Rick Taylor, CEO of the Business Tourism Company and founding CEO of the Cape Town Convention Bureau(South Africa’s first stand-alone Convention Bureau), penned the following editorial on Africa’s growing appeal for large-scale meetings and incentives for theBusiness Tourism Council.
Taylor understands Africa’s potential and how it can flourish: Under his leadership, Cape Town rose from 51 to 30 on the ICCA list of top international conference and incentive cities, from 1998 to 2000. At the same time, the Cape Town Convention Bureau won more than 80 percent of all conference bids: a record still unmatched.
The 21st Century belongs to Africa: Africa is an economic bright spot with the fastest growing middle class. The Continent has incredible assets, including a population of +1 billion with amazing diversity in culture and environment, and only 5 percent of global tourist arrivals, according to The Economist 2013.
Global travel is showing positive growth trends and business travel in particular registered 6percent growth in 2013 (World Travel Monitor). The ‘World Confidence Index’ forecasts business tourism growth of 4 percent for 2014.
Supply and demand within the African MICE industry is intrinsically linked to developments within the global economy as well as to levels of prosperity and growth within individual nations. To a great extent, the volume of demand for business events in a destination tends to directly reflect levels of economic activity in that destination.
RELATED: Rwanda Steps Up Outreach for MICE Business
African economies as a whole have performed well and demonstrated considerable growth, albeit from a low base in some cases. African leaders have just returned from the August USA-Africa Summit with a bag of pledges that could, if honored, bring cheaper power, improved maternal health, curb poaching and extend duty-free exports to the USA for another 15 years; great meetings subjectivity for African destinations to sweat.
Where is Africa Growing?
According to the Economist, six of the world’s fastest-growing economies in the past decade were in Sub-Saharan Africa; Angola, Nigeria, Ethiopia, Chad, Mozambiqueand Rwanda all showing annual growth rates of around 8 percent or more in that period.
Agriculture, telecoms, mobile banking and healthcare are the sectors expected to show strongest growth in the coming years. A clear example is seen in the growth of mobile phone contracts in Africa by almost 20 percent a year since 2006 (according to Groupe Speciale Mobile Association which represents global mobile operators). It is significant that most of the industries set to expand fastest in Africa are also traditionally sectors of high demand for conference and incentive travel events.
As the economies of the African continent grow and diversify, there are indications that many nations are becoming more stable and democratic.
Consistent with global trends, more African countries are allowing greater voice for civil society organisations, including trade and professional associations, resulting in a direct impact on increasing demand for conference facilities and services. Such associations, whether local, national, regional or pan-African, fuel the demand for venues, professional conference organizers and other suppliers, through their obligation to bring their members together on a regular basis, for annual general meetings, information/training seminars and other events.
A steadily growing number of African citizens are signing up for membership of international non-governmental organisations; by 2012 almost 25,000 such organisations had members based in African countries. The implications of this for Africa’s conference industry are huge; the presence of members of international professional associations in African nations puts such countries in a much stronger position to bid for association conferences. It is one of the important roles of a National Convention Bureau to motivate these members to lobby to bring the conferences of their professional associations to African destinations.
Another factor adding to Africa’s appeal as a destination for international association conferences is the growth of the professional middle classes. Africa’s population is growing at a faster rate than that of any other region, and it is the middle class that is expanding most rapidly. According to the African Development Bank, by 2030 Africa’s middle class will comprise over 300 million people who will spend US$2.2 trillion a year between them. Professional associations are attracted to destinations offering the opportunity of gaining new members, and African countries increasingly offer fertile recruiting grounds for associations.
How Africa’s Infrastructure can Help
Africa’s competitiveness in the international conference and incentive travel market is in part dependent upon the extent and quality of its infrastructure. Indispensable to the international MICE tourism sector is frequent, direct air links between African countries and key markets. Venues of world-class standard continue to open their doors to business tourism in countries all over the African continent for example:
• Rwanda’s iconic US$300 million Kigali Convention Centre is presently under construction as are several big brand hotels such as Kempinski, Marriott and Radisson Blu. Rwanda has also recently hosted a number of high-level successful large conferences, in particular the 2,800 delegate African Development Bank Congress in 2014 and the 2,000 delegate Transform Africa Congress in 2013.
• The $ 200 million African Union conference centre in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
• Es Saadi Palace Spa in Marrakech opened two years ago, has a 150-room hotel, ten villas, a 92-suite palace and a business centre with seven conference rooms covering between 130 square meters and 600 square meters.
The role of marketing destinations for MICE business belongs to the steadily growing number of Convention Bureaux being created to represent and promote African destinations. Africa’s latest National Convention Bureau is the Rwanda Convention Bureau launched in March 2014, a client of The Business Tourism Company.
Africa is only now emerging as a viable, new destination. You can do your business or hold your conference in a sophisticated environment but also observe the wildlife (Kenya), culture (Ethiopia), scenic beauty (Rwanda and Tanzania) and a number of the “wonders of the world” (Zimbabwe and Zambia). It has become more and more accessible and there is a desire to see and experience what it has to offer. Africa’s time is now.
By the Numbers
According to the International Congress and Conference Association (ICCA), the monitor in the global association business tourism measurement game, the past decade has shown a 35 percent growth in Association meetings to Africa.
We might not yet be the Promised Land, but we are a land of tremendous promise.