Adapt to Thrive

The MICE industry in Africa is under pressure to remain relevant and prosperous, with even more emphasis on events and incentive programmes that can differentiate themselves from the competition and work within tight budget constraints, as Dylan Rogers discovered.

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It’s an interesting time for the African MICE industry, regardless of whether you are talking about meetings, incentives, conferences or exhibitions.

That’s because the world finds itself in an interesting place, with the global economic climate seemingly changing all the time.

Africa may be the last ‘untapped’ continent, but there’s no doubt that it is not immune from the changing global economic tide, and that applies to both international business coming into Africa and existing business on the continent.

It’s also worth bearing in mind that Africa as a relatively untapped market is not as attractive as it was a couple of years ago, thanks to a host of factors, including political instability, an over-reliance on an oil price that has plummeted, persistent terrorist activity, and a hangover from the Ebola crisis.

“In 2015, steady growth in the world’s advanced economies was matched by declining rates of growth in the emerging economies, a reversal of the situation of a few years ago when the booming BRICS nations were fuelling the global recovery, not least in the demand they were creating for meetings and events,” said Dr Rob Davidson, Managing Director of MICE Knowledge, in Reed Travel Exhibition’s ibtm World Trends Watch Report 2015.

“For emerging economies as a whole, growth for 2015 was 4%, the weakest since 2009 and almost half of the growth rate of 7.5% recorded for emerging economies in 2010. The gap between growth rates of advanced economies and those of the emerging economies is narrowing.”

Not great news for Africa, and a perhaps more rosy picture for the global market, according to Davidson.

“Despite the widespread uncertainty in the economic market environment, the general situation is one of overall global growth in the volume of meetings and events, reflecting – in the corporate market – increasing levels of business confidence, particularly in some of our key client sectors such as pharmaceuticals and information and communications technology,” he said.

Davidson is not alone in his assessment of the state of the global meetings and events industry.

Speaking late last year, Martin Sirk, CEO of the International Congress and Convention Association (ICCA) had mixed feelings on the performance and state of the industry in which ICCA operates.

“2015 appears to have been one of those ‘good in parts’ years, at least as far as ICCA’s specialist market – international association meetings – is concerned,” he said. “Overall, the number of events still appears to be climbing, but attendances are varying enormously, and it seems to be the most global and general associations that are struggling the most against growing competition from regional and specialist events.”

It’s clearly all about economics and Sirk could have been singing from the same hymn sheet as Davidson when he detailed where the impact was felt in 2015.

“In part, the blame can be laid squarely on a volatile global economy, with Chinese ups and downs striking fear across the Asia-Pacific region and other BRICS countries, and emerging markets suffering from capital outflows, government cutbacks and increased uncertainty,” he said.

So, what does the future look like?

“We anticipate more and more destinations and companies will be adopting partnership philosophies and strategies, and looking for innovative ways to avoid the ever-more competitive open marketplace,” said Sirk. “After all, if you can create your own world-class events that support your economic development and intellectual capital objectives, why wait in line to bid?”

Innovation? No surprise there. Surely that is key to survival in an increasingly challenging economic environment?

Meetings & Conferences Landscape

According to the American Express Meetings & Events report, Emerging Africa – Exploring Meetings on a Changing Continent, what Africa clearly has in its favour is an exciting hotel development road map.

The report used a number of sources, including a survey of global meeting professionals, the American Express Meetings & Events 2015 Global Meetings & Events Forecast, and third-party data and industry information. The majority of the respondents were European or North American, although both Asia-Pacific and Central/Southern America were also represented in the respondent base.

So, this report focuses on perceptions of Africa as a meetings and events destination.

According to W Hospitality’s ‘Hotel Chain Development Pipeline in Africa’, the group’s annual survey of what the big international – and African – players have in store, the number of planned hotel rooms in Africa has climbed almost 30% to 64,000 in 365 hotels.

Not everyone is bullish about those figures, though.

