A changing game

The African MICE sector is not immune from the economic challenges facing all players in the travel industry, forcing those with a vested interest to get creative and spot the trends that will keep them competitive and profitable for years to come.


Traditionally viewed as a leisure travel destination, with the business events sector previously struggling to assert itself on the international stage, Africa is slowly gaining more traction in international markets across all sectors.

The continent’s business events organisations and associations have done a lot of work on the international stage to change perception of Africa and what it can offer. That, coupled with events in other markets that have had an impact on their attractiveness, has resulted in Africa being viewed more favourably as an overall tourism destination.

Speaking at WTM Africa 2017 in Cape Town in April, Christy Tawii, research analyst at Euromonitor International, explored some of the key trends influencing and driving this growth in the African tourism industry, pulling on Euromonitor research spanning 100 countries.

According to Tawii, the global tourism industry has felt the impact of events such as Brexit and the US presidential election – followed by various travel bans – as well as an increase in terrorism threats in certain markets.

“What we’ve seen in the past year is that the global economic outlook remains uncertain, as most developed countries show sluggish growth while emerging markets struggle to maintain advances,” said Tawii. “Despite these uncertainties, global travel and tourism have grown consistently and figures indicate that it has no intention of slowing down. By 2020, it is expected that 1.5 billion international trips will be taken. On average, the world has seen an additional 39 million trips a year.”

So, where does the African region fit in? According to Tawii, Africa is slowly catching up to the rest of the world. Among the key tourism trends in Africa she identified was that inbound travel remains positive, despite the continent’s challenges. Issues such as terrorist threats in regions like East and West Africa; South Africa’s strict restrictions on travelling with minors – which had a negative impact on countries such as Namibia – and visa restrictions (which have been relaxed since early 2016) limited tourism’s potential in these regions.

“The growth in Africa has been exponential – especially into Nigeria, Uganda and Tanzania, and we are seeing increasing opportunities, particularly in the meetings and conferencing sector,” says Kevin Pelser, Team Leader of FCM Events, part of the broader FCM Travel Solutions offering. “The number of service providers has also increased and the standard of delivery has improved drastically from five years ago. Africa is maintaining its cultural diversity, while embracing the premium requirements of both Western and Eastern guests.”

“We have seen steady growth in the business events sector over the past few years, however budgets are getting tighter each year and clients are looking for a lot more mileage out of their spend,” says Adriaan Liebetrau, Tsogo Sun’s Sales & Marketing Manager for the group’s ‘Sandton Mile’, which includes the Sandton Convention Centre, one of the most prominent players in the African conference and exhibition space. “Overall, there is a still a trend which is showing that conference delegate numbers as well as the duration of conferences are decreasing.”

According to Liebetrau, the exhibition sector has also felt the pinch.

“New exhibitions are on the increase and existing exhibitions are making a return, but growth has slowed down dramatically in this sector,” he says. “We have also observed that exhibitors are more selective in taking space at expos, so they are only exhibiting at shows which fit in with their target market, which has in turn made exhibition organisers more focused on providing a beneficial experience for both buyer and supplier.”

Despite these challenges, the overall tourism sector in Africa continues to grow, s much remains that make it an attractive destination.

“We certainly can be positive about the current state of the industry,” says Kevin Clarence, Director of Birchwood Hotel & OR Tambo Conference Centre. “The trend of taking delegates away from their own offices to meet and conference certainly decreased in 2016, as so many groups were saving costs. What is also evident is the need for less traditional set-ups and requests. Meetings and events are breaking away from the norm, and this alludes to the need for clients to make use of external facilities that provide specialized environments with the tools to host such a unique conference or event.”

Tawii continues the positive message.

“Solid economic growth for the continent has seen arrivals and receipts increasing, with both leisure and business travel prospering,” she said. “Through the growth in inbound tourism and an uptick in domestic tourism, particularly in South Africa, Kenya, and Nigeria, tourism remains resilient.”


Resilient it may be, but there’s no doubt that one of the challenges facing the overall tourism industry – and by association the MICE sector – is the reduced spend on offer, particularly in the corporate market.

“The current economic climate has definitely taken its toll on the corporate segment, conference groups sizes are reducing, and food and beverage and incremental spend is carefully managed,” says Liezl Meier, Director of Sales & Marketing at Fairmont Zimbali Lodge & Resort just norther of Durban in South Africa’s KwaZulu-Natal province. “The trend in terms of corporate clients catering for in-house conferencing and making use of internal facilities continues from 2016.”

