Hybrid events – which include physical events with the use technology and digitisation – are the way to go to help the local MICE and business travel sectors get back on their feet when global, regional and domestic corporates start travelling again.

This was highlighted by Chairperson of the Association of African Exhibition Organisers (AAXO), Projeni Pather, during a MICE webinar hosted by South African Tourism this week and which included SA Tourism CEO, Sisa Ntshona, and CEO of the South African Association for the Conference Industry (SAACI), Glenton de Kock.

Discussions by the panel outlined future opportunities for the sector to operate at a domestic level. Current  projections are for domestic tourism to start in November, although SA Tourism and the Tourism Business Council of South Africa are pushing to de-risk segments of the tourism sector to allow them to start operating sooner.

“Technology and virtual meetings and events have always been there in some way or form and they complement events a great deal,” said Pather. She said if the sector went completely virtual, it would deny the economy the revenue from accommodations and other hospitality businesses.

“We shouldn’t shy away from physical events. We need to use technology carefully and analyse which technology to use that will be best for the objectives of the event,” she said. “Businesses need to analyse which platforms and technology they choose to use as that could make or break their events.”

De Kock said hybrid events should be seen as a tool for the industry but that, for the short term, fully virtual events made sense. “As humans, we will always want physical contact, so those types of events will never be replaced. But there will be a shift in the industry. Possibly one-day workshops and meetings and such short events could become fully virtual events.”

He said the activity in the domestic market would be led by corporate South Africa as business events would automatically activate once the industry began to operate again. “There are parts of our country that are not hotspots of the coronavirus where business events and conferences could be shifted to.

“There is a serious issue of possible displacement of events due to postponements. Where does that potential conference go to? Possibly another venue in the country or another destination altogether.”

De Kock said there had been a slowdown in the bidding process of conferences globally for the next two years. “We begin knocking on doors to start bidding for events that could happen in the next 12 to 18 months. As SAACI, we are looking to develop a strategy for bidding at a domestic level for our recovery plan.”