Business travel bodies are pulling out all the stops to ensure they speak as “one voice” to address negative perceptions of South Africa as a MICE and business travel destination.

“Recent emphasis on the issue of crime in SA, as regards the MICE segment, has started to eclipse our own story. Again,” said the CEO of Cullinan Holdings Ltd, Michael Tollman.

“Does SA have challenges? Yes. But it is not unique as globally there are challenges in leading MICE destinations from London to New York to Sydney.”

According to Tollman, tourism players need to maintain perspective and ensure concerns are put in context in terms of the global landscape regarding traveller safety and the bigger picture of tourism industry performance in South Africa.

“Tourism performance in SA is a continued source of national productivity and pride. We are seeing an overall strong demand for bookings into South Africa for the 2019 year, and we are confident that we will see further growth in 2020 for our inbound tourist numbers,” he said.

Tollman added that, recognising South Africa’s risks, it was encouraging to see the various governmental departments (tourism, home affairs and police services) working closer than ever before with each other to assist in growing the tourism sector and, as a result, creating more employment.

The Southern African Association for the Conference Industry (SAACI) issued a statement to Tourism Update this week assuring members of the business events industry that SAACI was working with all relevant parties – in the private and public sectors – to ensure that accurate information around safety and security is distributed.

“Our member newsletter, SAACIMatters, carried an article on the issue in its October 2019 edition, illustrating the value of effective cooperation and communication in the Western Cape specifically,” says SAACI national chairperson, Kim Roberts.

She pointed out that a special Joint Association Member Meeting Session (JAMMS) in Cape Town also focused on the issue recently, with the South African Police Service and local authorities in attendance.

“We are by no means downplaying the seriousness of the issue, fully realising that any attack on a visitor disrupts tourism business activities and with it the livelihoods of hard-working South Africans,” added Roberts.

She said that while the industry continued to work with law enforcement bodies to ensure the safety of delegates, it also works to address perceptions around safety and security among international associations, event managers, conference organisers and destination marketing companies. 

“This is evident from so many successful bids for international events to be hosted in South Africa – news of which we receive every week. The 2022 Rugby World Cup sevens tournament that will be held here, for example, will bring with it many parallel business events,” commented Roberts.

Chief conventions bureau officer for the South African Tourism (SAT) Convention Bureau, Amanda Kotze-Nhlapo, agreed. She noted that safety would always be a consideration and that all major business events, meetings and conferences hosted in South Africa have security plans.

“In order to win a bid for an international conference or business event we have to demonstrate the safety and security elements provided for the event which is in line with global requirements,” she said.

Industry members such as Daryl Keywood, MD of Walthers Destination Business Solutions and a member of the board of the global Society for Incentive Travel Excellence (SITE), have however highlighted that, aside from ease of access and costs, safety is a major consideration and a concern for international incentive customers.

“I can’t speak for all our SITE members, however from informal discussions as well as my own company’s experiences, I can comment that safety, visas and the cost of access on certain routes holds back significant growth,” he said.

“We have a huge mountain to climb if we are to achieve tourism growth targets for 2030,” said Keywood. “An investment in improved tourism security is relatively small in comparison to the benefits that would be realised. We really cannot afford ignore the importance of addressing this important issue.”