The COVID-19 pandemic is an opportune moment for small towns across South Africa to develop their business tourism offerings.
This is according to MD of The MICE Academy, Helen Brewer, who told Tourism Update that there was huge potential for developing business tourism in South Africa’s smaller and more rural towns, in line with UNWTO’s theme for 2020: ‘Tourism and Rural Development’.
The ability for smaller-scale destinations to develop a completely contained MICE offering with no contact outside the travelling group could be an important selling point, said Brewer. “People would all come into town together and stay at their accommodations or event venues and leave together, rather than external people coming and going constantly. This is complementary to COVID health and safety protocols compared with being in a big city such as Johannesburg.”
Brewer said she had been thinking about this concept for a while, and had identified the corporate market as the ideal consumers for the small town offerings. “The corporate market tends to have lower guest numbers but more events throughout the year,” she said.
“This won’t be an overnight fix, especially at the moment,” she warned. “It needs to be developed properly.”
She said for any MICE development to be successful the entire package needed to be co-ordinated by the town’s local tourism authority. “There will have to be an audit process of each town to see if their offerings are conducive to hosting business tourists,” she said.
The audit would consist of an evaluation of the town’s external factors, including access to emergency services and Internet connectivity, and an internal audit of accommodations, venue spaces and places of interest.
“There will need to be a co-ordinator who organises between the hotels and B&Bs and is able to present all the elements as a package,” said Brewer, cautioning that organisers needed to steer away from promoting one hotel or event space and rather promote the whole destination.
She said while not all towns would be suited to offer such packages, the potential to develop the industry for smaller towns was great. “They would be able to measure the economic benefits, should this be done properly.”
In a new venture, to help developing destinations, The MICE Academy had started to offer a service where it carried out the audit of the town and helped to assemble the overall proposal, said Brewer, emphasising her belief in the success of the idea.