vaccines across the globe, we might be pleasantly surprised by a quicker than expected recovery,” she says.