In a world where superheroes are revered for their courage and unyielding determination to save everyone and maintain order, I am reminded of the role of business events in South Africa’s economy.
Having been in the business sector for a couple of years, I can say without a doubt, the business events sector could be seen as South Africa’s Super Hero.
The world of business events is about changing the world for the better. The COVID-19 pandemic no doubt is the villain as it meant that the world could not move or meet, but the need to meet face to face has never been more important than now. Quite frankly, we are all ‘zoomed’ out. It is time to be in the room now.
In 2019 the global business events industry was worth US$6.9 billion. In 2020, it fell to $1.6bn, a 77% drop. Then 2021 saw some recovery to $2.6bn.
Despite it all, projections are very positive and the numbers are estimated to be at an impressive $7.4bn by 2024, surpassing the 2019 pre-pandemic value, and projected to reach $10.2bn by 2028. This essentially means that there will be a minimum of 7% growth rate per annum based on 2024 to 2028 numbers.
Majority prefer in-person meetings
According to a Forbes survey, 84% of executives say they prefer in-person meetings for their ability to build stronger and more meaningful business relationships. In-person meetings also create space for tough, timely business decisions and foster more complex strategic thinking. Over and above this, bringing teams together is also a boon to the economy.
Virtual meetings played a critical part for the business events industry in the last two years when the world could no longer meet due to travel restrictions. Equally, it can’t be debated that technology has its inadequacies. With facial expressions limited or even hidden in the grid of the thumbnails, and ‘off-camera’ participants easily distracted by other more attention-grabbing happenings in their surroundings, ironically virtual meetings have highlighted the absolute efficiency of in-person meetings. It’s the intangibles that matter during the meeting or an even bigger event such as a conference or an exhibition – from a new relationship forged over a drink, a relaxing yoga class after a long day of panel discussions or a level of trust developed from a casual conversation and a handshake.
The Super Power of the business events industry is that it is able to draw like-minded people who then connect, share ideas and, ultimately, meaningfully contribute to the knowledge economy. The business events sector is truly the engine room for powering the South African economy.
Cumulative value of bids
The figures are clear; events are serious business. Over the past two years, despite the COVID-19 pandemic the South African National Convention Bureau (SANCB) team submitted 85 bids between April 1, 2021 and March 30 this year.
The cumulative value of these bids is about $82.3 million. Potentially, these will attract 41 322 international and regional delegates to South Africa between 2022 and 2027.
Thus far, South Africa has won 31 of the bids submitted for the 2021/22 financial year. This secured business will contribute $25.7m to South Africa's economy and attract 13 170 international and regional delegates.
Every business event that comes to our shores has value, big or small.
As much as we would love to see big events grace our shores, we can’t forget the importance of the smaller events, which allow for better geographic spread, more intimate discussions, higher engagement from attendees and a more casual setting. Small, intimate events are about community building uplifting the local community. They contribute to the economy through education and job creation.
Events this size are certainly big contributors to boosting the economies of Villages, Town and Small Dorpies (VTSD). Business events, large and small, stimulate creativity, inspire innovation and propel productivity.
Business events deliver much more than travel and hospitality spend, as significant as that is. They provide researchers and practitioners with a platform to discuss and disseminate new ideas. They are where the brightest minds come together to solve the world’s problems – from health and medical breakthroughs, technology and ethics, engineering and development, to environmental sustainability and more.
Research has identified that business events lead to destination profiling, international network creation, cultural and business development, innovation and foreign investment – all big advantages for any destination.
Tourism benefits from business events. Many delegates who have never visited the destination before they attend a business event there may choose to return as tourists, thus playing a beneficial role in the tourism recovery.
In order to ensure an even more superior experience for both leisure tourists and business events delegates alike, South African Tourism places a great deal of importance on quality and service excellence. The Tourism Grading Council of South Africa, as the leading authority in this regard, not only ensures that these are maintained, but in so doing provides assurance, giving all travellers a sense of comfort and trust, which, as we know, is a great and important currency in this sector.
The numbers speak for themselves. The business events sector is thriving again and tourism will flourish. The fact is, there will always be a sequel to any event and the business events industry will continue to be the superpower South Africa needs.