Looking Up

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It seems the African MICE industry is always bouncing back from a tough year, and once again things are looking good for this segment of the corporate travel market. Richard Holmes takes a look at some of the trends and gets the thoughts of some of those executives who are immersed in the subject matter, as Africa’s MICE specialists look to make the most of another ‘boom’ year. It’s been a tough few years for the Meetings, Incentives, Conferences and Exhibitions (MICE) travel industry on the African continent, as a challenging economic climate put pressure on budgets for business travel across the board. Long-haul conferences and glitzy hotel getaways were seen as improper while the world battled recession, and hotels worldwide were forced to slash rates to survive the onslaught, as corporate travellers stayed home. But in many quarters, those memories are fading fast, as renewed vigour hits world economies… not least in Africa where you’ll find seven of the world’s 10 fastest-growing economies. Corporate travel – and the conferencing and incentive travels that go with it – follows the money, and today the smart money is on Africa. So it’s perhaps no surprise that “MICE travel in Africa is fast becoming the bread and butter for most operators and agencies involved in business travel,” says Kananelo Makhetha, Managing Director of BCD Travel. “There is potential for growth on the continent, especially in countries such as Zambia and Zimbabwe, which offer good value for money in terms of hospitality, service and facilities.” Zambia, Zimbabwe, South Africa, Ghana, Nigeria and Kenya – take your pick! And those are just the more high-profile African MICE destinations getting the most attention and traction. What isn’t in dispute is that it’s currently a good time for the African MICE industry. “The MICE market out of Africa is consistent and it continues to grow from an outbound perspective,” says Helen McCabe-Young, Executive Vice-President for Kerzner International. “In South Africa, we are forecasting approximately 20-25% of the business as MICE into the One&Only Cape Town for 2014, and we continue to see strong growth in that segment.” The message is clear: Africa and MICE are currently a good fit. “Africa is most definitely proving to be an emerging destination of choice. This last February, Meetings Africa in Johannesburg was an enormous draw card for many African country buyers,” says Clare Neall, a Certified Meeting Professional and Managing Editor of MICE-industry portal Event Stuff South Africa. “The response to the April International Business Travel Market Expo and the May World Travel Market held in Cape Town, are other prime examples of how much interest international buyers are showing in hosting events both in South Africa and elsewhere on the African continent.” The successful hosting of major events ranging from the FIFA World Cup in 2010 to the COP17 summit has also put Africa on the map as a prime destination for MICE travel, says Jim McIntosh, General Manager of Business Development and Marketing for Tourvest Destination Management. “There is definitely potential for growth in the African MICE travel market… there are plans for the development of convention centres capable of hosting large-scale international conferences across the continent, from Tanzania to Nigeria.” And as the market rebounds, hotel groups operating in an often over-traded market are increasingly catering to MICE travellers to keep room occupancies up and the bottom line in the black. Within the industry, meetings and conferences are by far showing the strongest growth for hotel operators, says Glenn Stutchbury, Chief Executive Officer of Cresta Hotels, which runs three conference centres at its hotel properties in Harare, Gaborone and Lusaka. Meetings and conferences “range from six people to a couple of thousand. They also cross over the market segments between governments, associations and the corporate market,” says Stutchbury, who adds that demand is directly linked to the economic health of the country. Looking ahead to 2014, he expects “Botswana and Zambia to be strong, but Zimbabwe will struggle and continue to do so for some time to come.” A bit further north, the sentiment out of Kenya is bullish, particularly on the part of one of the Nairobi hotel industry’s newest players. “The outlook is promising, with a 4-5% growth with the scope of markets available,” says Carole Keingati, Marketing & PR Manager for Villa Rosa Kempinski Nairobi and Olare Mara Kempinski Masai Mara. “The MICE segment now accounts for 54% of total business travel. There are tremendous opportunities for conferencing given the boom in the Kenyan economy and the worldwide focus on Africa for business. Kenya being a connection hub in Africa makes us an ideal stop-over, leading to demand for pre and post-conference safaris. Kenya is therefore able to provide excellent business facilities and complement these with enviable bush and beach options for travellers.” McCabe-Young offers a similar view, although it’s the region as a whole that interests her and Kerzner International. “The continued growth of wealth creation in East African cities is an interesting story, and the east coast has some beautiful destinations where I think opportunity for both business and leisure travel exist,” she says. But, it’s not just the individual properties that are positive about the road ahead in the African MICE sector. “We are expecting the MICE market to increase in 2014,” says Duma Travel CEO Themba Mthombeni. “Travel incentives are self-liquidating and most clients are using this trending activity to attract talent. Clients believe that this investment will assist them in achieving company targets and increasing return on investment (ROI). Key to ongoing success in the competitive MICE environment is nurturing your local client base, say many hoteliers. “Meetings, conferences and incentives are growing at present,” says Pete Richardson, Sport and Public Relations Director for Legend Lodges, who adds that while local demand dominates meetings and conferences, the group has also seen an increase in enquiries for inbound incentives since the start of 2014. “It is very sector dependent. For example, the pharmaceutical industry remains strong, as do the finance and motoring sectors.” Despite Nigeria recently overtaking South Africa in terms