South Africa is increasing efforts to boost meetings and incentives business following its hosting last year of soccer’s World Cup. The widely viewed event not only created positive awareness of the country, but resulted in new and improved infrastructure geared for business tourism.
“Post-World Cup is a time of opportunity for business tourism to South Africa,” said Laura Saeger, CMP, CMM, U.S. business tourism manager for South Africa Tourism.
“Our strategy is to focus on large international conventions, though not neglecting incentives,” Saeger told Travel Market Report.
“Associations have proven to be the most recession-proof of the business tourism sector. There may be fewer participants, but we haven’t seen any cancellations in association conferences.”
North America is a prime market, since it is the world’s largest MICE market. In South Africa, business tourists (meeting/ conference attendees and incentive travelers) accounted for just under 5% of all tourists last year. More than half of those business tourists, or 3% of all tourists, came from the U.S., said Saeger.
Saeger is one of four South African tourism executives devoted to the global MICE market. The others are based in Australia, the U.K. and France.
Incentives: a ‘change of heart’
In the incentives market, Saeger said that South Africa is benefiting from corporate America’s “change of heart,” after a period when overseas trips were considered a public relations risk.
“They are now nowhere near as intimidated or worried about being seen taking their top achievers overseas again.”
South Africa’s research indicates a 27% increase in incentive travel from the U.S. in 2010 over the previous year. That’s the biggest hike since 2007, she said.
Common language makes it easy
South Africa is a unique international destination for meetings and incentives, Saeger said. “Since English is the language of business in South Africa, it’s easy to meet here.
“You can attend a conference in a state-of-the-art convention center. Then, if you can add time to your trip, the challenge is choosing from all the rich experiences and compelling places you want to see.”
Saeger encourages pre- and post-tours for association and conference attendees as a way to drive registration.
“In an area slightly less than twice the size of Texas, there is such a diversity of experiences – from vibrant cities to the bush, beautiful coastlines and scenery, extraordinary Winelands, art and culture, fine dining and wonderful local cuisine,” she said.
Three top choices
South Africa’s three main destinations for meetings and conventions are: Cape Town, on the Atlantic coast just north of the Cape of Good Hope; Johannesburg, the metropolis in the center of the country, and Durban on the Indian Ocean coast.
All three have international convention centers, recently upgraded international airports, a host of deluxe and first class hotels and improved transportation infrastructure.
New and upgraded facilities
Upcoming developments include a project to double the size of the Cape Town International Convention Centre. It is slated to be completed by 2015.
The newly opened East London International Convention Centre aims to attract large conventions to the Eastern Cape, south of Durban.
Also new is the high-speed Gautrain, which links Johannesburg’s international airport with the city’s northern suburb of Sandton, where the convention center is located.
On the hotel front, the Rezidor International Hotel Group has opened new Radisson Blu properties in Cape Town, Johannesburg and Port Elizabeth. Its new safari resort in Kruger National Park is expected to open in 2013.
In Cape Town, there’s a new One&Only Resort.
Southern Sun Hotels has opened a new hotel in Johannesburg and renovated most of its properties throughout the country.
Hosting U.S. buyers
South Africa showcases its MICE facilities at the annual Meetings Africa trade show, held at Johannesburg’s Sandton Convention Centre.
The trade show includes a hosted buyer program, in which South Africa finances buyers’ trips to the show and their pre- and post-tours, Saeger said. Buyers include association and corporate meeting planners, and meetings and incentive house executives.
South Africa has increased the number of U.S. buyers it hosts, up from just eight five years ago to 26 this year, Saeger said. She is targeting about 36 buyers for next year’s event, which is slated for Feb. 28 to March 1.
Works closely with DMCs
In the U.S. Saeger focuses her marketing efforts on attending large meetings and incentives trade shows. It’s the most efficient way to reach the largest audience, she said.
She also works particularly closely with destination management companies (DMCs). “The DMCs convert the business,” she said. “They are the ones that close the deal and work one on one with customers.”
Convention bureau planned
To better market MICE facilities internationally, South Africa Tourism is planning to create a national events and convention bureau.
“Currently there is no coordinated effort at the national level to attract international events,” said Saeger. “Different provinces and cities are competing against one another to secure events business.
“A central bureau should alleviate unnecessary competition and pull together all the resources that showcase the country.”
Distance, cost are concerns
Distance from the U.S. and cost are the main hurdles to selling the country, Saeger said.
“The length of incentives in particular has dipped, and this is a challenge for us because of the distance from the U.S.,” she said. “We just have to sell what an outstanding destination South Africa is.”
Cost will always be a factor, but her office works with South African Airways to get favorable rates.
Offsetting price concerns
Airfares are balanced by South Africa’s accommodation, food and tour prices, which tend to be more affordable than in comparable destinations, Saeger said.
“A five-star hotel in the U.S. and in Europe will cost more than the equivalent in South Africa,” Saeger said. “And fine dining in South Africa is an amazing value compared to the U.S.”