Africa is making headway to build a reputation as an events destination. That was the ambitious message at Meetings Africa 2019, the largest annual Pan-African business trade show for the global meetings and events industry.
Held annually at the Sandton Convention Centre in Johannesburg, South Africa, Meetings Africa continues to serve as the primary platform for South Africa and a growing congregation of African nations to exhibit the meetings and incentives offerings by local DMOs, hospitality providers, tour operators and new hotels by international brands, such as Accor, Hilton, Hyatt and Marriott.
Accor commands the largest market share with more than 26,500 rooms in 156 properties in 23 African countries and is on track to open 35 new hotels by 2020, particularly in rapid sub-Saharan and East Africa.
“Meetings Africa entered its 14th year with an abundance for connecting and clinching mutually beneficial deals,” says Sisa Ntshona, CEO of South African Tourism, who predicted that the 2019 conference’s estimated economic impact would exceed last year’s projected total of $235 billion.
Despite geopolitical, health and infrastructure challenges, the World Tourism Organization reports that Africa’s tourism potential could more than double the number of visitors from 50 million in 2010 to 134 million in 2030. “This year, we continue the theme of shared economies,” Ntshona continues. “This is critical and is the heart of doing business in Africa. It’s about cementing partnerships that will position the African continent globally as an ideal business events destination.”
Celebrating 25 years of democracy this year, South Africa remains the No. 1 MICE leader in Africa with Cape Town, Durban and Johannesburg as the top dogs, attracting more than 200,000 conventions, conferences and meetings each year. The country is also a bucket-list draw for hyper-personalized incentives and leisure travel thanks to its sound infrastructure, wealth of facilities, tremendous cultural and wildlife experiences, and its new focus on hospitality and facility standards.
This year, the Tourism Grading Council of South Africa implemented revised grading standards to establish a globally benchmarked system of quality assurance for accommodations and venues. “Our aim is to ensure that all visitors who stay at graded establishments have only the best experience,” says Darryl Erasmus, chief quality assurance officer at SA Tourism. “Our assessors are the most important cog in this wheel as we head into new territory later this year.”
Nearly 60 trained grading assessors also established a new accolades program to categorize properties with niche differentiations including event venues and wellness facilities. Established in September 2002, TGCSA operates as a business unit of South African Tourism and is the only officially recognized quality assurance body for tourism products in South Africa. Hospitality sites are reviewed every three years.
Johannesburg ranks third in South Africa’s MICE market but is growing swiftly as the country’s economic powerhouse and the home of the largest stock market in Africa. The city’s main convention facilities, in order of size, are the MTN Expo Centre Nasrec, Sandton Convention Centre, the Gallagher Estate and the Coca-Cola Dome. Combined, they offer hundreds of meeting rooms for tens of thousands of attendees, reports Rendani Khorommbi, deputy director of the Johannesburg Convention Bureau. Recently modernized, O.R. Tambo International is Africa’s busiest airport, but Johannesburg remains a challenge to navigate without a private car.
Elsewhere, South Africa’s world-renowned wine region hosted the first Cape Winelands conference.
The lion’s share of MICE business in Africa belongs to South Africa but, believing that the business market is key to the economic growth of the African continent, South Africa shared its Meetings Africa spotlight with emerging markets.
Access to this northern country has improved with new Ethiopia Airways routes connecting Chicago and Los Angeles. Hyatt strengthened the brand’s presence in Africa with the Hyatt Regency Addis Ababa, the brand’s first hotel in Ethiopia and seventh in Africa. The 188-room property is centrally located on Meskel Square near the National Museum, the United Nations Conference Center and African Union Headquarters, the largest conference facility in the country. The new Hyatt’s Regency Ballroom adjoins the hotel’s courtyard, and 18,300 square feet of flexible meeting space overlooks Meskel Square and offers high-tech audiovisual and lighting equipment. Travelers enjoy local attractions including the National Palace and Africa’s biggest open market in the lively Mercato district.
Tanzania is an economically developing country and a preferred travel destination for safari enthusiasts, with vast expanses populated by some of the largest concentrations of wild animals in the world: zebras, wildebeests, monkeys, antelopes, lions, cheetahs, giraffes, buffalos, gazelles and flamingos. MICE group wish lists often include Serengeti National Park, Mount Kilimanjaro or the Ngorongoro Crater. Visitors are also wooed by Zanzibar, the most famous of Tanzania’s islands.
As one of the biggest economic powers in Africa, Nigeria remains a business destination rather than a tourist draw. With a population of more than 15 million, the capital city of Lagos is Africa’s largest city, and the musical capital of Afro-beat, aka juju and African hip-hop. The Nigerian state government opened the Calabar International Convention Center in 2015.
The MICE market is a Rwandan priority, particularly in Kigali, considered by some to be the safest and cleanest capital city in Africa. Rwanda Development Board CEO Clare Akamanzi reports new investment in the RwandAir national airline, hotels and the Kigali Convention Centre. KCC has hosted world-class forums, such as the Transform Africa Summit, Afreximbak Annual General Assembly, Youth Connect Africa, World Economic Forum on Africa, Meeting of the Parties to the Montreal Protocol and the 84th Interpol General. Rwanda’s most popular MICE-market experience is a program to see mountain gorillas. Soon, Wilderness Safaris will debut a new chimpanzee and primate conservation and tourism program in Rwanda’s Gishwati-Mukura National Park.
Like Rwanda, Uganda offers unforgettable great ape excursions. Uganda’s reliably good roads and proximity to a wide range of lodging—from boutique hotels to luxury safari tents—make gorilla and chimpanzee trekking more accessible than ever to MICE travelers. Boosting meeting planner confidence in the country’s business market services, Mice Uganda won the 2018 African Top 100 Tour Operators award, proudly notes Gloria Tumisigye, CEO of the Association of Uganda Tour Operators.
Kenya Airlines now offers direct flights from New York City to Nairobi, reducing travel time by 10 hours. Not only is Kenya now a major player in the African MICE market, but it’s also the second-largest African MICE buyer. Over the past three years, the country has hosted some of its first international conferences and exhibitions, attracting more than 100,000 global delegates. It’s a boost to the Kenyan tourism and travel industry that has struggled to recover from Islamic terrorist strikes on the Kenyan Coast in 2012 and 2013, and continuing war to the east. To attract customers, hotels and travel agencies have lowered prices, while the Kenyan government has tightened security at major tourist sites. The United States remains the largest source market for tourism in Kenya, followed by the United Kingdom and India. By 2022, China is expected to become the largest market source of Kenyan tourism.
New travel operators continue to join the African Travel and Tourism Association, including Abercrombie & Kent Australia. New African Territories has added a new luxury-tented camp, Kipalo; a private elephant and cheetah conservancy bordering Tsavo West National Park; and Maasai Trails walking safaris, cultural immersion tours led by local Maasai warriors as guides in Loita between the more-frequented Mara and Serengeti. In northern Kenya, the Elewana Lodo Springs luxury safari camp opened in June.
Driving Positive Change
Meetings Africa 2019 also took pride to showcase Africa as a business events destination that cares about its people and the natural environment with its second annual Green Hotel Awards. The conference itself was hosted responsibly by providing renewable energy options to power exhibitor booths and reduce greenhouse gasses. Meetings Africa also walked the walk by partnering with Food & Trees for Africa, which plants exhibitor-donated trees in disadvantaged communities. Each tree offsets four hours of air travel and more than 1,050 miles in automotive travel.