of GDP, the province of Gauteng remains the financial powerhouse on the continent. And with its prime position in the heart of South Africa’s wealthiest province, the Sandton business node continues to draw plenty of business for meetings, conferences and exhibitions, says hotel operator Extrabold, which numbers the Holiday Inn Sandton and Crowne Plaza Johannesburg – The Rosebank among the hotels in its portfolio. MICE travel “is one of the main focuses for Extrabold, as the hotels in the portfolio have a wide variety of conference and breakaway rooms to suit many clients’ needs,” explains Cassidy van den Berg, Business Development Manager at Extrabold Hotel Management. “Meetings and conferences are showing a rise, especially meetings that focus on training. Our incentive business is growing, and we are seeing an increase in the length of stay for weekend business.” For the conveniently-located Birchwood Hotel and OR Tambo Conference Centre, which is just a few minutes’ drive from South Africa’s main airport, the African MICE market offers up a continent full of opportunity, says Mbali Mngomezulu, Sales and Marketing Director. This market “has been going from strength to strength over the last five years, with more local African business choosing South Africa as a destination,” says Mngomezulu. “We have seen shorter lead times from all clients – government and corporate – as well as a demand for cost-effective and cost-saving options in terms of offering.” “Clients are taking a long while to make decisions, and often want to negotiate rates, often changing their minds regarding details,” adds professional conference organiser Carla Rossouw, who says last-minute changes can make finalising working documents a challenging exercise. “Clients are also still very cost-conscious.” They’re also a bit more picky about things such as location. Take, for example, Kievits Kroon Country Estate & Spa, which is situated on the outskirts of Johannesburg and benefits from its location. Residential conferencing is a core pillar of the business, and it has become a popular destination for meetings and conferences. Managing Director Alan O’Leary says that although business is competitive, the market has stabilised after a few tough years. That being said, are occupancies growing across the industry? “It’s very difficult to say,” he says. “If the number of rooms in the market had remained static, I’d say demand has definitely grown. But there was a stepped increase in supply prior to the World Cup that, coupled with a decrease in demand for hotels, made for a very competitive environment for hotels… especially for city hotels who then started to compete for conferencing business. It seems that the market has stabilized, for now, but hotels are still struggling with occupancy.” That combination of plentiful options in a competitive environment makes for rich pickings for corporate customers and event planners looking to drive value from limited budgets. It’s a cutthroat market, as hotels look to grow their corporate client lists and hope to forget six turbulent years to capitalise on a growing demand for corporate travel. “Due to the current economic climate, budgets are being cut and price sensitivity is on the rise,” says Van den Berg, who adds that the increased use of professional conference organisers has added to the industry’s competitiveness. And as the market rebounds, some hotels are increasingly threatened, ironically, by the improved trading conditions. “The number of delegates for events has seen an increase to the point that many central business district hotels cannot accommodate the large numbers, and clients therefore utilise convention centres,” says Van den Berg. Mthombeni has a different take on this trend, and what Duma Travel is seeing with their accounts. “Clients are looking at down-scaling the number of delegates,” he says. For example, previously the entire company would be booked into an annual conference. Now we notice those numbers have decreased and only key stakeholders are attending conferences. More value for money is a trend we are also seeing. Clients would like to use conference venues that give them additional value, like attractions and activities for their delegates.” With growing demand comes increased interest in the continent from global players. Marriot International recently completed its R2-billion purchase of the Protea Hospitality Group, instantly making it the largest hotel operator on the continent, with more than 160 hotels and 23,000 rooms across the Middle East and Africa. Carlson Rezidor is expanding everywhere from Kigali to Maputo, while Hilton Worldwide is also growing aggressively. Across Africa, global hotel brands are tapping into Africa’s growing popularity as a MICE destination. On the face of it, the good times are rolling again. But make no mistake, nobody is being written a blank cheque. As the supply side grows – perhaps faster than the demand in some areas – customers are demanding more value. The key for travel companies playing in the meetings, conferences and incentives space is to offer a bigger bang for the same buck. The bad old recession may be fading from view, but value still counts more than ever. “Budget is a major issue and there are price wars everywhere across the region,” says Stutchbury from Cresta Hotels, who adds that price isn’t the only factor worth considering. “The tender process is flawed, as it ignores issues important to the delegates. Quality gets affected and the end supplier, the hotel or venue, takes the brunt, as delegates have been over-promised.” Some of that is a sentiment shared by Keingati of Kempinski, who is seeing more of a demand for value, as opposed to a fancy offering. “The huge demand in MICE has meant that there is an increase in the clients and planners that are looking for value for money and not just exotic destinations alone,” she says. “Procurement departments are playing a more active role in the decision-making process,” adds McIntosh. “There is no doubt that budgets are getting tighter and the demands are getting higher. Client expectations remain the same, regardless of the available budget. This is not necessarily a bad thing, because it encourages us as industry professionals to constantly develop innovative means of meeting and even exceeding the client’s expectations.” Along with planning events on shorter lead times, “clients are not increasing