“There are some doubts within the industry however, whether this level of new construction within the region is sustainable, particularly given some of the political instability present in some African countries and the challenges associated with initiating and developing hotel projects in a number of sub-Saharan countries,” said Rolf W. Schmidt, Managing Director of TOPHOTELPROJECTS GmbH in the American Express report.

However, a bit more encouraging is that more than half of respondents to the American Express survey indicated that interest in Africa as a destination for meetings and events is increasing. Across Africa’s regions, Southern Africa and North Africa are the most highly-regarded by meetings professionals.

For those surveyed for the report, “Southern Africa is the most attractive of the five African regions and is considered to exemplify those qualities most important to a meetings planner’s requirements in terms of infrastructure and facilities.”

However, according to the report, some concerns over safety related to crime continue to persist.

North Africa rated high when it came to desired activities and attractions, its relevant infrastructure and facilities, technology and amenities to support meetings and events, including convention centres and hotels.

However, for those meetings professionals surveyed for the Amex study, the Central, East and West African regions presented a number of challenges as potential destinations for business events, including deficiencies in infrastructure and amenities, as well as concerns over terrorism and crime.

That may be the ‘international’ perception, but for some of the countries themselves that’s not a view they would share.

“Ghana is seen as a safe, stable country within West Africa and therefore an interesting investment opportunity,” says Axel Hauser, General Manager of the Moevenpick Ambassador in Accra. “Ghana continues to attract new events and delegations to the country, replacing the downturn in bookings from companies affected by unstable oil prices or currency fluctuations.”

What trends are we seeing?

Above may be an ‘international’ perspective of where Africa sits in the meetings and events space, but what about the African players themselves? Would they concur and what trends are they seeing, as we delve more into actual meetings and events, and what shape and form they are taking in the current climate?

South Africa remains one of the leading meetings and events destinations on the continent, with a number of big players in this space, and it’s interesting to see consensus among some of the views out of this country.

“We are definitely seeing a trend with regards to reducing costs,” says Kevin Clarence, Director at Birchwood Hotel & OR Tambo Conference, one of South Africa’s largest conference venues, located a couple of minutes from the country’s biggest airport.

“For example, a three-day event is now squeezed into two days. A company which traditionally hosts four events a year is now reducing to three. In the past, most corporates would provide budget to allow locally-based employees to stay at the hotel, whereas now they are asked to stay at home and travel daily to the venue. Also, all delegates expect free connectivity, whereas in the past they were happy to pay.”

Birchwood aren’t alone in being exposed to the cost-cutting taking place across the industry.

“The state of the economy has resulted in customers shortening the length of their conferences both to reduce time away from their offices and to reduce costs,” says Michael Farr, Sun International’s Group General Manager: Corporate Brand and Communications.

“We have also found that more and more customers are shifting their conferences to weekends, to avoid time spent out of the office. We have also seen larger corporates reducing the number of staff attending a conference at one time.”

It’s not only the venues that are seeing budgets being slashed and pressure being placed on spend, due in large to the poor Rand-Dollar exchange rate, although some players are benefitting.

“We have noticed that despite the currency depreciation, large corporates still appreciate a good deal – as do we all,” says Nik Lloyd-Roberts, Commercial Manager at Federal Airlines, a Johannesburg-based operation offering shuttle, scheduled and charter services from its base at O.R. Tambo International, including connections to South Africa’s game parks.

“We’ve also noticed that the MICE business originating from the United States tends to be less price-sensitive to that out of the United Kingdom, for example, with private charter flights.”

It’s not only in South Africa that people are feeling the pinch. That pinch is also being felt in the likes of Dubai, a premier international MICE destination and one that has previously been very popular with South African clients.

“Our market is very budget-orientated and we are definitely seeing the average number of delegates reducing,” says Anastasia Shaginian, Food & Beverage Marketing Manager at JW Marriott Marquis Hotel Dubai, the world’s tallest hotel and a popular property with MICE groups.

“As a result, we’ve had to become flexible when it comes to pricing, provide added value, and be flexible with regards to bedroom/meeting space ratio. We’re also finding that this market is very last minute and quite demanding.”

It would seem that Ghana’s market has similar characteristics.