Meier believes that MICE bookings are very much cyclical, and therefore, Fairmont Zimbali is not sitting on its hands waiting for things to happen. It is gearing up and improving its conferencing offering, which in November will see the launch of its new conference centre. The state-of-the-art facility will be able to accommodate up to 600 delegates. It will also include two smaller boardrooms at the Fairmont Zimbali Resort, as well as the Fairmont Zimbali Lodge facilities, which can house up to 80 delegates.

Fairmont Zimbali is attractive to both the conference and incentive markets, due to, among other facilities, the venue’s Willow Stream Spa with eight private treatment rooms and the 18- hole championship golf course designed by world-renowned Tom Weiskopf. The property also boasts three wedding venues and numerous leisure facilities on the estate and in and around the area. Fairmont Zimbali Resort offers 154 bedrooms, and the Zimbali Suites offer an additional 40 self-catering one and two-bedroom apartments. A number of up-market homes on the estate also offer solutions to high-end conference delegates who prefer a more private accommodation option.

Sun International is another group to have made a significant addition to its offering in recent times. April saw the South African hotel and gaming operator open its Time Square casino in Pretoria, north of Johannesburg. More significantly, though, in terms of its MICE offering, Sun International’s new multi-purpose, state-of-the-art Sun Arena will open at Time Square in November 2017, and will have capacity to seat over 8,500 people. The space will also feature four private hospitality suites, two meeting rooms and is designed to host events, concerts, conferences and exhibitions.

“This is an innovative introduction to the city of Tshwane, and we believe we will be able to capture a significant share of the Gauteng MICE market,” says Zoleka Skweyiya, Sun International’s Group Communications Manager.

She’s also not fazed by the apparent reduction in spend in South Africa and the African continent as a whole.

“The South African events industry is fairly robust and we continue to be bullish about its sustainable growth potential,” she says. “What sets South Africa apart is the level of innovation and quality offerings at affordable prices. This is becoming more critical in a global context with pressure on costs. We’ve also kept pace with technology and the demands of the industry from conference organisers and delegates alike.”

“From an international conferencing point of view, the weakening of the Rand does help, but this isn’t enough on its own,” Skweyiya goes on to say. “Convention organisers are looking for superlative value for money and are thinking twice about how much they spend getting to a destination. In this, South Africa is at somewhat of a disadvantage being a long-haul destination.”

Sun International have been particularly active in the last year or so, and the Time Square opening comes in the wake of a massive refurb at Sun City, the group’s flagship property. That refurb included the launch of Sun International’s new Sun Park concept, which provides event organisers with a fully scalable multi-purpose facility with an indoor events venue and outdoor space for hosting exhibitions, events, product launches and even music festivals.

“The difference lies in its versatility,” says Skweyiya. “The modular design of the entertainment space allows conference, events, or festival organisers to ‘plug in’ their requirements and change the nature and look of the space depending on their needs and the size of event they’re holding.”

“Our aim, especially with regard to Sun Parks, is to provide flexibility from a space, design and facilities point of view,” she says. “Our properties have the capacity to host sports events, product and motor industry launches, trade and industry functions, musical festivals and outdoor theatre, government and parastatal functions, corporate celebrations, small to medium boutique exhibitions and festivals, fashion shows, expos and more.”


What about some of the trends in the events space? What are the service providers seeing from their vantage point, in terms of client requests and prevailing themes?

“Personalised experiences and non-traditional meeting spaces are among the main trends that we are seeing,” says Pelser. “Clients with smaller conferences are avoiding the major hotel chains with numerous conferences venues and are requesting more boutique or unusual conferences spaces.”

Pelser also has a view on the incentive space, where he says FCM Events has “noticed a decline in large international trips and increasing focus on opportunities in Southern Africa and Namibia, where guests are able to immerse themselves in the awe-inspiring dunes and combine a little adventure. We feel this has largely been influenced by the current economic environment and companies are looking to stretch their budgets a little further without compromising the experience.”

Clearly, venues are under scrutiny, as Meier believes that “despite the downward trend in number of conferences, clients are looking for venues that offer great accessibility, larger spaces for annual events, exclusivity and reputable service. Venue capacity is a large factor, as well as flexibility to provide alternative on-site locations for dinners, team-building etc. A variety offering is key, as delegates no longer want to spend an entire conference in one venue. Clients are looking for leisure options for incentive events – they require venues that can offer multiple activities to accommodate all their delegates. This includes guests playing golf, going to the spa, going shopping and doing local activities.”

“Clients are requesting venues that are closer to their office, to avoid travelling and hotel costs as a means of reducing their costs,” says Celeste Schroder, National Sales Manager for aha Hotels & Lodges. “For bigger conferences, clients opt for schoolroom-style seating with breakaway rooms, and for smaller conferences they normally opt for u-shape-style seating or boardroom-style.”