their meetings and events budgets year-on-year, however they are expecting the same value for money,” says Sharon Stoneley, Meetings and Events Business Unit Manager for Carlson Wagonlit Travel, who forecasts that “companies will start integrating travel and meetings, as they are looking to optimise savings.” A working holiday? It’s an important point – a growing trend is the demand for company-funded corporate getaways to tick more than one box at a time. “Clients are combining conferences with incentive-style leisure packages. And a common trend seems to be the client covering the basic costs and offering the delegate the opportunity to add to the package,” says Richardson from Legend Lodges, which operates safari lodges, beach resorts and golf getaways in South Africa and Mozambique. “Clients want experiential variety at the end of each day. Accessibility to a wider range of activities is increasingly non-negotiable, especially where spouse packages are being included… which is another growing trend.” Yet, while there’s certainly a drive for value, corporate customers on limited budgets are equally committed to ensuring their limited conference opportunities don’t fall short. “There is definitely more pressure on price, but our corporate clients are more focused on quality,” says O’Leary from Kievits Kroon. “There’s no room for complacency – if you’re not meeting your customer’s expectations every single time, the client will go. Some clients are extraordinarily loyal, but because the market became so competitive, there’s been more pressure put on providing value.” Although being a stand-alone property doesn’t allow Kievits Kroon to tap into conference clients looking for a range of products and locations, the smaller size has allowed them to “adapt quickly, make decisions quickly, change our rates and strategy quickly,” says O’Leary. “We’re far more agile in terms of being able to adapt to the market.” It’s also allowed the Pretoria property to slot into the growing trend of companies becoming more selective over the conferences and meetings run off-site. Mid-sized conferences previously held at out-of-town hotels are often now run within the corporate premises, and only larger conferences are allocated budget for off-site getaways. “There is continual growth happening in all sectors of the MICE industry. However, the curtailment of smaller meetings perhaps stands out as the area where initial cost savings are being made,” suggests Clare Neall from industry portal Event Stuff South Africa. It’s certainly a growing trend, but for companies planning their conferences and strategy sessions, it’s about finding a balance between breaking away from the office treadmill, without wasting too much productive time. “Corporates are often tempted to create conference centres within their offices, and while these are useful for shorter internal meetings, they are usually not suitable for lengthier conferences for senior staff,” adds O’Leary from Kievits Kroon. “We’ve done a lot of research with the industry, and we know that our client preference is for a residential conference that’s far enough away so that people won’t be dragged out of the conference, but also close enough that they won’t spend half the day getting there.” “The bulk of our business is coming from corporates whose head offices are in Sandton, but are looking to go away on a retreat that is out of town but not too far,” adds O’Leary. “NGOs, parastatals and the pan-African parliament are also important clients for us. There is a lot of business coming into South Africa, but the bulk of our business is actually originating from here in South Africa.” “Given the increased cost of travel, venues that are within easy reach of city centres are attracting more business,” agrees Rodney Weinrich, Group Sales Manager for Recreation Africa Leisure Industries (RALI), which operates the popular Misty Hills Country Hotel, Conference Centre & Spa situated near Johannesburg’s Lanseria Airport. “Organisers prefer to be on the outskirts of major cities, so that it does not take their delegates hours to get to the venue.” MICE is the most important sector of the travel industry when it comes to filling rooms at Misty Hills, and “although it has slowed down over the recessionary period, the market is starting to grow again,” adds Weinrich. “Meetings are growing faster than the others, although with government legislation requiring professionals to be involved in continuing education, more associations are conferencing.” “In our business, it is definitely meetings and conferences that are showing the greatest growth,” agrees McIntosh. “With the current trend of budget cuts and stealth spending, meetings and conferences take preference over incentive travel. The high taxes that are imposed on incentive travel make it that much more difficult to gain a reasonable return on investment.” Mtombeni has a similar take on what the trend is, in terms of which element of the MICE market looks the most encouraging. “While there is an increasing demand in all four MICE elements, when looked at individually it varies from country to country,” he says. “Looking at the African continent, there is a positive growth for meetings and conferences. This can also be seen by the increasing activity in the exhibition space for Nigeria and Ghana.” Interesting that Mthombeni cites the activity in Nigeria and Ghana, but no big surprise, considering the economic growth of the two countries, along with the increased business travel interest in these two West African super powers. That being said, whilst the increase in exhibition activity may be unfolding in the likes of Nigeria and Ghana, the meetings and conferences don’t always have to involve long-haul Business Class flights and budget-sapping hotel getaways. With its focus on mid-market accommodation, corporate travellers are a key source market for the City Lodge Hotel Group. Although it only has conference facilities at a handful of hotels – the likes of City Lodge OR Tambo, Courtyard Eastgate, Courtyard Rosebank and Town Lodge George – the group has boardroom facilities at all City Lodge and Courtyard hotels. “There is strong demand for meeting room facilities in certain areas, such as our City Lodge at OR Tambo Airport. People fly in from around the country, meet at our facilities, and then fly back home,” says Peter Schoeman, Divisional Director, Sales and Marketing for