More for less

The African MICE industry remains full of potential and the offering across the continent is extensive, but challenges remain and spend is down, meaning that those suppliers with a vested interest have to get creative and innovative.


It’s big business, this MICE business.

According to a report published at the start of the year by Allied Market Research, titled, “MICE Industry by Event Type: Global Opportunity Analysis and Industry Forecast, 2017-2023“, the global MICE industry was valued at $752 billion in 2016, and is projected to reach $1,245 billion in 2023, registering a compound annual growth rate of 7.5% from 2017 to 2023.

It’s no wonder that many international hotel groups see this as an area of great opportunity, whether their properties can offer enticing conference venues or an incentive programme that ticks all the right boxes.

As it is, the MICE industry is a complex one, consisting of participants, sponsors, planners, convention and visitor bureaus, meeting venues, accommodation, and suppliers generally being involved in the planning and execution of an event.

According to the Allied Market Research, this industry “has witnessed exponential growth, owing to rapid globalization and expansion of service industries, and the continuous evolution of scientific and technological innovations.”

So, what does this mean for the African continent, and where does it fit in, globally, from a MICE perspective?

Well, there’s no doubt that Africa remains the last ‘untapped’ continent, with plenty of potential and loads of hotel development in the pipeline, pointing to sustained interest in the continent and an international view that Africa still offers huge opportunity for growth.

But, while that potential and opportunity remains, the continent does have its challenges, and plenty of work still needs to be done to ensure it remains competitive when stacked up against its competitors from around the world.

No longer can Africa trade off its natural beauty and interesting cultural make-up – it needs to show the world that its infrastructure can sustain this level of interest and deliver on the promises it is making, particularly in the MICE space.

Africa’s tourism bodies, convention bureaus, event organisers and destination marketing companies are all trying to sell the continent to the world, and whilst the proposition may be compelling on paper – and in the beautiful accompanying imagery – the boxes of a successful event will still need to be ticked, before international business sets foot on African soil.

One just has to look at the latest ICCA rankings (see sidebar) to see where Africa’s top MICE cities feature, in comparison with the rest of the world. Sure, this relates only to the number of association meetings per city, but you still have Cape Town – Africa’s top performer – only down in 44th place, followed by Johannesburg (113th), Kigali (130th), and Marrakech (133rd). That hardly speaks to global competitiveness on the part of Africa.

That being said, progress is being made, in terms of the broadening of the options available to international conference organisers, for example, with some African countries waking up to the fact that an attractive venue and overall MICE offering could put them in line to win potentially lucrative international business.

The examples are there to see, with Rwanda developing a beautiful convention centre adjacent to a Radisson Blu hotel in Kigali to supplement its attractive leisure tourism offering; Nigeria seeing the emergence of the Calabar International Convention Centre outside of the economic centres of Lagos and Abuja; and the Century City Conference Centre & Hotel opening in Cape Town, further bolstering the continent’s top meeting and conference destination (as per ICCA rankings) – all opening in the last few years.

“The African MICE market is definitely expanding from both a local, regional and international perspective, and as such you can see several new investments in facilities to satisfy this demand across many new developments of multiple brands of operators,” says Rudie Putter, General Manager at AVANI Windhoek Hotel & Casino in Namibia.

That may be the case, but it will take time for those venues to establish a foothold and reputation in the international space. So, it’s no surprise to hear that the suppliers in the African MICE space have until now largely had to make do with intra-African travel and business, with some even relying purely on their local markets to sustain themselves.

And, with some of the continent’s biggest economies enduring a difficult few years, economically – think the likes of South Africa and Nigeria – it’s also no surprise to hear what the biggest challenges in the African MICE space are.


Yip, you guessed it. Spend is down, as budgets get cut and corporates find themselves under pressure to justify any spend on meetings, incentives, conferences or exhibitions.

“The MICE space in Africa is under pressure from a pricing perspective,” says Louis van Zyl, CEO of Carlson Wagonlit Travel South Africa. “Customer preferences reflect the current overall economic climate, where they are very cost-conscious and are looking to downscale group events as far as possible.”