“In today’s fast-paced market a speedy response time is crucial, while at the same time organisers are looking for a more tailored product than ever before,” says Hauser. “Additionally, the demographics of the delegates are constantly changing, with target audiences having very different requirements.”

And what about the other international players that have a presence in Africa, but can provide a more ‘global’ perspective? Starwood Hotels & Resorts obviously has properties across the globe, but also a significant African footprint in the form of 36 properties in 14 countries.

“Planners are expecting hotels to have tools to assist them,” says Hassan Ahdab, Starwood’s Regional Vice-President Africa & Indian Ocean. “These tools may include online requests for proposals; dynamic package pricing that allows the planner to pick and choose their experience; and even meeting apps that allow them to communicate with you as and when they choose to. Also, meeting sizes are getting smaller and duration shorter with shorter booking windows.”

No surprise that technology has become all the more pervasive, working its way into the meetings and events space, just as it has done with just about every other facet of our lives.

“The rise of this digital traveller requires the hotel industry to balance the expectation of personalization, while enhancing the need to remain independent,” says Ahdab. “Service lies at the core of hospitality and this service must be genuine and of a high quality. On the meetings front we see this too with expectations rising around personalized services, menus and creative themes. More and more people are looking at a holistic meetings experience that balances ‘hi tech’ with ‘hi touch’.”

This ‘tech’ often begins with complimentary wi-fi access, which has now become the minimum, in terms of client expectations.

“At large capital expense, we have provided all guests visiting the hotel with free wi-fi,” says Clarence. “If the client requires high-speed, uninterrupted connectivity, this can also be provided, but at an additional cost. For example, where some clients have to dial into a server based elsewhere in the world and multiple users need access.”

A seamless technology offering may be the baseline, but Ahdab provides an interesting perspective regarding what the African continent has at its disposal, and perhaps what it should rather be focusing on, in terms of marketing itself as an attractive meetings and events destination.

“The wide range of cultural experiences and the colour, diversity and vibrancy of Africa make it an attractive MICE destination,” he says. “Africa has the unique opportunity to be able to own a large share of the MICE market. The challenge is connectivity and infrastructure – as this improves we will see it grow into a preferred MICE destination.”

Events are changing, but how?

For one, it looks as if event organisers are finding themselves under increasing pressure to differentiate their events from everything else in the market.

Now, that would sound like an obvious objective any day of the week, but with budgets being squeezed and not as much spend available as before, this really has become a critical element of modern day event planning, particularly as everyone is chasing that all important ROI.

“If you look at the global trends, it’s much more about experiential and creating memorable events,” says Carol Weaving, Managing Director of Thebe Reed Exhibitions, which puts on Africa Travel Week in Cape Town in April, encompassing ILTM, WTM and IBTM Africa. “It’s got to be about the experience – people want to tap into all your senses. That’s why conferences and exhibitions work – you meet the right people, you touch, you see, you feel.”

Weaving could be reading from the ibtm World Trends Watch Report 2015 handbook, with Davidson saying that, “in the past 12 months there have been extensive moves towards designing meetings to be much more multisensory and immersive, moving away from designing purely visual brand experiences towards more immersive events.”

So, how do you go about creating a memorable, multi-sensory event? Surely that theme has to run through your entire event, touching on every aspect and leaving the attendee or delegate in no doubt as to just how different – and by association, ‘better’ – the event is from anything else they’ve already attended?

“The face of meetings and conferences is changing,” says Clare Neall, Managing Editor of eventstuff.co.za, an online portal for the MICE industry, which also offers Book Stuff, a series of global travel guides. “For example, seating arrangements, with people wanting smaller, more intimate settings. Then there’s catering, with the continual push to come up with something new and fresh to give delegates more energy.”

Neall touches on venue layout, something Davidson also singled out, with reference to one particular theme.

“One method employed with this goal in mind is the use of ‘drag and drop’ venues – reusing or reinventing existing spaces such as refurbished containers or old buses and train carriages to create a unique conference experience,” he said. “The growing popularity of such venues lies in their creative, charismatic character that makes the event more personal and memorable.”