the City Lodge Hotel Group. The group also has hotel interests in Nairobi and Gaborone, and has benefitted from MICE business in southern and East Africa. Meetings may be a closer fit for City Lodge, but what is clear and perhaps obvious, is that one’s perspective on which of the four MICE elements is more promising, is skewed by the line of work you’re in, and your particular MICE offering. When you align a particular MICE element with a certain type of hotel or resort, it starts to make sense. Take Kerzner International, which is an operator of luxury hotels and resorts. No surprise that McCabe-Young points to the incentive market as the most encouraging element this group is seeing. “Across our resorts internationally, we are seeing incentive as the largest segment, and I think it also has the best opportunity for growth given our size and positioning – ultra-luxury for One&Only and entertainment resort destination for Atlantis,” she says. “As we see a steady increase in international companies established in Africa, the trend is to incentivise staff.” McCabe-Young, though, is also in agreement that the other MICE elements look strong in Africa for the coming year. “In addition, Kerzner resorts continue to see increased requests for both conferences and meetings for 2014,” she says. Get connected Whether it’s a secluded strategy meeting for a handful of executives, or an annual conference for hundreds, if you ask any hotel operator, incentive planner or conference organiser, there’s one word that defines what customers want in a conference or event venue. Connectivity. Bar a few secluded safari getaways where peace and quiet is at a premium, if you don’t have Wi-Fi Internet access, you might as well lock the doors and send the staff home. “Wi-Fi has become a key request and requirement for MICE business,” says Mbali Mngomezulu, Sales and Marketing Director at the Birchwood Hotel & OR Tambo Conference Centre. “We have recently upgraded our Wi-Fi offering and we will be introducing some additional changes to this offering in the next couple of months, making it easier for our in-house delegates or guests to access Wi-Fi.” However, don’t get too excited if the venue you’ve booked has just installed a 512kbps line into your conferencing venue and are proud to offer free Wi-Fi for your breakaway… you might already be behind the curve. “We were one of the first hotels to offer free Wi-Fi, but nowadays that’s become standard. It’s like having air-con in the room. Currently it’s the speed of the Wi-Fi that’s become important,” says O’Leary from Kievits Kroon. “We recently had an international energy conference come in, and we had to upgrade our infrastructure to accommodate video conferencing, so we now have incredibly fast Internet access.” “Most definitely there is a push for free Wi-Fi… more and more delegates are attending events expecting to have easy and free connectivity,” agrees Neall, who says technology is beginning to play a role in other ways too. “Social Media is starting to gain ground at events, with South Africans getting used to the inclusion of Twitter live channels.  Slowly but surely, event apps are starting to become a must-have – the benefits and cost savings are becoming crucial to events.” Wi-Fi is indeed the thin edge of the technological wedge, and offering a high-end technology service will increasingly become key for remaining competitive in the conference and events industry. “Online RSVP and registration systems are now the industry standard. Technology is moving at such a rate that we are already moving towards cloud-based, fully-integrated systems that provide a complete end-to-end solution that includes project planning, budgeting, e-marketing and social media modules,” says McIntosh. “I expect the use of mobile applications to become more popular, particularly as they become more affordable. Mobile apps create dynamic, interactive environments, giving the audience quick access to event schedules, speaker profiles, blog feeds, surveys, live polls and more.” While connectivity is key, there’s another, more intangible quality that many conference organisers might be looking for: peace and quiet. “Noise levels count,” says O’Leary from the decidedly peaceful Kievits Kroon. “People want a quiet environment in which to focus on the conference. One of our key advantages is space – our property spreads out over 16 hectares, so delegates can break out and find a quiet corner.” “It is very difficult for a company to use their own facilities in-house to train, as there are endless disruptions,” agrees Weinrich from Misty Hills. “The customer is therefore looking for places that are conducive to learning, somewhere where delegates can shed some of their stress and focus on the task at hand.” Wi-Fi aside, there are plenty of other boxes to tick to ensure clients end their conference or meeting happy. “The strongest demands at the moment include complimentary Wi-Fi, parking, shuttles and data projectors. Service is also of paramount importance, and clients need to know they are getting good value for money,” says Van den Berg from Extrabold Hotel Management. “Across the MICE segment, the top non-negotiable services include breakfast inclusive rates, complimentary limited Wi-Fi, early check-ins/late check-outs (subject to availability), secure meeting rooms, and complimentary transfers,” says McCabe-Young of Kerzner International. “Technology is key in the African markets, so Wi-Fi is top of the list. Finally, not only is value important, but so is a truly incredible experience – one that is not only business!” It seems that everyone has a different take on the ‘non-negotiables’, although some consistent elements keep cropping up. “Security, conference equipment, services (electricity) and attractive conferencing with leisure facilities,” says Duma Travel’s Mthombeni, when quizzed on what he believes today’s ‘non-negotiables’ are, in terms of corporate MICE customers. But let’s not forget Maslow either. Not the Sandton hotel in Johannesburg, although it’s a fine venue for executive meetings and conferences, but rather Abraham Maslow and his triangular hierarchy of needs. More important than employment, or a sense of achievement? The building block underpinning creativity and problem solving? Food. Or, if you prefer a more military reference, remember Napoleon argued that an army marched on its stomach? That applies for conference