With 1.3m visitors expected to attend the month-long event, the FIFA World Cup is estimated to attract R9.8bn (US$1.3bn) into the national economy. South Africa, warts and all, will be well and truly under the microscope. But there lies a golden opportunity to sparkle, also, in the spotlight of international media attention.
Pretoria claims the mega event, which kicks off next month, will create some 129,000 jobs and improve the international perception of the southern tip of Africa, which is seen by many as unsafe and unable to cope with the big conference business it is vying for.
Business tourism currently represents approximately six per cent (or half a million) of all foreign arrivals in South Africa per year and the country is ranked 34th by the International Congress and Convention Association (ICCA) for the number of international association meetings held.
Industry leaders believe more investment is needed to boost this ranking. “We need financial support from our government to aid with bidding for international events,” says the national chairman for Southern African Association for the Conference Industry (SAACI), Nina Freysen-Pretorius.
“It has to be understood that every win has a knock-on effect for the community as a whole,” she adds. “Our product has improved so much. With the right infrastructure, we are starting to see repeat business and we are able to compete with any other country.”
South Africa is soon to finish its second-largest transport infrastructure project, after the high-speed rail service Gautrain, the R6.7bn (US$920m) King Shaka International Airport in KwaZulu-Natal. When finished, the airport will have the capacity for 7.5m passengers annually (compared to the 4.7m currently handled at Durban International Airport). The impact of the new facility could add as much as R20bn (US$2.7bn) a year to the country’s gross domestic profit. A new international terminal was opened last month at Jo’burg’s O.R. Tambo airport.
South Africa is not a new destination, says Freysen-Pretorius, so “we must be clever with our marketing strategy. We have noticed the World Cup has stimulated interest in our destination and it will set the tone to host other events”.
The manager of strategic research for South African Tourism (SAT), Bashni Muthaya says the Meetings Africa exhibition, held at Johannesburg’s Sandton Convention Centre late February, was critical in ensuring momentum is continued. “We have the infrastructure to host big meetings and I think the world’s biggest event will hold testament to that,” she says. “We would be foolish to think we can do this alone. The wheel exists so let’s learn from other destinations’ successes and mistakes.”
SAT’s global manager for business tourism, Nomasonto Ndlovu, says the idea is to understand the global benchmarks of how countries with a successful meetings industry are doing it. “Our strategy is to use Meetings Africa as a springboard to promote our destination and we hope our exhibitors left having done solid business, not just for 2010 but for the future.”
Organised by Thebe Exhibitions and Projects on behalf of SAT, Meetings Africa 2010 attracted 272 exhibitors, a 12.5 per cent increase on the previous edition, as well as 1,894 international and national visitors. Of those, 123 were international hosted buyers buyers who completed 2,216 scheduled appointments.
Meetings Africa was held alongside the UN World Tourism Organisation and South Africa Summit on Tourism, Sport and Mega-events, which is the first-ever meeting of the tourism ministers of the G20.
It is a fairly new product in the SAT stable and last year was the first time SAT received a detailed analysis of the event. “We focused on the way we approached the hosted buyer programme to understand where we should target,” says Muthaya. “We are looking for big wins in Europe, UK, North America and Asia.”
In harm’s way
For all South Africa’s stunning landscape and unique offerings, security is a big issue. One hosted buyer from the UK and events manager for the Association of Convenience Stores, Sarah Johnson, says safety is still a concern for her even after visiting and that she is still “on the fence” on whether or not to hold events there.
Another hosted buyer and CEO of The Packfords Group and Eventworld, Michael Packford, says: “Security comes up all the time when talking to clients. However, on this trip at no time did I feel threatened. In fact, quite the opposite.”
Meeting support manager for global agency Zibrant, Louise Trinder, agrees: “There were talks of some groups spending their three days at an airport hotel rather than coming into town. “I think that the ‘unsafe’ label is unjustified and I will shout from the rooftops that I disagree.”
The hosted buyer visit did, however, change Johnson’s view of South Africa as a Third World country. “I thought it would be less developed, but this was not the case. They seem to have the venues and hotels.
However, in terms of the World Cup, I don’t think their transport systems are up to it.”
Trinder adds: “My only worry is the transportation of the delegates around the town and freedom they would have because of this. Delegates do like to have the freedom to explore, and the public transport system as it is now is really restricted.
“My hope is that the World Cup experience will improve this dramatically,” she adds.
Freysen-Pretorius admits that transport is an enormous challenge for the country’s PCOs. “From an international perspective, air transportation and getting our delegates over here leads to discussions that the South African product is too expensive.
“As a long-haul destination, we need more carriers coming here and not the monopoly we currently have. Once groups come here they can see the value,” she adds.
Operations manager at Euromoney Training for Europe, Middle East and Africa, Andrew Hinton, says that although his company holds a great deal of training courses in South Africa, it had never crossed his mind to visit.
Packford says there were some exhibitors at Meetings Africa who did not understand that the requirements in the meetings market are very different from the leisure industry. “Some lacked the ‘attention to detail’ or simply did not understand the requirements for international corporates.”
Corrina-Jane Hughes, director of sales at First Event adds that, for her, the country’s corporate social responsibility (CSR) needs to improve. “Venues and other suppliers need to get ‘switched on’ to the importance of CSR and act now.”
On an association level
This year Meetings Africa launched its first Association Day. SAACI provided the education programme. It has a membership base of 1,500 corporate and individual members from not only South Africa but Botswana, Zimbabwe and Swaziland, too. The association signed an official Memorandum of Understanding with SAT to ensure that Meetings Africa and the annual SAACI national conference “form the cornerstone of the industry in the future”.
Ndlovu says if South Africa is to grow its expertise and global competitiveness, education for its meetings professionals remains important. “Education sessions are therefore a strategic part of Meetings Africa and the next few years will see further developments to take this part of the event to the next level.”
The International Congress and Convention Association (ICCA) has maintained a presence at the exhibition for the past four years and its director of research, Marco van Itterzon, says the show is important, not least, because 31 of its African members exhibit there.
The hosted buyer experience
Ndlovu has high hopes the hosted buyers leave as ambassadors for the country. “We are now wanting buyers to come on their own, recognise the potential of the show and the value,” she says.
Sales manager for the Radisson Blu Hotel Sandton, Emmanuel Wela, says that Meetings Africa is essential for generating leads for use post-World Cup.
“With the run up to the World Cup we are challenged by the lack of rooms. Currently, our hotels are fully booked for the event or reserved by FIFA ahead of the event and most buyers we have met are looking for those dates,” says Wela.
“It creates a negative impression of the region and means that they must search for last-minute rooms,” he adds.
Wela advises organisers looking for space or unusual and budget options to consider B&B offers in the largest township, Soweto.
Ndlovu says those venues and hoteliers who exhibited at Meetings Africa are “suddenly talking to internationals, and this improves their services”.
The local corporate market is not to be taken for granted, but “in tough times, it really is the domestic market that helps to fill the rooms and use the infrastructure”.
Learning from mistakes, taking advantage of the international spotlight and building on an ambitious and experienced local meetings industry means South Africa should be able to score so impressive international results in the not too distant future.