“The emergence of ‘drag and drop’ venues should be seen against the background of the expanding supply and diversification of meeting venues worldwide, at a time when a growing number of new types of venues are challenging the traditional suppliers of meetings space. Unusual, unique, non-traditional venues are increasingly the preference for innovative meeting planners in search of novelty.”

Innovative, unusual, unique, novel, non-traditional…all key words in the modern day meetings and events space, and something venues are having to sit up and take notice of.

“It is clear that today’s customers and their delegates expect something new, different and exciting at each conference – especially if it is an annual event,” says Farr. “They are always looking for innovative ways to boost delegate numbers and provide an experience delegates will remember. Apart from that, the food and beverage offerings need to be fresh and in line with modern trends, particularly vegetarian, banting and other health offerings.”

It’s clear that event organisers are looking at the food and beverage offering a little closer than they have in the past.

“Customised service includes food and beverage and our chefs are creating bespoke menus using fresh local ingredients with tempting flavours to ensure varying tastes are catered for,” says Hauser.

No surprise that technology also pops up.

“Technology is huge and it’s not going away,” says Neall. “It’s going to be more and more important. For example, there’s a lot of new stuff coming through on the functionality of screens and the utilisation of high-powered data projectors that can project beautiful imagery and video. So, you no longer have to deal with fancy stage surrounds, as the screen becomes your focus.”

With regards technology, Weaving would clearly agree.

“You’ve just got to be different with technology these days,” she says. “There’s the opportunity to be different and your reach is different.”

So, it’s not only about technology, but how to get the best out of it and still produce something unique.

“Innovation is the name of the game and the meetings space is no exception,” says Ahdab. “Not only is the format and size of meetings evolving, but the content that is being shared or the platforms or technology used to deliver this content is also evolving. The use of social media and live streaming, for example, is becoming popular in order to take the meeting content beyond the meeting room and allow more and more people to engage. The focus is on making it more interactive and engaging, keeping everyone involved.”

Obviously, though, there are other ways and other tools, outside of technology, that one could consider when looking to differentiate one’s event from the competition.

“You have to be creative,” says Weaving, “and there are so many opportunities to do that. A lot of people are now starting to realise that they have to get out of the box. There’s this ‘business disruption’ trend. If it means you’re going to serve breakfast at a three o’clock function in the afternoon, then so be it.”

Breakfast at three o’clock? I’ll take my eggs and bacon at 07h30, thanks very much!

Weaving’s point, though, is a good one.

Exhibitions

Speaking of Weaving, she is a good place to start, when talking exhibitions and current trends, as an experienced member of this industry and driving force behind one of Africa’s newest exhibition organisations.

What she believes is an increasingly topical subject is the merging of the conference and exhibition spaces to create something called ‘confex’.

“It’s more from an exhibition perspective,” she says. “Exhibitions used to be traditional exhibitions. Now it has to be ‘content-centric’, as well as an exhibition, and one of the big things we are seeing is the fact that exhibition organisers need to be relationship brokers. They need to facilitate those buyer-seller meetings.”

This is something that Thebe Reed Exhibitions prides itself on with its Africa Travel Week, and like all big players trying to stay ahead of the game, it knows that it also has to keep innovating.

“For example, our speed networking,” says Weaving. “They literally get five minutes, a bell rings, and they have to move to the next table. What they do, then, is set up appointments for later in the day. We had over 8,000 meetings facilitated, just in the last three days of WTM.”

At the end of the day, though, these meetings have no value if they don’t result in tangible business for the exhibitor. Otherwise, why should he or she even consider the expense of the exhibiting at the same event the following year?

“It’s a combination and it’s about writing business,” says Weaving. “You’re not there to fly a flag anymore. Last year we wrote $333 million worth of business at WTM Africa, and this year we expect an increase on that. It just can’t just be a brand building exercise – it has to be about writing business. That’s what our whole tag line is and we measure it.”

As with all segments of the industry, the exhibition space is also under pressure off the back of reduced spend, as organisers go in search of customers who are willing to make the investment in a stand that may cost them plenty, but result in great forward-bookings for the year.

