Leaders in the MICE and business travel sector are pushing to de-risk the operations to ensure the fast-tracked return to business during the nationwide lockdown.

This was one of the key takeaways of a discussion in yesterday’s (May 20) webinar where SA Tourism CEO, Sisa Ntshona hosted CEO of the South African Association for the Conference Industry (SAACI), Glenton de Kock, and Chairperson of The Association of African Exhibition Organisers (AAXO), Projeni Pather.

Pather said the exhibitions component of the MICE sector had come to a complete standstill due to COVID-19 as it fell into the category of mass gatherings.

“Subsequently, all exhibition and events organisers are seeking alternative dates in the calendar,” said Pather. “Venues are struggling to accommodate these within the next six months and into 2021.”

According to De Kock, the MICE sector caters for all South Africa’s economic sectors – from medical to mining, tourism and construction – as it provides a collective gathering space at a specific destination where corporates can network, share ideas and develop or enhance their skills.

Therefore, he added, South Africa needed to ensure that, when corporate South Africa went back to operating again, so does the MICE and business events sector.

De Kock noted that this sector had always been heavily regulated and that it shouldn’t just be seen as a ‘mass gathering’.

“Adopting new health measures, regulations or policies such as facial recognition screening won’t be a challenge for this sector. Some of the resources and services to do so already exist.

“Our sector does organised events and, because it’s organised, the tracking and tracing done by the Department of Health can be comfortably done.”

De Kock argued that smaller venues – which will be able to host events for a maximum of 50 people, as per the government’s distancing measures – should be allowed to operate in level three of the risk-adjusted COVID-19 strategy.

Pather agreed, highlighting that Germany had successfully convinced its government that the MICE sector only represented mass gatherings. “We have the details of those planning to attend conferences and exhibitions and we’re able to do pre-registrations. This would help regulate the number of people attending the event for a certain period of time,” she said.

“All our events associations have come together and developed an events safety council that is working on a framework that will guide us on how we operate and to show government that we know what we’re doing and acting responsibly in these unprecedented times,” said Pather.

To view the entire webinar, please click on the video below.