There remain major challenges to the Meetings, Incentives, Conferences and Exhibitions (MICE) sector amid the COVID-19 pandemic and, while the Southern African Association for the Conference Industry (Saaci) has welcomed the dedicated focus for the business events industry highlighted in the Tourism Budget Vote yesterday (May 18), it noted there was still urgent intervention needed to ensure the survival of the sector.
Delivering her speech during a virtual Parliamentary session yesterday, Minister of Tourism, Mmamoloko Kubayi-Ngubane, announced that her department had achieved the following to support the recovery of the MICE sector:
- 55 bids for international meetings, incentives, conventions and exhibitions were submitted for the period 2022 to 2025.
- The 55 bids submissions have a combined estimated economic impact of R899m (€52m) and may potentially attract 30,521 international and regional delegates to South Africa between 2022 and 2025.
- Thus far, South Africa has won 16 of the bids submitted for the 2020/21 financial year with a 29% conversion rate.
- The secured business events will contribute R296m (€17m) to South Africa’s economy between 2022 and 2025 and attract 9,825 international and regional delegates.
Kubayi-Ngubane further announced that the South African National Convention Bureau had invested R23m (€1.3m) in bid submissions, through its bid support programme to attract business events linked with the national government’s development priorities.
Noting that more funding would have been welcomed, SAACI CEO, Glenton de Kock, said: “In acknowledging that the national fiscus is constrained and our industry is under severe restrictions, we believe that we require a focused approach between the public and private sector to help members, and the entire value chain in the MICE industry. We are calling for a collective effort by all stakeholders.”
De Kock outlined some of the key factors negatively affecting the growth of the MICE sector, stating: “We need to be mindful that, while our borders are open, the placement of South Africa on a ‘red list’ by key source markets will have an impact in 2021 and possibly early 2022 should the current state remain.”
For example, De Kock, pointed out that the US had allowed all vaccinated citizens to travel while the UK still had South Africa on its red alert list, which did not allow any of its citizens to travel to South Africa. Furthermore, the 10-day quarantine for visitors on their return home deterred delegates from travelling.
“The above operating environment may lead to loss of MICE activities for Destination SA in the remainder of 2021.”
De Kock noted that the conference industry had worked to ensure a balance between saving lives and livelihoods and had outlined several areas in which assistance – particularly from Government – was required:
- A co-ordinated Destination SA communication plan to deal with the current narrative is urgently required. “We need to accelerate the South African vaccination programme in earnest, indicating the countries intent on being ready for welcoming visitors.
“We have all the required protocols, we have rapid testing, BUT the global conversation has moved to vaccination, and this is where we need to ensure we are not overlooked because our programme is not activated for the broader citizen population of South Africa.”
Business Events and Events – Definition and use of multi venues
- SAACI and the SA Events Council request that the government separates the business events industry from the general gatherings definition, as well as how ‘venues’ are defined – especially the international convention centres that can host more than one business event a day.
- Consistency is needed when allowing business events to happen within the major metros. At present the City of Johannesburg requires JOC approvals for business events of 50 pax. “This is overpolicing and is an added cost for clients and planners.”
Financial assistance and loans
“Lenders view the business events and events industry as a risk and therefore applications for loans from the business events and events industry are being declined,” said De Kock, appealing to Government to engage the financial industry on loans for the business events and events industry.
Speaking at the two-day Saaci Congress today (May 19), Chief Convention Bureau Officer of the SANCB, Amanda Kotze-Nhlapo, echoed De Kock’s concerns, commenting that the business travel sector was in the engine room of powering South Africa’s economy.
“We are the knowledge economy that helps key industries and services – from agriculture, to tourism, mining, medical and life sciences – stay on top of their game by providing platforms to share skills, network and learn from each other,” she said.