Q&A: CTICC – Beefing up

Many African nations count among the fastest growing economies in the world, and major investors are looking toward the continent as new growth markets. Convention centres play a major role in driving the knowledge economy, job creation and economic growth. Julie-May Ellingson, CEO of the Cape Town International Convention Centre, gives her thoughts on the state of convention centres in Africa.

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Q: What’s the background to the origins of the expansion project?

A: When the expansion was announced, the CTICC had already become very successful in its first years of operation and even during slow economic times had exceeded all expectations. Occupancy rates during peak months had risen to such a level that we could not meet the demand and had to turn business away. From a purely operational perspective, future growth for the centre could be secured through an expansion.

Q: Give us an example of the types of events the expansion will allow CTICC to now host?

A: The CTICC was able to bid for and successfully secure the hosting of the World Ophthalmology Congress in 2020. With a forecast attendance of 15,000 delegates this is the largest event the centre will host (to date) and this massive event will utilise both facilities. The 18th International Congress of Immunology taking place in August 2022 will attract immunology experts from across the globe and will also be hosted across both buildings.

CTICC also has a number of repeat clients like AfricaCom, African Utility Week and Cape Town International Jazz Festival that want to expand their events by utilising both facilities.

Q: What are your thoughts on the state of the exhibition industry in South Africa?

A: The industry remains strong. According to the 17th Global Exhibitions Barometer by the Global Association of the Exhibition Industry (UFI) 44% of South African companies in the industry experienced an increase of more than 10% in annual profits over the past year. The report also indicates that expectations remain high that the industry will continue to grow in 2017.

Q: How have expos evolved over the years?

A: Expos have evolved from tables and chair ‘stands’ to experiential events, with exhibitors creating more of an experience with the look and feel of their stands. Some incorporate all your senses with lighting, sound and even smell. This has been enabled by new technology and a more demanding visitor.

Q: How important is technology to the CTICC offering, and are you integrating mobile into that offering?

A: The CTICC has world-class high-density wireless infrastructure catering for a variety of frequencies with a management and monitoring platform. The centre can also engineer custom, dedicated network/s to accommodate client requests. The CTICC also employs the services of an industry leading internet service provider and having a first-class technology partner on board like ProsperIS, we know that our clients are well looked after in terms of technology requirements.

Q: What are your thoughts on Century City Conference Centre opening up ‘down the road’ from you earlier in the year?

A: The new centre strengthens Cape Town’s reputation as a global meetings destination and it’s important that Africa gets a bigger piece of the international meetings pie. Competition enables us to differentiate ourselves from other venues through the quality of our services and facilities. What enables us to really stand out is our focus on our client and visitor experiences; to ensure they are provided with a world-class event experience every time they visit our venue.

Q: Are there any international trends you’ve picked up on in the convention/expo space?

A: An increasing number of companies in the industry are digitising their business processes – ranging from new digital booking systems, to data and customer relationship management systems. According to a report by the management consultancy jWC Germany, there is even an increase in the appointment of Chief Digital Officers to spearhead and champion digital transformation within companies. Quality, talented and experienced staff is a must and internationally there has been a greater focus on specialised training. In conventions, the buzzwords are flexibility and interactivity. According to a trend report by the International Association of Convention Centres, event organisers are trying out new conference and meeting formats and are focusing on creating different types of engagement and networking experiences. They want multifunctional, less formal spaces that can adapt to different types of seating structures, new technology systems and digital tools.

Q: What big events do you have in your pipeline for 2017?

A: We have just hosted another successful Cape Town Art Fair and are looking forward to the 18th Cape Town International Jazz Festival at the end of March. Decorex Cape Town will fill our exhibition halls in April. We will be hosting FanCon at the end of April and Homemakers Expo at the end of August. There is also a line-up of major international conferences such as the 16th World Congress of the International Society for Prosthetics and Orthotics in May and the World Confederation for Physical Therapy in July.

Q: What’s the CTICC vision for the future?

A: The CTICC’s vision is to become one of the world’s top 10 leading long-haul international convention centres by 2020 and we are well on our way to achieving this vision. Our immediate future objective is to ensure both facilities run at full capacity.