“Spend is down and clients are more budget-conscious,” says Celeste Schroder, aha Hotels & Lodges National Sales Manager in South Africa. “We find we are discounting more events to try and keep the business, and our sales techniques and efforts are more focused on achieving and exceeding client expectations.”

So, we’re back to making do with less spend and pushing the boundaries to see what can be achieved. This is clearly being felt across Africa and not just in South Africa, which has had its economic challenges in the past few years.

“Meeting enquiries are up, but the spend is lower,” says Neelma Maru, Director of Sales and Marketing at Mövenpick Hotel & Residences Nairobi.

Maru, however, puts a positive spin on things, going on to say that: “The MICE industry is steadily growing as the sector generates millions in revenues globally. The trend is progressive, as demand for meetings, incentives, congresses and events is on the rise. The understanding of what’s motivating MICE travellers and how to attract them is driving hotels to be innovative in their offering.”

And that’s not a bad thing. Suppliers or vendors in the MICE and/or hotel spaces should be pushed to be more innovative or creative in their offerings, as long as that’s within the boundaries of what’s reasonable and achievable. After all, suppliers can’t put on events or host programmes that don’t offer the opportunity to turn a profit.

Mark Wernich, General Manager of the Taj Cape Town, has an interesting take on the subject.

“Whilst a lot of clients’ budgets have gone up or remained the same, value for money is very important,” he says. “We are competing a lot more with cheaper destinations, and with flight costs having increased, it’s become a lot more expensive for international clients to come to Cape Town. The Rand is also stronger and this has also added to budgets being lower. This is a challenge, especially for repeat clients who have worked on a specific budget.”

Again, it can’t be unreasonable to suggest that suppliers have to work towards an offering that provides more value for money, but there is a limit to that, and the equation has to work for both parties. Basically, what am I putting in (client spend) and what can you offer in return (supplier)? Sort this equation out, and, as a supplier, you could find yourself in demand, particularly if you play in the space that deals with ‘experiences’.

“While we see the DCP rates under pressure, the true MICE delegate is there for an experience that is worth his while,” says Leroy Ferreira, Fancourt’s Corporate Sales executive. “The delegate ROI (and not the financial bit) is a very strong forerunner with all decision-makers. Budgets aside.….what will my team get out of this?

With that in mind, it seems as if it hasn’t been all doom and gloom for everyone.

“The MICE spend at our properties has been decent this year,” says Jeanine Smith, Marketing Manager – Special Events for Legacy Hotels & Resorts. “Vic Falls hotels have become extremely popular due to the event spaces at the properties and incredible destination experiences available. The city hotels vary from month to month, but the business is still definitely out there!”


Wernich may have been talking about providing value for money, but that task has been made even more difficult by the water crisis that has gripped South Africa’s Western Cape in the past two years.

Fortunately, Cape Town’s ‘Day Zero’ is now officially off the cards for two years, with the city’s officials saying in June that there’s no longer a threat of the taps running dry next year. time for the tourism industry, and whilst ‘Day Zero’ may have been an effective tool in changing the water consumption habits of Cape Town residents, it was an international PR disaster.

“The publicity around Day Zero was meant to create awareness among the residents and South Africans of a dire situation we have, but the message that went around the world was very negative, that Cape Town has run out of water,” said Rishabh Thapar, Associate Director at HVS Africa, speaking to the Cape Talk radio station in July.

Thapar went on to say that the impact resulted in a more than 20% drop in new arrivals to the city.

“As a whole, along with the city, we definitely saw a drop in business for the MICE segment of around 20-30% year on year,” says Wernich. “We found that most international clients looking to come to Cape Town were left feeling bad for travelling to the city during a water crisis, where they would potentially be using water that the locals would need. So, there was a much more guilt-driven impact that larger groups didn’t feel morally that it was right to still come to the city. Whilst this has now become a positive that the city is out of the water crisis for now, it is still taking some time for the good news to spread across the shores.”

As if times weren’t tough enough, you know that luck isn’t on your side when the continent’s top conference destination gets hit by a water crisis and bears the brunt of some awful PR that affects both its tourism offering and its reputation as a quality MICE destination.