Birchwood, for example, as another player in the South African exhibition space, has seen a drop-off in exhibition bookings. More significantly, though, Kevin Clarence touches on the relevant ROI that customers are looking for.

“From feedback we’ve received, most exhibitors are not seeing the required return on investment and new exhibitions are few and far between,” he says.

Incentives

This remains a key element in the MICE mix, but one that is also not immune to economic factors such as currency fluctuation, particularly when it comes to determining which destinations are viable for an incentive trip and just how many employees to reward, never mind the ‘bells and whistles’ that one takes into consideration when attempting to ‘wow’ one’s delegates.

So, what state is the global incentives industry in?

Kevin Hinton, CEO of the Society for Incentive Travel Excellence (SITE) provides a global perspective, with this view in late-2015.

“Incentive travel has recovered globally and I’m happy to report that business demand for incentives is strong and expected to remain high in 2016,” he said in Reed Travel Exhibition’s ibtm World Trends Watch Report 2015.

“A well-planned incentive programme that offers a unique and memorable incentive travel experience has once again become embraced for its ability to help companies inspire and motivate participants and realise meaningful business results.”

No surprise that the view out of South Africa is a little less buoyant, with cost a major factor in the equation.

The Rand-Dollar exchange rate is not doing the country’s corporates any favours.

“Due to the current economic situation, there is a noticeable trend to reduce the size of groups, fix budgets upfront, consider less expensive destinations, and exert pressure to get management fees reduced,” says Themba Mthombeni, CEO of South Africa-based Duma Travel, a corporate travel management company with a dedicated MICE division, Duma ICE.

“Clients are expecting more, but are trying to not compromise on existing standards. They rather want to find solutions to maintain or even increase standards at lower budgets.”

“Corporates are scaling down on incentive travel as a result of budget constraints,” says Sabine Blehle, Chief Operating Officer of Tourvest Destination Management Business & Sport Events (TDM BASE), which is made up of four brands, specialising in meetings, incentives, conferences, events and sport.

“Traditionally, one could propose a destination like Argentina and include all the ‘bells and whistles’, but this is no longer the case.”

Neall would seemingly agree, pointing out that this really isn’t the space where a tight budget is a good fit for a memorable incentive trip.

“South African groups have definitely come down from five to four-star, so it’s less about frills, which kind of defeats the object of an incentive, which is all about frills,” she says. “So, do you then reduce the number of people you are incentivising, to give them the experience they are anticipating?”

Neall also touches on a trend that she says has evolved internationally – one in which the individual is encouraged to take their own, personalised incentive trip.

“If your budget is limited, you can’t take a big group and ‘wow’ them,” she says. “So, groups are being minimised, or if they don’t have enough money for a trip, and this is a current overseas trend, companies are starting to incentivise the individual and giving the individual a lump sum of money to use to take their wife and family away with them. They get to choose their destination, and it’s a move away from groups. It’s all about your experience and people want that personal experience. That’s a huge international trend.”

That may be a trend internationally, but back in South Africa, Blehle believes the tight economic situation is not entirely a bad thing, and has in fact opened up other opportunities for TDM BASE.

“The South African meetings, incentives, conferences and events industry is resilient in its ability to adapt to fluctuating macro-economic changes that affect its consumer market,” she says. “Our experience and observation with regards to client trends show that corporates are downscaling on their incentive travel, however are investing more towards an ‘elaborate’ conference with extended stay options and creative activities. Through this we have experienced a shift from local conferencing to an increased demand towards regional and international conferencing.”

Mthombeni would seemingly agree.

“There is a definite trend among clients to consider local or regional destinations instead of international destinations for incentive trips,” he says. “For this reason, we are refreshing and enhancing local and regional offerings, and conducting research into quality, good value for money destinations in South Africa and its regions.”

“Some clients actually specify the destinations they are interested in, in their RFPs. The MICE opportunities (in regional destinations) are expanding due to the rise in hotel infrastructure investment in a number of key African countries. The characteristics of this market are that it is unique, different, undiscovered, and there’s perceived value for money, although there are some concerns over flight schedules in some instances, along with safety, standards of service, food services, health etc.”