delegates too. “Quality dining is essential to any event,” agrees Van den Berg. “Even a slightly disappointing dining experience can skew memories of an otherwise great meeting. Holiday Inn Sandton and Crowne Plaza Johannesburg – The Rosebank take the dining experience very seriously. Our chef is also very flexible with the menu, and able to meet the particular preferences of our clients, determined by taste and budget.” Budget is often the sticking point, and alongside free high-speed Wi-Fi, the question clients are increasingly asking of providers is: how much more value can you offer me? “Clients demand value for money and this is definitely achieved through value-added services that can be offered, such as graphic design work or online RSVP and registration systems,” adds McIntosh. “Even something as modest as free parking at an event or free equipment in a conference venue – the more you can offer the client that is free of charge, the happier they are.” And happy clients are what you’ll find throughout Africa much of the time. From world class hotels to gleaming convention centres, it’s not hard to argue that Africa ticks almost all of the boxes required for successful meetings, conference and incentive travel. Almost. For while the future is certainly bright, there are a number of hurdles that private sector operators and governments need to tackle to fully unlock the potential of this corner of the global travel industry. It’s infrastructure where Africa falls short, says McIntosh from Tourvest Destination Management, with mass rapid transport systems and information and communication technology the prime culprits. “In South Africa, this situation is gradually improving with more convention centres and hotels offering free Wi-Fi,” he says. “The introduction of the Gautrain in Gauteng is the first step of a long journey. According to international research, the efficiency and reliability of a city’s public transport system is a key factor in the decision-making process, when choosing a destination.” And that destination is, more often than not, a key deciding factor. Is it close to the topic being covered by the conference or meeting? Is it convenient for delegates to attend? What is the air access and ground transportation like? Do the facilities fit the job? As any good estate agent could tell you, it’s often all about location. And so too when looking at the growth points for MICE travel on the continent. “The premier conference and exhibition destination in Africa is South Africa, followed by Kenya and Morocco,” notes Carol Weaving, Managing Director of Thebe Reed Exhibitions, which hosted the IBTM (Incentives, Business Travel & Meetings) Africa trade expo in Cape Town in April. “Another major player, Egypt, has had huge challenges around perceptions regarding socio-political unrest, but still achieves 11 million visitors annually. Nigeria and Ghana’s economic growth statistics are impressive and are generating significant growth in the meetings industry.” “We have seen big growth in both East and West Africa in the meetings and conferences industry,” adds Yolanda Woeke-Jacobs, Director: Sales and Marketing for Dragonfly Africa, who says the region is a particularly strategic option for corporates with a footprint in Asia, the Middle East and Africa. “In particular, the medical industry is finding value in holding their regional conferences in these destinations, with special focus on HIV/Aids congresses. Southern Africa remains strong for the more traditional incentive market.” “Meetings and conferences ranging for small executive to large groups are showing the biggest growth, especially in the banking, association, regional organisations and NGO sector,” says Kananelo Makhetha, Managing Director of BCD Travel. “In Ethiopia, regional conferences continue to show the best growth due to the availability of state-of-the-art conference centres in Addis Ababa and the proximity to the United Nations, African Parliament and African Union. Addis Ababa is expecting to host a minimum of 40 international conferences this year.  Ghana and Nigeria have experienced a growth in the exhibitions space, especially within the financial, telecommunication and mining and resource industries.” “Countries such as Senegal, Kenya and Ghana are also well-placed geographically to link many countries within a hub. They mostly are preferred for regional meetings due to flight connectivity, technology infrastructure and quality venues,” he adds. Keingati of Kempinski agrees, in terms of her take on the East African region. “The MICE market is large and has a far-reaching impact on other sectors in the economy,” she says. “This is valued at $30 billion, with hotels accounting for 60%. Thus, this is a major market for Villa Rosa Kempinski in Nairobi. What’s more, East Africa remains the most preferred conference and business tourism destination in Africa, outside of South Africa.” In the heart of the continent, it’s hoped the Kigali Convention Centre, still under construction, will soon put Rwanda on the map for MICE travel in Africa. The striking new development will include a large conference facility for 2,600 people, office and retail space, a variety of meeting rooms, and a 5-star hotel operated by Radisson Blu. Other cities with largely untapped opportunities for MICE travel include the likes of Luanda (Angola), Kinshasa (DRC), Maputo (Mozambique), Kampala (Uganda) and Dar es Salaam (Tanzania). In all of these cities, room nights booked by conferencing clients make up less than 10% of the overall hotel market. It’s a ready market waiting to be tapped. Security concerns are another concern holding back the growth of MICE travel on the continent though, and providing a secure environment is key to attracting large-scale international conferences. “International associations and companies are very careful not to take risks,” says Weaving. “In this sense, the business tourism sector is perhaps even more sensitive than the leisure sector, because organisations make the travel decisions on behalf of individuals and take the risk. It is very important for conference organisers to work with convention bureaux and destination marketing organisations, as they have a big influence on perceptions around destination.” Alongside security, air access is often key to developing new destinations, and safe reliable air service from convenient hubs is vital to ensuring a healthy