Meetings Africa 2024 – held for the 18th time at the Sandton International Convention Centre from February 26-28 – serves as the African continent’s primary platform to enable the growth of the business events industry and ultimately contribute to its success.
So said Minister of Tourism, Patricia de Lille, at the official launch and press briefing of the event in Johannesburg yesterday.
“Building from the successes recorded in previous years, Meetings Africa 2024 will no doubt enhance the already upward trajectory of our business events and tourism sector’s performance. At this year’s event, we anticipate the attendance and participation of more than 350 exhibitors, 350 local and international buyers, over 20 international media and more than 3 000 delegates,” said De Lille.
According to her, last year’s Meetings Africa contributed R388.5 million (€18.9m) to the South African economy, creating and sustaining 753 jobs while also generating significant business deals worth millions of rands for exhibitors.
Emphasising Meetings Africa as a Pan-African trade show, De Lille reiterated the event’s critical role in telling the African story and promoting the continent as a premier destination for business events and tourism.
“No fewer than 19 African countries are expected to participate in this year’s show as exhibitors will look to showcase their various destinations and products to the strong contingent of international buyers drawn from 52 countries,” she said.
“Building from the successes recorded in previous years, Meetings Africa 2024 will no doubt enhance the already upward trajectory of our business events and tourism sector’s performance. At this year’s event, we anticipate the attendance and participation of more than 350 exhibitors, 350 local and international buyers, over 20 international media and more than 3 000 delegates.”
‘Africa’s success built on quality connections’
One of four panellists who spoke during the media briefing, Frank Murangwa, Director of Destination Marketing at the Rwanda Convention Bureau, agreed that many bids for events held in the East African country had been cemented through participation at Meetings Africa.
He echoed other sentiments expressed by panellists that collaboration between governments and the private sector, as well as countries, was an essential driver of growth for the sector on the continent.
“Rwanda successfully hosted a number regional and global events last year. And with the organisers looking for another venue in Africa, they have asked us to recommend a destination. In the end, if Africa wins, we all win,” he said.
The Meetings Africa theme this year is ‘Africa’s success built on quality connections’ with De Lille emphasising: “The event serves as a rallying call for us to champion the African continent as a coveted destination for business events. We must leverage this platform to narrate our compelling story as Africans.”
The Minister emphasised that the economic advantages stemming from hosting the event would extend beyond the host province, Gauteng, and would be felt even in some of the small towns and villages outside the host province.
She noted that, to achieve this, pre- and post-tours had been meticulously organised for media and buyers attending Meetings Africa this year.
“Fostering inclusivity within the sector remains a paramount objective for Meetings Africa. Consequently, a robust emphasis will be placed on enhancing market access for SMMEs, coupled with dedicated efforts in skills development and capacity-building initiatives,” highlighted De Lille.
She pointed out that activities had been planned to benefit emerging entrepreneurs and SMMEs.
On BONDay (Business Opportunity Networking Day), scheduled for February 26, participants can engage in educational sessions to foster thought leadership and knowledge sharing and provide insights into global trends and local perspectives.
A speed marketing session will also be featured on the same day, highlighting a diverse range of products for global buyers and media.
Another initiative to enhance market access is the Sustainability Village – a vibrant mini marketplace showcasing products by local craftspeople and entrepreneurs.
Optimistic about recovery
De Lille said the launch of Meetings Africa 2024 coincided with an air of optimism sweeping the tourism sector following the sector’s robust recovery and stellar performance last year.
“This year represents a defining moment, and I am hopeful that it is the year in which we will be able to proudly declare our full recovery from the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and stride confidently towards a more sustainable tourism sector,” she said.
Information released by the United Nations World Tourism Organisation this week – showing that Africa had recovered 96% of pre-pandemic visitors in 2023 – gives all the indication that pre-pandemic arrivals will be reached this year.
De Lille pointed out: “The unleashing of remaining pent-up demand, increased air connectivity, and a stronger recovery of Asian markets and destinations, are expected to underpin a full recovery by the end of 2024.”
She said these latest figures were extremely encouraging and were supported by South Africa’s statistics recording 7.6 million international arrivals between January and November 2023, a remarkable 51.8% increase when compared with same period in 2022.
The Minister acknowledged the need for a more streamlined visa process and the need for increased air capacity to remove barriers to travel and promote further growth, saying she was working with the private sector and various government entities to address this.
“Working with the private sector, through the Tourism Business Council of South Africa, we expect to launch a national air access strategy by March,” De Lille said.