Back on the cost theme, Hinton is of the opinion that the falling global oil price will have a big impact on incentive travel this year.

“Incentive travel buyers are working with flat or slightly increased budgets,” he said. “While the cost of airfare has been a primary concern, the lower cost of oil is beginning to help as airfares are falling on some routes. With airfare having taken a greater share of the per person budget in recent years, this is a welcome trend.”

At the end of the day, it’s difficult to get away from the impact the tight financial situation is having on the incentives market, and those in the space are going to be hard-pushed to come up with smart, effective solutions.

Mthombeni sums up the situation nicely, when he says: “Clients will never scale down on their expectations and will continue to look for the ‘wow’ factor. This makes it very challenging for MICE operators to deliver above expectation, within a lower budget and margin.”

Conclusion

Whatever you do – whether it’s a simple meeting, a conference, exhibition or incentive trip – the message is clear: regardless of financial constraints, you’ve just got to make it memorable.

Useful MICE Technology

According to World of DMCs, below is a rundown of some of the ‘coolest’ and most useful technology in the MICE industry.

iBeacons

They enable smartphones, tablets and other devices to perform actions when in close proximity to the device. This technology can do so much, from helping your guests pick up their tickets to prompting them to get involved in talks through push notifications. You can even have an ‘around me’ function to have instant access to other attendee’s linked-in profiles in your vicinity, no matter where your destination is.

EventsTag

EventsTag enables users to create their own slideshow on a display. By choosing a hashtag and the social networks from which they’d like to collect social posts, these are instantly uploaded onto a display as an animated live show at your client’s meeting or event. There are so many different options as well, from on-site printing to facial recognition, analytics, and more.

Crowd Compass

Created by Cvent, Crowd Compass has too many different features to name them all, but here are some notable functions. The Interactive Map function allows guests to zoom in and out of maps, and have full access to data on any given point. This can be used for anything, from a tradeshow or conference to an interactive treasure hunt. There’s also the Social Sharing function, which allows attendees to, via hashtag, share photos and comments via social media.

Spotify

This is not new or ground-breaking, but don’t under-estimate the value of shared playlists. Gone are the days where you have to submit yourself to an endless playlist of less than thrilling tracks at corporate parties and meetings. The option to collaborate on the playlist is also such an icebreaker.

world-of-dmcs.com

Top 25 SA Incentive Destinations

According to Clare Neall, Managing Editor of eventstuff.co.za, an online portal for the MICE industry, the following are currently South Africa’s most popular incentive destinations, with input from industry experts Gill Dewar (GCD Consulting), Heidi Angell-Schau (Worldview Portfolio), and Liz Berry (Destination Asia):

Countries – Australia; Brazil; China; Croatia; France; Germany; Greece; Hungary; India; Italy; Japan; Kenya; Malta; Mauritius; Mexico; Morocco; Namibia; Portugal; Spain; Thailand; Turkey; USA; Vietnam

Cities –
Amsterdam; Bangkok; Dubai; Hong Kong; New York; Singapore; Victoria Falls

Top Meeting Destinations

The Union of International Associations (UIA) undertakes annual statistical studies on the preceding years’ international association meetings. 2015’s UIA International Meetings Statistics Report Total indicated year-on-year growth in the number of conferences in the UIA database, which increased to 428,369 from 408,798 in 2014. According to the same source, the top ten countries for meetings of international associations were as follows:
1. USA
2. Belgium
3. Singapore
4. Korea Rep
5. Japan
6. France
7. Austria
8. Spain
9. Germany
10. UK

SnapEvent

2015 saw the impact of the ‘sharing economy’ and the Airbnb effect in the meetings industry. Although the hospitality industry has, understandably, not welcomed Airbnb with open arms, in 2015 we saw the rise of intermediaries such as SnapEvent (www.snapevent.fr), a French start-up that puts event planners in touch with people who have homes or parts of their homes (a roof terrace, a garden, workshop, etc.) that they want to rent out as venues for meetings and other events.