conference industry. South Africa’s eastern coastal province of KwaZulu-Natal is a prime example, with the introduction of direct flights by Dubai-based carrier Emirates giving the region’s conference industry a major boost. Conversely, climbing airfares due to oil prices and weakening currencies can lead to a dip in demand for both conference and incentive travel. “Higher airfares are impacting the industry, which in turn is affecting long distance travel. Domestic and short-haul destinations will dominate, with more and more events being held closer to main city hubs for easy access and maximum attendance,” says Clare Neall from Event Stuff South Africa. Overall, the economic outlook for Africa’s share of the MICE travel industry is looking up for 2014. Budgets are, if not up, at least available for spending, and there’s renewed acceptance of the contribution residential conferencing and exhibitions have to offer corporate organisations. Incentive travel has its own benefits in rewarding hard work and inspiring more of the same for the following year. “Across the portfolio, Kerzner is bullish on the MICE market,” says McCabe-Young.  “The segment has definitely rebounded, and we anticipate continued growth. It is important to us to work with our partners to ensure we are competitive. For Africa, we have some fantastic offers we will be implementing with key partners in West and East Africa, and we are expecting to see growth in this segment. We are also ensuring our new resorts that are in development offer a comprehensive experience for the MICE segment.” “The forward book for 2014 is healthier than at any time in the past four years,” says Richardson from Legend Lodges, while Kananelo Makhetha from BCD Travel is cautiously optimistic about the “mixed bag” that is the MICE industry in Africa. “Although many conferences do get planned at short notice as a response to an event in the business environment, many corporates are beginning to plan and streamline their processes in order to better manage spend,” he says. “Interesting times lie ahead for the industry in the coming years, with the arrival of big names in the hospitality industry.” The low-down on high-flying incentives Meetings, conference and exhibition travel are often at the mercy of global economies, but the incentive business in Africa has an ace up its sleeve… your pick of the world’s most dramatic, beautiful locations. While it’s often hard to tell one conference centre from the next, it’s hard to beat a team-building event on the Zambezi river, or an incentive trip to the beaches of Mauritius. So, while corporate giants may decide to save a few pennies by holding their meetings and conferences closer to home, when it comes to incentive travel, there’s little to beat the glamour of travelling in Africa and its islands. “Africa is still an emerging destination for the MICE market, but it certainly has untapped potential for clients looking for the ‘next new thing’,” says Yolanda Woeke-Jacobs, Director: Sales and Marketing for Dragonfly Africa. “East Africa, including Kenya and Tanzania, are well-established tourism destinations, but up to now have been predominantly for the leisure traveller. We believe there is still huge potential for the MICE market in that region. “In the past few years, we have seen huge investment in product and infrastructure in these areas, such as the new Four Seasons Safari Lodge, a luxury 77-room lodge in the Serengeti, Tanzania.” East Africa is also popular for its combination of beach-and-bush incentive trips, taking in the ‘Spice Island’ of Zanzibar, while the perennial favourites of Cape Town and the Victoria Falls remain high on the list of destinations for many incentive planners. “Top destinations are Kenya, Mozambique, Namibia, Zambia, and Botswana,” adds Sharon Stoneley, Carlson Wagonlit Travel Meetings and Events Business Unit Manager. “Companies are considering local and African destinations because of proximity, shorter flights and a growing interest in these areas. I have noticed that companies are seeing value in local destinations, especially due to the volatile rate of exchange.” Mauritius has long been a popular destination for incentive travellers, and the island is “still the leading destination for incentive travel in Africa, due to the well-marketed package deals, diverse product in terms of hotels and activities, plus the availability of flights,” says Kananelo Makhetha, Managing Director of BCD Travel. Themba Mthombeni, CEO of Duma Travel, agrees with his BCD counterpart. “The most popular destinations are South Africa and Mauritius,” he says. “These destinations have economic activity and a well-developed infrastructure, when looking at their banking, hotel and conference sectors. They are also considered very attractive tourist destinations, because of the leisure activities and client experiences.” Value is a key driver of bookings to Victoria Falls, Zanzibar and Mauritius, notes Jim McIntosh, General Manager of Business Development and Marketing for Tourvest Destination Management. “We can put together spectacular programmes at affordable rates. They are all easily accessible from South Africa and their currencies all compare favourably to the Rand,” he says. “That’s something that cannot be said when travelling further afield.” However, it’s important to remember that currency fluctuations are a double-edged sword, says McIntosh. “A weak Rand benefits the inbound incentive market and makes South Africa more attractive to delegates attending international association conferences. Conversely, it makes outbound incentive travel less appealing to the corporate client, as a weak Rand means you can offer less in terms of quality and programme content.” For incentive planners looking for something out of the ordinary, “Rwanda as an incentive destination is certainly starting to pique our clients’ interest, mainly for the ‘Gorilla Trekking’ experience,” adds Woeke-Jacobs. “Unfortunately, this experience is limited to smaller, more exclusive groups of up to 30 participants.” And yet, while the strings on corporate purses have certainly become a little looser as world economies strengthen, it’s by no means back to the heady days pre-2008. Value, as already mentioned throughout these pages, is the watchword for incentive travel, and clients want more of it than ever before. “Since the end of 2012 and beginning of 2013, we have noticed