The impact of COVID-19 was felt in all industries and sectors around the world. The business events industry which includes Meetings, Incentives, Conventions and Exhibitions (MICE) was one of the hardest hit. The industry experienced large scale cancellations and postponements and had to adopt a safety-first approach.

2020 was meant to be a bumper year for South Africa from a business events perspective. In 2019 the International Congress and Convention Association (ICCA) ranked South Africa as the number one association destination on the continent and the Middle East.

The South Africa National Convention Bureau (SANCB) in conjunction with the City and Provincial Convention Bureaus managed to negotiate the postponement of 39 international conferences that were scheduled to take place in South Africa in 2020 and 2021. These conferences will now be hosted in 4th quarter of 2021 & 2022 and will potentially attract 16 800 delegates to the country, generating 171 events days and contributing R494m to the economy.

The SANCB plays a pivotal role in the business events industry through collaboration with the industry to facilitate and coordinate South Africa’s bidding activities, and supporting the industry through the bid support program.

During the lockdown period, from April to 15 December 2020 the SANCB with its partners have been working hard on replenishing the business events pipeline. Over the lockdown period, 29 bids for international meetings, incentives, conventions and exhibitions was submitted for 2022 – 2025. The 29 bids submissions have a combined estimated economic impact of R624m, and can potentially attract 19 796 international and regional delegates to South Africa between 2022 and 2025.

Thus far South Africa won 10 of the bids submitted for the 2020/21 financial year. These secured pieces of business will contribute R159m to South Africa’s economy between 2022 – 2025 and will attract 5 875 international and regional delegates to the country. The SANCB invested R12,9m in these bid submissions through its bid support programme which aims to attract business events to South African that is linked with the National Government’s development priorities. The secured conferences will also contribute to the regional spread of business events and will be hosted in Port Elizabeth, Potchefstroom, Ventersburg, Mahikeng, Cape Town and Stellenbosch.

Ms Amanda Kotze-Nhlapo, Chief Convention Bureau Officer of the SANCB, said “As part of the SANCB’s recovery contribution the unit and its partners focused a lot of energy and resources in securing business events that can replenish the future pipeline that was impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. These are important steps in getting South Africa back to our Pre COVID-19 performance.

The secured conferences will not only contribute to attracting international delegates to the country but will also contribute to the development of our country in key economic sectors including Manufacturing, Business Process Outsourcing, Medical and Life Sciences, ICT and Creative industries. These conferences will create investment, knowledge exchange and export opportunities which will assist our country in rebuilding the economy.”

As part of South African Tourism’s recovery plan the SANCB  is conducting a full review of South Africa’s Bid Support Program to improve the program outputs; including its efficiencies and effectiveness in securing business events for the country. The revised program will be adapted to support clients through increased flexibility and innovation by considering hybrid conference formats with virtual delegates and the increasing health and safety aspects linked to business events hosted in the future.

Further to this, the SANCB is working on a National Association Project to aid the domestic recovery plan for the business events industry. National Associations are critical stakeholders in the bidding process, and the purpose of this project is to capacitate the local association sector to create future bidding opportunities for international association conferences.

The COVID-19 pandemic has permanently altered the business events landscape. The SANCB encourages the industry to bid for business events; as the continued success and growth of business events in South Africa relies on a consorted effort by the business events industry and the tourism fraternity at large, through collaboration.

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