Having recently joined the league of African countries seeking to attract and host large association and other important global meetings, Ghana, like her other counterparts across the continent, have a few loose ends to tie before they can realise that vision. It is believed that Africa’s business events industry is viable, but, first, there’s a critical need to look at how associations, infrastructure and policymaking on the continent can make the industry become self-sufficient. Business events experts from the continent joined a special CNBC panel to unpack the current state of the industry as an agent for economic recovery at the just ended ‘Meetings Africa 2022’ – Africa’s premier business events trade show – held at the Sandton Convention Centre in Johannesburg, South Africa. PaJohn Bentsifi Dadson examined their submissions.
A flagship of the South African National Conventions Bureau (SANCB)– the conference was the 16th edition and the first onsite event after a 2 year COVID hiatus. It drew a myriad of convention bureaux and meeting planners from across the continent and elsewhere, and primarily looked at how to reignite the industry after two years of latency owing to the Covid-19 lockdown restrictions.
The key component in the management mix of transforming a destination into a hub for attracting business events is infrastructure. It is the great enabler, and the Managing Director of the African Association Management Company, Nicanor Sabula couldn’t have put it better.
“Across the continent, infrastructure, venues, capacity, connectivity and roads need a lot of work. Good infrastructure enables meetings to happen.”
Sabula adds that air connectivity between major African cities needs a revamp for any country in Africa to attract international events. The business of first flying to Europe from Kenya, for example, to connect to Burkina Faso, needs to end.
Associations play the role of facilitating conversations and will always be the core of the industry’s recovery from the Covid-19 slump.
“They are entities with common dreams and visions. No one brings people together better than associations. I hope we can jump in proactively to tap into the opportunities in the association space so as to promote intra-African trade in goods and services. Associations must sit in driver’s seat to unlock these opportunities.”
The public and private sectors, it seems, lack an intrinsic understanding of the business events industry and the value it holds, which ultimately undermines the industry at the policy level, that’s the position of Mr Kwakye Donkor, CEO of Africa Tourism Partners.
Policymakers, he further notes, need to appreciate that there’s a need to create an enabling environment for industry to thrive. Not understanding the industry, therefore, will be difficult to put the policies in place to make it thrive.
Mr Donkor believes that the greatest number of opportunities for hosting grand business events, meetings etc in Africa, will come from associations. Most international associations have national chapters, and it is them that have the ability to attract meetings to the continent.
Amanda Kotze-Nhlapo, the Chief Conventions Bureau Officer of the SANCB, observed that in-person or physical events have become smaller because of Covid-19 protocols but they are richer in content, adding that hybrid events would only hamper this approach.
“We do not want virtual only. We need people to be together to come up with those innovative ideas. You cannot network on a hybrid meeting.”
In-person events build rapport with prospects, clients, partners and peers, and help better in generating leads. The thousands of associations present on the continent are the key to big business events opportunities, which offer great opportunities to forge connections and they must not be overlooked.