The emphatic message coming from the Department of Tourism during the recent Meetings Africa gathering is that South Africa is open for business..
Meeting Africa is recognised as Africa’s leading business and tourism trade show, and appeals to influential buyers from around the globe.
It’s a flagship marketing effort of South African Tourism (SAT), and focuses primarily on the so-called MICE (meetings, incentives, conference, and exhibitions) industry, with products and solutions that catch the attention of local and international buyers alike.
Meetings Africa 2012 at the same time saw the roll-out of the National Convention Bureau (NCB) which is intending to play a vital role in harnessing national tourism initiatives.
“The NCB will prove to add significant value to the country’s business tourism industry,” stated tourism minister Marthinus van Schalkwyk, “and will strengthen and support efforts already being made to drive expansion in business tourist arrivals to make South Africa a truly global force.”
Van Schalkwyk remarked that through the prosperous hosting of major events including the 2010 Fifa World Cup, the recent COP17 climate change conference, along with other sporting, business and tourism events, South Africa has built its credentials as a accredited global host.
He went on to state that South Africa carries with it an advantage in that the country has world-class business and conference facilities, but in addition exceptional leisure tourism attractions along with hospitable and friendly people.
The NCB was started in November 2011 and is led by executive director Amanda Kotze-Nhlapho, who joined up with SAT following a successful tenure as head of convention bureau and events at Cape Town Routes Unlimited.
“We are convinced that the industry is in a position to contribute to the economy,” she explained.
The NCB are able to offer services which include help and support with the planning of conventions, all facets of the bidding process, and on-site event services.
Welcome to South Africa
A presentation by Mabeka Makola, SAT’s brand experience manager, provided specifics about the organisation’s SAT’s Welcome Campaign, geared towards inspiring all South Africans to welcome visitors warmly as a result inspire them to return.
He stated that the perception of the country is a vital element not merely in bringing visitors back, but also in inspiring them to pass on the word about South Africa back home.
“It’s about every single person working together to highlight the small things that will likely have a much better influence on visitor perception in the long run.”
The initiative is going into its second phase of execution, which brings the consumer on board. Phase one was concerned with talks with the trade.
“We have to partner with small businesses to make certain that this campaign actually reaches the full potential, simply because its success depends on partnerships,” said Makola.
Significance of the BRICS partnership to South Africa
A Meetings Africa panel discussion highlighted the role South Africa’s BRICS membership has played in fuelling trade and investment in the country.
South Africa officially joined the bloc of emerging economic powers in April 2011.
Soni, Brand South Africa chairperson, told the guests the fact that the move to join BRICS has allowed South Africa to connect with the big growth economies in the world, and additionally tap into their profitable markets.
“President Jacob Zuma has shared that since we joined the BRICS family, our exports grew four-fold into those countries and our imports into the same countries doubled,” said Soni. “It therefore makes business sense to play with the largest growing economies in the world.”
She went ahead and added that to make the most of these business opportunities, long-term strategies were needed, and these were in place.
Demidova, general director at Expert Avis Marketing, pointed out that there is remarkable interest in South Africa from the Russian side. “Russians have an interest in what is happening in this country, and are checking out the destination as a possible event alternative.”
She hinted at the likelihood of direct flights between South Africa and Russia in the foreseeable future, likening the idea to the recent non-stop flight to China introduced by South African Airways.
South Africa and China have established bilateral agreements in numerous areas, including transport, education, housing, infrastructure, and water resource management.
The introduction of non-stop flights between South Africa and Russia promises to facilitate business and leisure travel in between the two countries, stated Demidova.
She mentioned that South Africa will need to continue to keep focus on issues of accessibility to the country, such as visa requirements, flight length and destination promotion. She disclosed statistics from Russia which reveal that since Latin America dropped visa requirements, travel from Russia to that region improved significantly.
Ji, Civic Group founder from China, shared Demidova’s sentiment, and suggested that the Chinese people would like to know much more about South Africa and how to do business with the country.
“Our emphasis is on cooperation and seeking for a win-win situation,” she said. “We are extremely open to forming new partnerships and are focusing on the long term interest.”
Devarajan, president of India’s largest travel group Kuoni India, mentioned that there are numerous factors to take into consideration when organizing a MICE tour.
“The planner wants a focus on logistics, access and customising an itinerary to suit the traveller, while the tourist wants to see new things, experience new sites and enjoy nightlife and shopping. Corporate visitors want more bang for their buck and are concerned about safety” he explained.
When it comes to Indian visitors to South Africa, Devarajan mentioned that their numbers would increase if hotels made available more Indian products, such as Indian television channels and cuisine.
The harsh truth for business tourism, said Soni, is the fact that South Africans will need to speak with one voice.
“Business, government, society and the media really have to communicate accurate messages, and we all need to be ambassadors for our country.”