Liebetrau clearly agrees with some of the points put forward by Schroder.

“The trends in this sector have been consistent in recent years – smaller conferences, fewer conference days, closer to home venues, and less extravagant entertainment programmes,” he says. “In the past, as with the rise in ‘confex’ events where delegates would attend a conference with an exhibition component, we are seeing more what are deemed as ‘bleisure’ trips. That’s where delegates are combining their business trips with leisure downtime and bringing the family along for pre or post-conference holidays.”

Julie-May Ellingson, CEO of Cape Town International Convention Centre, picks up on Liebetrau’s ‘confex’ point.

“The confexing trend has been with us for a number of years as event organisers realise the benefits of combining exhibitions with their conferences,” she says. “For delegates, an exhibition component offers a richer learning experience, an opportunity to gain product knowledge, and the chance to access innovations first hand. From the exhibitor’s perspective, the company knows that it will have access to a bespoke target audience, and for the organiser, the exhibition offers an opportunity to provide value-add to sponsors and generate revenue.”

“An example I can use is the World Congress of the Royal College of Obstetricians & Gynaecologists in March, where the scientific programme was well supported by an exhibition of the latest in surgical and medical equipment, procedures, and technology related to obstetrics.”

What about some of the other elements that go into an event, like the food you stuff in your mouth?

“We are seeing requests for healthy meals in favour of pastries and fatty foods,” says Guy Stehlik, CEO of BON Hotels. “We are also seeing a lot more break time during conferences. Instead of delegates cramming activities, networking, meals, and conferencing, we have noticed that delegates are given a lot more free time to rest, prepare their thoughts and network. A greater spacing out of events during a conference day is also an emerging trend, whilst natural light and natural ventilation are also often a request.”

And let’s not forget ‘technology’.

“Customers are continuously looking at ways to enhance networking at their events,” says Pauline Wilkinson, Group Sales Operations Manager, Protea Hotels by Marriott® & African Pride Hotels. “This includes personalised apps, social media and other forms of communication to drive participation. This can expand to pre, during and after the actual event, ensuring amplified communication between participants. There is a larger demand for higher quality bandwidth in order to accommodate larger volumes of traffic on the wi-fi network, which customers also anticipate will be complimentary as part of the event.”


Speaking of technology, it’s become a critical part of just about every event, regardless of what tools you’re using.

As a result, it’s probably fair to say that most meetings and conferences today go beyond the traditional style of lecture-hall sessions with podium-based presentations and rows of listeners.

In fact, in a survey of meeting planners and conference industry experts, IACC found that over 77% thought access to collaborative communication tools will become the most important element of meeting venue selection in the next five years.

Collaboration technology is changing the meeting experience (and attendee expectations) to become more interactive, both during the meeting as well as before and after.

“Incorporating distance learning and virtual or remote participation not only allows a meeting to achieve a broader reach in participation, but also to create a more engaging experience,” said David Fitzgerald, VP of Channels, US, for display and visualisation solution company Barco.

Some categories of modern meeting collaboration technologies include:

– Video conferencing systems

– Large screen monitors/projectors

– Screen sharing

– Interactive white boards

– Touch-screens

– Virtual reality systems

– Lead capture devices

– Audience interaction/participation

– Social media displays

– Trade show or conference apps (mobile)

According to IACC’s Meeting Room of the Future Report, video conferencing technology is the foremost collaborative technology offered by venues. Currently, 85% of venue operators provide video conferencing technology to meeting attendees, while 86% of suppliers offer the hardware as part of their suite of products.

“Two of the most requested meeting technologies I see today are high-end visualisation, especially for large venues and events managed by high-end production companies, and for smaller rooms it’s collaboration,” said Fitzgerald. “We’re seeing more requests for collaboration technology, such as ClickShare, which allows participants to push a button to share content to the screen from their laptop, tablet or smartphone regardless of whether they came to share a presentation or not.”

Video walls, along with blended projection and message mapping, allow messages and images to be seen across several screens or devices at once.

“These technologies are part of the ‘wow’ factor,” said Fitzgerald. “High-resolution displays are important to making these types of presentations successful.”

Touch-screen technology has moved beyond smartphones, iPads, and tablets to larger screens, and even interactive meeting tabletops. Using high-definition digital screens lets you communicate and engage with meeting attendees in a much more interactive way on a large-scale.