Well, you can sit around and moan about the dire economic situation or the water crisis, or you can re-look things, innovate, and put yourself in line to prosper.

Fortunately, that’s something that Africans are, generally, pretty good at, and the suppliers in the MICE space are no different.

There’s no doubt, that when it comes to the MICE industry, this is the sort of sector that lends itself to innovation, and there are some interesting trends out there, particularly if one looks abroad.

As says: “From meetings hanging in the air, or in the dark, to crowdsourcing agenda topics from the audience – the trend for engaging experiential interactive activities within business events is growing fast. Moreover, this growth pattern is set to continue and soon they will feature in most programs.”

That was the key finding of research carried out by MPI Outlook for the IMEX Group. The report went on to say that over the last three years, 87% of the meeting professionals who responded had seen an increased demand from clients or colleagues to include more experiential activities into their programs, with 29% noticing a significant increase.

Looking ahead, more than two thirds (69%) said they expected to include experiential elements within meetings and conventions from now on, while a further 16% said they would start adding them in a year or two.

Respondents were also asked to define ‘experiential activities’ in meetings, conventions and events. Summarising the consensus of responses, the overall view and definition was that they are ‘activities that create an opportunity for attendees to use many senses and engage in an event while actively participating in a ‘hands-on’ way.’

Carina Bauer, CEO of the IMEX Group said: “The phenomenal interest and positive responses to C2 International’s Learning Labs, the Live Zone and the many experiential elements of IMEX in Frankfurt this year reinforced our perception of the enthusiasm within the industry for experiential activities. This research quantifies and powerfully emphasises the significance of this trend in the wider industry.”

With this in mind, I’m interested to see what the African players in the industry are seeing.

“Incentive clients are always looking for ‘destination experiences’, so the more creative and ‘out the box’ you can give them, the more likely they are to pick your product,” says Smith of Legacy Hotels & Resorts. “Conferencing requirements remain more traditional, but again the quirky/creative ideas tend to sell, as well as different ways of serving lunch/healthy snacks/ juice bars, location, parking and ALWAYS cost!”

“Originality is a common theme,” says Van Zyl of CWT South Africa. “Customers who have experienced the big city conference centres, the bush or a coastal venue are looking to us to find something fresh and original. This covers not only the venue but also the themes, entertainment and breakaway activities. Again, affordability comes into play here where customers are increasingly looking at less ventured but more affordable venues like Port Elizabeth, East London and Durban. Also approaching more intimate and exclusive venues, as opposed to bigger hotel chains.”

Neelma Maru of Mövenpick Hotel & Residences Nairobi identifies culinary experiences, non-traditional meeting spaces, and technology as the three main trends she is seeing.

“Planners are looking for meeting, conferencing and networking spaces that are different,” she says. “They are looking for fresh ideas, experimenting with space and are open to holding their events, talks, workshops and networking sessions in creative spaces.”

Further to that, Maru has seen an “increase in requests for residential meetings which entail group meetings with accommodation. We are seeing a lot of exhibitions, business to business meetings, and product launches. What stands out is the need for all services under one roof.”

Fancourt is in the unique position of being nicely isolated in George on South Africa’s Garden Route and away from the country’s big cities, but with easy access in the form of a nearby airport, and the space to present a compelling offering, with various accommodation options, an inviting spa, and three world-class golf courses among the added elements it can offer.

“We are seeing more and more requests for activities that are unique to the area,” says Ferreira. “MICE delegates do not want to be stuck in a conference room for three days. They want to have dinner in a different venue every night. Unusual requests are becoming the new standard. Luckily, we have 613 hectares to play with, so it makes it a little easier.”

For Schroder of aha Hotels & Lodges, it seems to be more about the space.

“Clients are requiring more space in their venues, as they are having unique seating arrangements and activities,” she says. “Many bring in floor mats for ice breakers before the conference. They are also requesting more health-conscious meals. Virgin Active, for example, do not want starch on their menus. A growing requirement is natural light and strong wi-fi when selecting venues. Then what we are seeing mostly with our corporate clients, they are wanting something authentic and different at no extra cost.”