The two founders of SnapEvent were charged with organising an inauguration party and they were exposed to all stages of the event organising process. Specifically, they were looking for an unusual venue and after a month realised that finding a room for an event was a real challenge and that the choices were limited to the ‘classic’ layout of the premises and their often substantial price. They decided to investigate further and turn their attention to rental places in private homes. Their event eventually took place in an apartment, a quirky and unusual locale.

Today, SnapEvent has 400 Paris homes on its books.

How to Use Drones at Events

Starting as a military tool, drones have quickly moved into the consumer sector. So it’s no surprise that an industry as creative and innovative as the events industry is finding a way to incorporate this ingenious invention into its practices.

1. Capturing Amazing Footage

Video material captured by a drone provides a completely different perspective and is so much more interactive and exciting. It’s great for all kinds of outdoor events such as expos, festivals, street parades etc, as well as for some indoor events if the venue allows it. Flying above your attendees heads, the drone could simultaneously display its interesting footage on a screen. The best parts of the drone footage could be used after the event for recap and marketing purposes.

2. Entertainment

Drones choreographed by special software could dance above your audience in complete unison, leaving them completely awed. Drone shows are especially enchanting when conducted during the night or in dark spaces by synchronised, LED-attached drones. You could create a whole experiential event around that concept.

3. Venue Previews

Drones are a great way to experience and virtually tour event venues. It’s particularly useful for large-scale outdoor venues and venues that are situated abroad or in remote locations. A virtual tour with a drone could give you a more realistic picture of the event venue.

4. Delivery Tool

You must have heard about Prime Air — a future delivery system from Amazon designed to safely get packages to customers in 30 minutes or less using drones? Drones as a delivery tool has actually already been done at some events with a great success. You could use drones for delivering food, drinks, invitations or other materials before or after the event.

5. Branding & Creative Sponsorship Opportunities

Drones offer unique opportunities when it comes to branding and marketing, so you could offer them to your potential sponsors or for your own branding purposes. Drones can: deliver a brand’s products straight into the hands of attendees; drop off product samples or promotional materials; fly an advertising banner; display a brand’s logo in the air.

6. Security Measure

Not only has the security control during events become more strict, but new technologies are being incorporated as safety precautions. Drones could be a great solution when it comes to your event safety, since they allow you to maintain a better overview of the event space.

AAXO and EXSA

There has been an interesting development in the African exhibition space in the last few months.

Significantly, there was the official launch of the African Association of Exhibition Organisers in Johannesburg in early February. News of the imminent AAXO launch first reached the market in July of last year, off the back of apparent dissatisfaction with what a certain segment of the market was receiving from its membership of the Exhibition Association of Southern Africa (EXSA).

“The decision to break away from EXSA has been an ongoing debate amongst organisers for a number of years,” said Thebe Reed Exhibitions MD Carol Weaving at the time. “EXSA is very supplier-led and we feel that they are not serving the best interest of the organisers.”

Weaving, the driving force behind the origins of AAXO, went on to say that the affected parties felt that “exhibition organisers need a collective voice to lobby various stakeholders. Priorities need to be on annual research and industry benchmarking, tracking trends and quantifying our industry in terms of its size and value. We feel that EXSA in its current form is introspective, slow and focused on internal issues and drivers.”

With that in mind, Weaving has specific plans for AAXO.

“The beauty is that we are auditing our numbers,” she says. “It really is about positioning ourselves as a credible professional organisation and any member has to adhere to a strict code of conduct, one of which is measuring and auditing your visitor numbers. So, anyone making a decision regarding whether or not to market themselves at the exhibition, knows exactly what those numbers are. That’s critical.”

Interestingly, AAXO says it will “continue to engage with EXSA” and there’s even talk of the two bodies possibly sharing an awards event at the end of 2016.

“The relationship is great and we’ve already had a number of meetings,” says Weaving. “We’re looking at how we can assist each other for the greater good of the industry, focusing on organiser issues. We are definitely going to work together.”

Car Rental & MICE?

