In 2015, tourists visiting South Africa for business, spent R42 billion (€3.05bn) in the country, while the meetings, incentives, conventions and exhibitions (MICE) sector created 280 000 jobs.

Minister of Tourism, Derek Hanekom, shared these numbers while opening the Meetings Africa trade show at the Sandton Convention Centre in Johannesburg on Tuesday morning.

The Minister said the figures were based on a three-year study of the sector. He explained that the R42bn was direct spend, while the 280 000 jobs created included direct and indirect jobs in associated sectors.

The figures are also from 2015, a year when tourism to South Africa was still recovering from a decline following restrictive immigration regulations and the Ebola outbreak in West Africa.

The study also found that the US was South Africa’s biggest source market for business tourists, accounting for 12.5% of total arrivals. Other significant markets included the UK, Nigeria and Turkey.

According to the study, a third of business delegates travel within South Africa, enjoying the country’s leisure offering, while the likelihood of delegates returning to holiday in the country with family and friends is high. Some of the attractions and destinations most visited by delegates include the Kruger National Park, Soweto, Hermanus and the Drakensberg.

The study also found there was a trend of meetings being held outside major centres, a trend the Minister welcomed, adding that geographical spread was a key goal and crucial to drive the Department of Tourism’s transformation agenda.

SA Tourism CEO, Sisa Ntshona, identified two trends highlighted by a recent Bookings.com study, which he said the sector must capitalise on – the rise of ‘bleisure travel’, where travellers add a leisure component to their business trips; and the rise of sustainable, or green, travel.

Ntshona said three-quarters of respondents surveyed by Bookings.com said they would extend their business trips this year, and that business travellers spent three times what leisure travellers did.

The CEO highlighted that sustainability was the theme of this year’s Meetings Africa show. He said, increasingly, delegates attending meetings and events wanted to leave a social responsibility legacy and also offset their carbon footprint, adding that the sector needed to cater for this.

Opening the show, the CEO wished all exhibitors and buyers in attendance a productive and profitable show.