Wernich puts a different spin on a similar theme.

“Clients are not wanting to spend as much as they did in previous years on their accommodation, but rather spend a lot more on the destination and to be able to explore the city and surrounds while here,” he says, in reference to the city of Cape Town. “We have to work very closely with our clients to see how we can fit in and work with them on their budgets. Everyone is looking for something unique, something different and not the norm.”


As with everything in this tech-focused age, there’s no doubt that technology is also playing a bigger and bigger role in the events space, not only as a cost-saving measure, but also as a means of producing something that is “unique, something different, and not the norm”, as Wernich refers to it.

As says, “the event planning industry has come a long way from the binder-toting, paper-based system of the near distant memory of the early 2000’s. Today, advances in technology have led to sweeping improvements in the events management field. These improvements have streamlined and consolidated our meeting systems, making it easier for event planners to get their jobs done.”

The site goes on to identify what it believes are five of the most important event technology trends “that will have a significant effect on the event planning industry as a result of meeting planning automation.”

Those five trends are: radio frequency identification (RFID); multi-use apps; wearable technology; virtual reality; and social media.

Again, I’m interested to see to what level the MICE practitioners in Africa are embracing some of these new technologies.

“Most corporates have started seeing technology as a way to work smarter and more efficiently, and they are looking to their travel agents and MICE organisers to offer solutions,” says Maru. “One example is that often companies are requesting a more streamlined RSVP system. They want a dedicated website for their event, or even a dedicated app. Also, conference rooms with advanced technology systems, good internet speed and good and natural light.”

At the bare minimum, any technological offering has to have its basis in robust connectivity infrastructure, and it’s here, it seems, that some suppliers are focusing their efforts, before going after the bells and whistles.

“We have recently implemented a new wi-fi system throughout the hotel, increasing our speed to world-class standards of a 100- meg fibre line,” says Wernich. “This has helped us with video conferencing, which is coming up more and more. Connectivity and being able to connect on the go has become more and more important for our MICE clients.”

“We offer complimentary uncapped wi-fi,” says Schroder, speaking on behalf of the aha Gateway Hotel in Durban. “Should a client require a dedicated (stronger) wi-fi line, we can arrange this with our preferred supplier. We have found that more clients have the latest computers which support HDMI only. As a result of this, we have bought HDMI converters and through that we have not lost any business.”

This sentiment extends to Putter’s property in Windhoek, Namibia, where the approach is along similar lines.

“The technology that we are incorporating in our new facilities has one goal in mind, and that is to satisfy the client requirements,” he says. “We have spent a lot of effort in tailoring the technology offer to the demands of our clients, whether it is video conferencing, high-speed internet or wireless connection, to projection devices and multiple charging and linking options for mobile technology. We believe that being able to seamlessly connect, recharge and access information is the core focus within venues, and we comprehensively satisfy that requirement.”

“There are some really interesting and progressive technology offerings and developments that we as a local provider, as well as part of a global organization, are in the process of adopting,” says Van Zyl of CWT South Africa. “We believe that it will position us very well to further enhance our end-to-end MICE offering, combining the efficiency and automation of technology with the value of a personal touch. We do pride ourselves on being the front runners in adopting innovative technology in our business offering.”

That may be the case, but I’m not seeing too much in the way of ground-breaking technological innovation in those responses, with the focus, for now, on making sure the connectivity is of a high standard.

Maybe there is a bit of a lag before we will see significant innovation find its way to the African MICE space?


“Time and value for money is becoming a key factor and the demands for great service and convenience sets the current tone,” says AVANI Windhoek Hotel & Casino’s Putter, and he’s spot-on.

These are some of the key elements in ensuring you remain relevant in the MICE industry.

That’s whether you are innovating, revamping, or just simply looking at your offering.

It’s a fluid space and one that is under pressure, due to a decrease in spend.

So, only those with their eye on the ball are going to remain relevant.



