As the world celebrated World Tourism Day with enthusiasm in September, there was another formidable player in the mix: the Meetings, Incentives, Conferences, and Exhibitions (MICE) industry. While it may not bask in the limelight like traditional tourism, its potential to reinvigorate both the sector and SA’s broader economy is unmistakable, holding the promise of billions in revenue, job opportunities, and invaluable knowledge sharing, all poised for the taking.
The MICE industry, sprawling and diverse, often lacks a clear-cut structure and formal definition, making it struggle for recognition on the global stage. Yet, the impact of hosting conferences and business events is nothing short of monumental.
To propel industry growth, we must go all out in luring major events and conferences. This entails offering enticing and larger incentives, including tax breaks, subsidies, and robust marketing support. Additionally, bolstering infrastructure, especially upgrading transportation networks, is imperative. Accessibility reigns supreme, with efficient airports and transportation links as non-negotiable elements. Equally vital is a heightened focus on sustainability.
Business events are more than just gatherings; they are catalysts for economic activity, job creation, and the stimulation of innovation and knowledge transfer. They provide platforms for industries to showcase their capabilities, exchange ideas, and form relationships that can culminate in lucrative deals and investments. The Western Cape stands as a testament to these benefits, reaping financial rewards from delegate participation and tourism revenue.
Cape Town, in particular, has emerged as a hub for major conferences and events, hosting prestigious gatherings like the World Economic Forum on Africa in recent times. The ripple effects of these events extend far beyond business tourism, fuelling long-term economic growth across related sectors such as transportation, information technology, marketing services, and investment.
What makes the Western Cape stand out is its commitment to creating an environment conducive to international events. The region boasts top-notch venues like the Century City Conference Centre and the Cape Town International Convention Centre (CTICC), which recently underwent expansion to become one of Africa's premier conference venues.
Moreover, Cape Town's natural beauty and diverse tourism offerings play a pivotal role in attracting international events. The city's investment in transportation infrastructure, including the MyCiTi bus rapid transit system, further solidifies its status as an attractive event destination.
With support from the province and the city, Wesgro’s Convention Bureau champions the region as a prime business destination. Recent statistics paint an encouraging picture: Between 2014 and 2019, the Western Cape played host to 378 international association meetings, generating a substantial economic impact of R4.7bn (€230m) during that period. These numbers don't even factor in other business event categories like exhibitions and domestic conferences.
Looking ahead, the momentum continues with eight new bids secured for the upcoming fiscal year's first quarter. These are expected to inject an estimated R352m (€17.2m) into the economy and draw in approximately 12 000 delegates to our shores.
The economic advantages of hosting conferences and events are evident. They not only bring visitors to the region but also stimulate economic activity, create jobs, invigorate local hospitality and tourism industries, and accelerate innovation and knowledge transfer.
To position SA as the destination of choice for international events, a multifaceted approach is essential. We must consider offering more incentives to event organisers, and financial support for event infrastructure development. Crucially, simplifying the visa application process and reducing regulations will make it more attractive for attendees and organisers, enhancing SA's appeal.
Connectivity and environment
Investing in technology to support virtual and hybrid events is paramount, given the accelerated adoption of these formats due to the COVID-19 pandemic. A robust virtual platform and reliable power supply and Internet connectivity are prerequisites for success. Essentially, allocating funds to modern digital technology and infrastructure will not only keep us competitive but also expand the reach of business tourism.
Equally important, we must focus on improving air connectivity infrastructure. The existence of direct flights to various international destinations from Cape Town by airlines like Emirates, Qatar, and Ethiopian Airlines bodes well for event organisers. Strengthening these international connections increases the likelihood of SA being chosen as a destination, resulting in improved revenue for the local economy.
Business events don't merely attract delegates; they lay the foundation for economic resilience and innovation. They are a catalyst for industries to flex their muscles, exchange ideas, and forge relationships that lead to deals and investments. They have the potential to lure trade and investment opportunities aligned with SA's growth sectors, positioning the nation as a global player.
To attract major conferences and events, we must also adopt a proactive strategy. This involves not only assessing and enhancing existing infrastructure but also forging robust international partnerships. Collaborating with foreign industries and professional associations paves the way for SA's entry into the global conferences and events arena.
Environmental impact growing in importance
The environmental impact of conferences is growing in importance, with organisers increasingly favouring eco-conscious destinations. Hence, we must position the country as a premier eco-friendly choice for hosting major events. Achieving this demands the implementation of stringent environmental laws and regulations that promote sustainability in conference centres and related activities.
In harmony with this year's World Tourism Day theme, which underscored the importance of targeted investments for driving sustainable development goals, SA has a distinctive opportunity to take the lead by embracing eco-conscious practices and rigorous environmental regulations. This commitment to sustainability will resonate with events dedicated to bettering the world, aligning with the United Nations' Sustainable Development Goals.
The meetings and events industry, frequently underestimated, presents an accessible path that, with proper support and a long-term vision, can substantially bolster our economic growth, spur innovation, and ensure a prosperous tomorrow.