From setting up touch-screen monitors and iPad kiosks that display interactive maps and event schedules, to capturing registration and lead information, the technology can be used in a variety of ways to increase engagement and deliver information to your guest’s fingertips. You can even keep attendees engaged in rest areas by loading games or surveys onto touch tables or touch-screens and placing near mobile charging stations or lounge areas.

“There has definitely been an uptake of technology in the eventing space,” says Pelser. “Corporates like to include opportunities (and props) to share experiences across multiple social media platforms, automatic registration (instead of name badges on arrival) and the like. Corporates are also looking to create sensory events using sensory lounges, experience areas and authentic food experiences to immerse audiences and make their event truly memorable. It’s about touching all the senses. It’s no longer about exchanging contact details. Rather, corporates aim to provide opportunities to exchange meaningful experiences.

These are just some of the ways technology is changing the way events are run and experienced.

One could, arguably, apply the same principles to the events of today. The industry has changed, innovation is key, and only those that adapt to the changing environment will survive and prosper.


Google, Facebook, Samsung, Microsoft and other technology companies have each invested billions of dollars in developing Virtual Reality and/or Augmented/ Mixed Reality. Although this will take a few years to fully develop, these tools are blossoming at events and tradeshows.

  1. Virtual site inspections and tours

Many hotels and destinations are moving to VR to give viewers a more engaging and realistic hotel/venue site inspection experience compared to “old fashioned” hotel websites.

  1. Booth and attendee engagement

Exhibitors are recognizing that VR can give booth attendees an incredibly immersive and engaging booth experience. VR headsets will be used to demonstrate products at tradeshow in a more realistic, interactive and engaging manner, while minimizing the cost to ship physical products to a show and reducing the amount of floor space needed.

  1. Virtual booth design

3D models of exhibition booths, stage sets and other event set-ups, will be replaced by 3D virtual walkthroughs. These walkthroughs can be saved and compared to future designs.

  1. Virtual room diagramming

Room diagramming is an indispensable event planning tool. One of the many benefits is the ability to “sell the dream” – to visualize the space before it is actually set according to your specifications. The major room diagramming software firms have developed 3D rendering of diagrammed room sets. It will be a relatively short step to make this available in VR, enabling the viewer to put on the VR goggles to virtually walk through the space.

  1. Virtual attendance

VR will re-define virtual meetings. Instead of watching a webcast, VR could make it seem to the remote attendee as if he/she were actually in the meeting room, or any other location.
Source: corbinball.com

  1. Dive, hike or jump – active teambuilding is making a comeback!

Active team building is making a comeback in 2017. Nothing binds a team together more than participating on an active or high-adrenaline experience with a clear ‘wow’ factor. Your employees will be reminiscing endlessly about their shark-diving experience or about that bungee jump for which they conquered their fears.

  1. Eat like a local

If you really want to reward employees, skip the five-star dining experience in international restaurants and find authentic venues where you can ‘eat like a local’. Incorporating destination-specific elements in your incentive trip will help your people to truly experience a destination, not just pass by.

  1. Be creative within the budget

Budget restraints continue to be a concern within the corporate world. However, even with a small budget, companies can still put together an amazing incentive experience. The trick is to be creative within the budget. By being resourceful, there truly are many ways to add creative punch even when the purse strings are a little tight.

  1. Choose destinations with a sense of urgency

Leisure travel has seen travellers wanting to visit destinations with a sense of urgency – those places that are changing rapidly or even disappearing. Incentive travellers are no different. Cuba for instance has become a hot destination, as it is at risk of losing its characteristic appeal.
Source: bigambitions.co.za


It’s so important for your corporate events to foster successful and lasting networking between attendees. Here are a few different ideas that you can easily implement to encourage guests to mingle and create lasting connections.

  1. Use your menu as a conversation starter

During the first few hours of your event, when guests might not know each other well or be comfortable approaching one another, food can be a great introduction to conversation. Give them something to talk about! Food is a very easy and convenient subject to discuss and will inevitably open the door to further discussion and allow your guests to get to know each other.

  1. Sitting or standing?

One option to really encourage everyone to mingle and get to know each other is to serve appetisers that can be enjoyed while standing, rather than a traditional sit down dinner. Standing appetisers allow guests to freely mingle with others and be more strategic about who they spend time with during the event. An additional benefit of serving many small appetisers is being able to be more accommodating to those with dietary restrictions or allergies.

  1. Always include something sweet

Often times the dessert is event attendees’ most memorable part of the meal. Usually by this time in the evening everyone has had a moment to relax, get to know their table mates, and enjoy the rest of their meal. Make this time in the meal a stand-out part of the evening and don’t be afraid to invest more into this part of your event.
Source: floktu.com