The International Congress and Convention Association (ICCA) earlier this year named Cape Town as the number one city in Africa for hosting international association meetings. This is the 10th consecutive year that Cape Town has achieved this accolade, with the city hosting a total of 53 meetings in the 2017 judging period.

Cape Town’s ranking was followed by Johannesburg with 23 meetings, and Kigali with 21. Marrakech (20) and Addis Ababa rounded off the top five, followed by Nairobi, Durban, Cairo, Accra and Kampala. Interestingly, the university town of Stellenbosch in South Africa’s Western Cape was ranked 12th, after hosting eight international meetings last year.

Of the 54 meetings held in Cape Town, 13 meetings had a delegate attendance of over 1,000 attendees, with 24 of the 54 meetings held in a conference and/or exhibition venue, and 16 in meeting facilities within hotels.

The subject matter of the meetings hosted varied from medical sciences (13 meetings) to sciences (nine), technology (five) and economics (four). Over 50% (30 out of 54) of the meetings were hosted during the traditional low-season period between May and September, which went some way to addressing the seasonality challenge of attracting visitors to the Cape during this time. The average length of days per conference was four days.


Here’s a look at some of the growing trends and the most important things to consider when planning an incentive programme, according to Conference & Incentive Travel (C&IT):

  1. Infrastructure is important – What’s the use of having a fantastic destination with plenty of great incentive attractions, if organising a trip is a logistical nightmare? According to Diogo Assis, Founder of Events by TLC, “having a supplier that works is a massive pull for a destination.”
  2. Transformational travel – Delegates are starting to demand much more than simply a luxurious holiday, and instead are looking to create positive memories that last beyond the duration of the trip, says Holly Mills, Head of Incentives at Penguins. “We are seeing a move away from the traditional beach destinations. Instead the demand is for more culturally-connected and experience-driven trips.”
  3. Wanting wellness – The last year has continued to see discussions around stress and wellness become elevated, as attitudes towards mental health begin to change. A shift in expectations year-on-year from incentive travellers means “they still want the ‘money can’t buy’ inspiring destinations that offer exclusivity, privacy and memorability”, but that “this year health and wellness feature very high on the agenda,” says Adam Goodman, Managing Director of ACA Live.
  4. Employee engagement – Part of this trend is the use of incentives as a reward and recognition tool. Traditionally these trips were sales performance-driven, but there is an increasing demand for trips and experiences offered companywide or based upon alternative metrics.
  5. Personalisation is paramount – Personalisation in regards to incentives is a constant hot topic. This will continue to be key, particularly when tailoring an environment to attendees says Elizabeth Heron, Managing Director of OrangeDoor. However, this doesn’t need to consist of grand gestures – it lies more in the small details and should be an evolving process throughout a trip.



This has become a common element in many modern-day conferences, but so many event organisers get it wrong. Here, American psychologist and author, Adam Grant, provides some tips on how to get it right:

  1. Keep it small – the best panels have a moderator and no more than two or three guests. Larger panels create more communication and co-ordination difficulties.
  2. Invite people who complement each other – you need a mix of similarities and differences. Every panellist should fit into a common topic but stand out based on having unique insights or experiences.
  3. Design for relationships between the panellists – invite people who actually know each other. They’re used to having conversations together, they’re familiar with each other’s views, and they’re more likely to be comfortable debating and disagreeing respectfully.
  4. Encourage the panellists to talk to each other – a rookie mistake is when panellists are all having individual conversations with the moderator.
  5. Ask them to keep their comments short – the most compelling responses are usually no more than 60 seconds.
  6. Don’t let every panellist answer every question – that immediately devolves into mind-numbing turn-taking.
  7. Tell them you might interrupt them – the moderator’s job is to guide the conversation to make it worthwhile for the audience.
  8. Start by asking for a story – panels fall flat when participants never get to share their knowledge – and the audience has no context for why they’re there.
  9. Pose questions that make the audience—and the panellists—think – the richest questions often start with why (to get at motivation/purpose) and how (to get at strategy/tactics).
  10. Run a lightning round – come ready with a few questions that panellists can answer in a word or a sentence. It can be a fun appetizer early on, or a strong closing.