a steady recovery in budgets and group sizes, particularly out of our main markets – North America, Australia and the United Kingdom,” says Woeke-Jacobs of Dragonfly Africa, which specialises in inbound incentive travel to Africa. “What has not changed however is corporate governance and procurement. Companies are still reluctant to be seen as too extravagant with their programme content, and they are including more corporate social responsibility elements into their events, which makes them and the attendees feel good.” For when it comes to successful incentives, it’s about ticking as many boxes as possible. It has to both fit the budget and achieve its aim of incentivising and rewarding attendees. And if the point of running an incentive is to engender excitement, “the destination itself has to be motivational. It should almost be on each delegate’s wish list,” says Woeke-Jacobs, who says it’s key to offer “true, authentic and memorable travel experiences, rather than just visiting tourist attractions. The challenge here is to operate large groups and still offer a unique experience for the delegates.” With that in mind, “speciality function venues are becoming a lot more popular, as clients are starting to look for locations that offer something a bit different and a bit special, compared to the traditional function rooms that are part of a hotel,” adds McIntosh, who says that outside traditional hotel environments, “venues such as Urban Tree and The Venue in Johannesburg, and The Lookout in Cape Town, are great examples of speciality venues that provide a real ‘wow’ experience.” So whether it’s a quick weekend breakaway for executive managers, or a year-end incentive for dozens of top-performing salespeople, the key is to make it memorable. And to do that, it pays to get organised. “It is essential for planners to book early to get the best price and to maximize their budgets. Event planners need time to invest in the attendee experience – expectations are growing and more demands are being placed on quality programmes,” says Clare Neall, Managing Editor of MICE-industry portal Event Stuff South Africa, who adds that “return-on-investment is critical, and budgets are continually being scrutinised to provide cost savings, transparency and efficiency.” Clients want to see value being realised, and they want the incentive to tick all the right boxes of motivating staff and engendering company loyalty. For the incentive companies that get it right, business is looking in rude health. “Since the end of 2012, we have seen year-on-year growth in business,” adds Woeke-Jacobs. “We already have forward bookings for 2015, so based on current confirmed business, we remain very positive that this trend will continue for the next few years. As they say, it is the ‘time for Africa’.” Simple steps to great incentives Planning an incentive experience for clients or staff? Aside from the where, why and what, there are plenty of other factors that can transform your event from humdrum to unforgettable. With 16 years of experience in the incentive industry, we asked Robin Mcleod, Manager: Sales & Marketing for destination management company Green Route Africa, to give us his five top tips for ensuring your incentive experience is truly top-notch… Fit the destination “So often we see incentive companies that have had success with a certain idea, say in Paris, and they then come to Africa and it just doesn’t work. Your incentive must fit the destination you choose. When you choose a new destination, look at it with new eyes – ask what’s unique about that destination? And don’t be afraid to break the rules. For instance, when having your conference in the bush, don’t have your glitzy gala dinner in the ballroom – have it out under the stars!” Make it personal “It’s the little surprises and personal touches that make all the difference. People like to be acknowledged – think of having a welcome note waiting on the TV, prepare personal monogrammed gifts, or perhaps a handwritten note for each guest. A lot of companies do photo-books from the incentive trip, but instead of everyone getting the same book, rather make it personal photos of them in their book.” Bigger is smaller “For a bigger incentive experience, go smaller. If you have a large group, you’re limited to where you can go and what you can do. Divide the group into smaller more manageable vehicles that allow for unique experiences. Smaller groups allow you to visit smaller places, and then perhaps all come together again for lunch. It’s important to remember that the group doesn’t have to do everything together.” Make travelling fuss-free “Travelling can be tiring, so if you’re doing a multi-centre incentive, make the inter-destination movements as pain-free as possible. Arrange pre-check-in at the hotel, and make sure the hotels have the full manifest of guests to make the process smoother. Ensure luggage is clearly tagged, so that it can quickly be delivered to the guests’ rooms. Also consider using charter flights. In South Africa they’re easy to use and relatively inexpensive. It makes the event special and you can determine the times of departure and arrival. If you can, make use of VIP meet-and-greet facilities. And there are simple things too – have scented towels on arrival, especially for delegates coming off a long flight.” Allow for leisure time “Incentives are a reward, not a marathon! Some incentive planners try to fill every waking minute for delegates, but rather let individuals explore on their own time too. Leave time in the itinerary and have an activity desk where people can make their own choices around how to fill it.” On the ground Business Traveller Africa asked Marius Crook, Regional Sales Manager: Western Cape at mortgage originator Ooba for the low-down on a recent incentive trip to Mauritius… What was the trip for? It was an incentive opportunity run by Ooba throughout the year, with different categories for different staff. So, a category for managers, a category for mortgage consultants and so on. It was for the very top performers. This was the first overseas incentive to be run since 2007, when budgets were tightened. What was it? A four-day trip to Sugar Beach Resort in Mauritius. It was an all-inclusive package, so all meals and all drinks were taken care of. We were also given an allocated amount to spend on specified activities. How many people attended? Thirty-five top