The Avis Budget Southern Africa MICE division started in 2010 as a result of the need to service their customers’ needs around the 2010 FIFA World Cup. Customers were asking Avis Budget for a single point of contact within the company for its multitude of transport solutions, along with the ability to have all these services billed to one account.

“The demand for this product and service is as strong as first identified in 2010, with the growth in international conferencing, domestic conferencing and corporate events,” says Lance Smith, Executive Sales Avis Budget Southern Africa.

“This business has always been a about understanding the specific needs of each event and tailoring our offering to meet those. This has not changed over the years. The changes that we have made to our product have been to outsource the coaching need to specialists and to extend our vehicle range in luxury vehicle and people carriers.”

“The MICE market is South Africa is a growing industry, especially international business with the value offered by our favourable exchange rate, coupled with the amazing people and sights.”

Cruising & MICE

Increasingly, meeting and incentive planners are looking out to sea and onto global rivers in search of the best venues for corporate meetings, incentive travel, trade shows and conferences.

“With the global expansion of the cruise industry, incentives at sea have never been more popular or a possibility in so many markets, especially Asia,” says Kevin Hinton, CEO of the Society for Incentive Travel Excellence (SITE).

It’s also popular in Africa, although the market is dominated by South Africa, with increased interest from Nigeria, according to Johannesburg-based Cruises International Managing Director, George Argyropoulos.

Cruises International is the largest international cruise line representative in Southern Africa and represents the likes of Royal Caribbean and Crystal Cruises.

“Cruises International’s groups and incentives division has taken groups from some of South Africa’s leading companies on cruises, growing this market as a new and successful avenue for corporate travel,” says Argyropoulos. “All-inclusive packages mean there are no surprises and our corporate clients have found this a most satisfactory route for incentivising and rewarding staff and top clients.”

The all-inclusive nature of cruising seems to be one of its biggest appeals.

“Cruising is still a huge trend in South Africa and is very popular for groups, particularly because they offer all-inclusive packages,” says Clare Neall, Managing Editor of eventstuff.co.za, an online portal for the MICE industry.

So, what are the other benefits?

“The main benefits for the MICE sector of going the cruise ship route are state-of-the-art facilities, value for money and the allure of traveling to multiple destinations,” says Jo Kling, President and Co-Founder of Landry & Kling, a Miami-based specialist in creating events at sea. “That’s a ‘wow’ combination that’s tough to beat.”

“We also find that cruises make for a great foundation that is both feasible and a balance between excitement and relaxation, provided the experience is layered with personalised touch points and unique experiences,” says Sabine Blehle, Chief Operating Officer of Tourvest Destination Management Business & Sport Events (TDM BASE), which is made up of four brands, specialising in meetings, incentives, conferences, events and sport.

Private Aviation & MICE

South Africa’s game parks, particularly at the higher end of the scale, are popular incentive and conference destinations.

As a result, private aviation operations such as Federal Airlines, a Johannesburg-based entity offering shuttle, scheduled and charter services from its base at O.R. Tambo International, have identified this as an area of potential growth.

“MICE business is hugely important to Federal Airlines,” says Nik Lloyd-Roberts, Commercial Manager. “It forms a significant portion of our charter revenue and helps contribute to greater utilisation of our fleet of aircraft.”

Federal Airlines recently acquired a 50-seater Embraer Regional Jet to cater for large groups and incentives. This aircraft is ideal for seamless connections between local and regional destinations.

“Groups can fly together on one jet aircraft to destinations not serviced by scheduled airlines, and on their terms,” says Lloyd-Roberts. “It’s ideal for a large corporate looking to maximise an experience and minimise lengthy travel time. We have also increased our fleet of Beechcraft 1900 Ds, which is the ideal aircraft to get 19 passengers into or out of the more rugged areas.”

According to Lloyd-Roberts, the most popular destinations are the greater Sabi Sands, Cape Town, the KwaZulu-Natal province, Namibia, Botswana and Zambia.

“We also generate business from the local corporate market looking for a weekend retreat or for those clients that need to reach those harder to reach destinations that our aircraft are purpose built for – think companies from the mining, agricultural, engineering sectors,” he says.