Observe any airport lounge in Lagos, Accra, Abidjan or Dakar, and you’ll notice a large number of travellers in the sub-region travelling for business. This observation is certainly not unique to West Africa, but is evidence of the sustained interest in the continent, its potential and the opportunities it presents. MICE events are gaining ground in West Africa as businesses and governments seek to connect interests and present opportunities for collaboration.
While the sub-region does not have the established MICE industry and stories found in East African cities such as Kigali, Nairobi, Addis Ababa, Arusha and Dar es Salaam – or in South Africa with the Cape Town International Convention Centre – destinations such as Accra, Dakar, Abidjan, Lagos and Abuja are established MICE hubs in West Africa with regular events scheduled throughout the year.
You may have been a delegate at any of these events, or are likely to be invited in the future, but any event is only as good as the value you are able to draw from it. Optimising your attendance starts by knowing about it in the first place.
One good way to do this is to connect and become a member of the professional associations that operate in your industry. This will ensure that you are on the mailing list for announcements on relevant events. LinkedIn is another good way to identify and connect with the key people in your field, and receive notifications on upcoming relevant events. Another strategy is to ensure that your company is on the mailing list for newsletters from, and announcements by, reputable event organisers such as Bench Events, API Summits and Lnoppen which organise regular events in West Africa, and sign up with exhibitors and for trade and business magazines.
Registration for MICE events should be done as well in advance as possible to take advantage of early bird rates. Early registration enables you to get a room in the hotel of your choice. Good MICE organisers provide a list of preferred hotels close to the event venue(s) with specially negotiated rates for delegates. It’s good practice to stay at one of these preferred hotels because they provide avenues for networking in a relaxed atmosphere. Staying at the hotel also makes it easy for airport transfers, and to be easily informed of any changes to the schedule or any new information that may arise over the course of the event.
Closer to the time, double check online to ensure the event programme has remained the same. Some popular networking events might require pre-booking to get in, and it is good practice to review the programme to highlight any changes or connect with any speakers you would like to speak with.
Try to get into the host city a day or two before the event, to avoid last-minute flight delays or cancellations and thus missing the event. Cutting it too fine is asking for trouble in West Africa.
Make sure you have your valid passports and visas for the country you are visiting and any required vaccinations. A Yellow Fever vaccination card is one of the most important requirements for travel to West Africa.
Spend some time going through the programme and earmark the sessions that will be of interest and relevance to your work. Draw up your own personal event timetable, and see if you have any free time during the day in which to schedule meetings. I always suggest that delegates attend a few sessions that are outside of their direct field of interest – you will be surprised at what information you can learn and the business connections that can come from these.
MICE events provide speakers who are experts in their field, and you can gain valuable insights in 10 to 15 minutes of a meeting or speaking to an exhibitor. Who knows, the new subject area can spark ideas and reveal business opportunities!
Take an ample supply of business cards – more than you think will be necessary. It looks so unprofessional to keep saying “I’ve run out of business cards”.
The aim of these events is to provide the space for individuals working in similar or related industries to meet and connect and, hopefully, collaborate in the future. The aim is not to speak with every attendee, but rather identify a few people that you would like to speak with during the breaks.
There is a fine art to networking. It is important to be able to communicate as clearly and as simply as possible, what it is that you do, and why you are at the event.
When you meet someone, introduce yourself and have a thoughtful comment about the meeting, conference or exhibition, and then ask what they are working on, and perhaps why they are at the event.
West Africa really is a beautiful region – try to stay on an extra or two to explore the host city. The organiser would have chosen the city for a reason, and may have organised some experiential learning tours. Take part in these if you can. Not only do they give you a chance to explore the city, they also provide additional networking opportunities. West Africa is generally safe, and its people are very friendly and hospitable.
MD: W Hospitality Group