performers from Ooba offices nationwide. The highlights of the trip? Most importantly, people didn’t have to pay for their own alcohol and they never had to fork out for meals. Except for any shopping, they didn’t have to spend a cent of their own money while they were there. We often have staff qualifying who could never afford a trip like this, so this is a major motivating factor. I think it’s important that people on the incentive don’t have to worry about spending any of their own money. Another highlight was the gala dinner, where everyone received a certificate and had their photograph taken with the CEO. There was a specific dress code, outstanding food, and the resort arranged a phenomenal fireworks display. I think that the recognition in front of other top-performing staff is very important. Yes, it’s nice to lie around on the beach for three or four days doing nothing, but we all looked forward to being acknowledged publicly. What could be improved? A few people who hadn’t been overseas before could have done with more preparation before travelling abroad. I think it’s important, when organising trips like these, to look at it from the perspective of someone who has never travelled overseas. For instance, two of the party had all of their toiletries confiscated at airport security, so you have to remember there may be people not used to travelling. Ooba has learnt from that for this year’s incentive, and they’ll be preparing a booklet of what to expect, along with more information on travelling companions, who could be colleagues from other offices around the country. Was it easy to justify time out of the office? Absolutely. It’s the one time that people don’t complain about time out of the office. This incentive was sales-driven, and sales people don’t like being away from the office. But it’s the few days in the year that they can happily switch off their cellphones. Did it achieve its goal of rewarding top performers? Definitely. It’s a drive to be included on the next one, and to be recognised again as a top performer. It’s amazing to see how people pull out all the stops towards the end of the year to ensure they make it onto the next incentive trip. It’s never going to include hundreds of people, because you want to keep it exclusive to the top performers, but as the awards are getting bigger, the better people are out there trying to be recognised. Snippets In addition to its new 500-seater conference centre, Legend Golf & Safari Resort in South Africa’s Waterberg region has opened four 80-seater conference and meeting rooms catering for smaller groups. Two new dining venues capable of seating over 300 guests will also be opening this winter. The One&Only Cape Town has introduced several conference specials valid between June and September 2014. Half-day conference packages start from just R230 per person, while full-day packages – including a three-course lunch in the acclaimed Reuben’s restaurant – are competitively priced at R495 per delegate. Complimentary value-adds for overnight bookings of three nights or more include welcome drinks (minimum 10 rooms), a bottle of wine in each room (20 rooms), wine tasting for 12 VIP guests with the hotel sommelier (20 rooms), or a cocktail reception with drinks and snacks (30 rooms). 88 major conferences have been confirmed for South Africa over the next few years, attracting around 200,000 delegates and injecting R2.6-billion into the economy. One of the largest will be the 21st International Aids Conference, to be held in Durban in 2016. The Birchwood Hotel & OR Tambo Conference to the east of Johannesburg opens a new lounge in May 2014. Along with high-speed Wi-Fi, the restaurant/lounge will offer a wide range of whiskies and champagnes, along with platters for sharing amongst colleagues and a menu of easy-going pub-style dishes. Misty Hills Country Hotel, Conference Centre & Spa to the north-west of Johannesburg has upped its ‘green’ credentials by becoming a registered botanical garden. To offset the carbon impact of conferences held at the hotel, situated near Lanseria International Airport, the hotel plants an indigenous tree for every 10 delegates that attend a meeting or conference. “The International Congress and Convention Association ranks South Africa 37th on its list of the world’s top business event destinations. The country has come out tops as the number one business tourism destination in Africa.” – Carol Weaving: Managing Director – Thebe Reed Exhibitions Award-winners With votes cast by thousands of travel industry professionals each year, it’s no surprise that the World Travel Awards are dubbed the ‘Oscars’ of the travel industry. With voting for the 2014 Awards currently underway, here’s who came out tops for MICE travel last year… Africa’s Leading Conference Hotel 2013 Situated a few steps from the state-of-the-art Cape Town International Convention Centre, the Westin Cape Town has one of the best locations on the continent when it comes to conferencing. A member of the Starwood Hotels & Resorts group, this upmarket foreshore hotel offers 483 modern rooms overlooking the city. Apart from easy access to the convention centre, the hotel also offers 19 individual meeting venues for up to 600 delegates. The 19th floor spa is a popular spot for relaxing after a hard day at work. www.starwoodhotels.com Africa’s Leading Meetings & Conference Centre 2013 For the fourth year running, the sprawling Durban International Convention Centre in the province of KwaZulu-Natal picked up the gong for the best convention centre on the continent. Long a favoured destination for large-scale conferences and exhibitions, the ICC is the largest flat floor, column-free, multi-purpose event space in Africa. Together with the neighbouring ICC Arena and Durban Exhibition Centre, it offers a staggering 33,000m² of flexible exhibition and meeting space. http://icc.co.za Africa’s Leading Meetings & Conference Destination 2013 With the growing trend of companies and corporate travellers combining leisure and incentive time alongside meetings and conventions, it’s no surprise that Africa’s most popular leisure travel destination is also tops for MICE travellers. Plans are underway to expand Cape Town’s convention centre, and a boom in 5-star hotels is making the ‘Mother City’ an attractive option for corporate gatherings. www.capetown.travel
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