Holding firm

The global MICE market remains strong, but Africa still has much work to do, before it becomes a major player.


The African MICE industry has a long way to go.

That’s before it can claim to be a serious global player.

Sure, Africa has much going for it – beautiful scenery, beaches, mountain and bush; wildlife; stunning hotels; friendly people; and affordability, to name just a few, but the stats don’t lie and the continent is still only getting a small piece of the pie, when it comes to its share of the global MICE market.

The International Congress and Convention Association (ICCA) releases its much-anticipated rankings every year, and whilst these rankings focus only on the number of international association meetings or conferences staged in each city and country for the year, they are a useful bellwether of a country/ continent/city’s standing in the global MICE space.

Consider this – the 2018 ICCA rankings report, which was released fairly recently, showed that there were a total of 12,937 rotating association meetings in 2018 – an increase of 379 additional meetings compared to the previous year. Yet, according to ICCA, Africa hosted only 3% of them.

Europe was out in front with 52%, followed by Asia-Pacific (23%), North America (11%), and Latin America (9%), while, interestingly, the Middle East captured only 1% of the market, despite the efforts of Dubai and its active convention bureau. Scale and size are clearly not on the side of Dubai, and they could do with some support from other Middle Eastern countries.

Coming back to the African performance in the ICCA rankings, South Africa was the continent’s top performer with 100 association meetings in 2018. That placed the country 39th in the world ICCA rankings, ahead of Morocco (56th), Egypt (joint-68th), Kenya (joint-68th), and Rwanda (70th). Significantly, second-placed Morocco hosted 45 association meetings, showing just how much South Africa dominates Africa in this space.

Drilling down a bit further, Cape Town headed the list for African cities, at number 63 with 42 association meetings, followed by Kigali (103rd), Marrakech (115th), Nairobi (129th), and Cairo (143rd).


It shouldn’t be a surprise that South Africa is out in front.

It has the most developed infrastructure, as well as a history of hosting big conferences, never mind its status as one of Africa’s biggest economies.

So, let’s look at those numbers.

Speaking at this year’s Meetings Africa tradeshow, former Minister of Tourism, Derek Hanekom, said that business tourism had “earned its place at the economic table”. He also revealed that the sector earned R71 billion ($4.84b) in revenue and overall contributed R115 billion ($7.85) to South Africa’s GDP. Three years ago, the South African government approved R90 million ($6.14m) to establish a bidding support programme to propel the business events industry. The grant enabled South Africa to bid more aggressively for international association conferences, meetings, incentives and exhibitions.

Fast-forward three years and the country’s Deputy Minister of Tourism, Fish Mahlalela, said at the opening of the annual congress of the Southern African Association for the Conference Industry (SAACI) in Durban, that during the 2018-2019 financial year, South Africa had a target of 105 submissions for business events.

In conjunction with the city and provincial convention bureaus, the South Africa National Convention Bureau submitted 108 bids, a 14.8% increase compared to the previous financial year.

The 108 submissions included 94 meetings, incentives and conferences – representing a combined estimated economic impact of R2.4 billion ($164m) – and 16 exhibitions with a combined value of R135 million ($9.2m).

The submissions have a combined potential to generate 501 event days. To date, 29 of the bids have been converted into secured events, with three lost to competing destinations and 61 still awaiting outcomes. Over 55% of these bid submissions were for association conferences and 30% for corporate meetings and incentives, dominated by the medical and life sciences sectors.

“While we are pleased that the sector brings in millions of Rands worth of foreign direct spend, what is crucial is that the business events industry fuels the knowledge economy in two ways,” said Mahlalela. “Firstly, when South Africa hosts an international association or a global corporate event, our local professionals and industry leaders are exposed to cutting-edge research, expertise and knowledge, as well as excellent networking opportunities with global leaders in the field. Secondly, by hosting international events in areas where South Africa is a global leader, the country is given an opportunity to showcase its expertise to a high-level international audience. It provides exceptional networking opportunities which could lead to further investment and growth.”

To ensure that South Africa’s business events industry has the biggest impact on the country’s knowledge economy, the South Africa National Convention Bureau is focusing its efforts on attracting events in economic sectors that have been identified by government as priority sectors for future development.

These include manufacturing, with a specific focus on areas where South Africa excels, including the automotive, chemical, pharmaceutical, agri-processing, electronics and biofuels sectors.

“Hosting major events in these sectors can contribute significantly in accelerating macro-economic benefits and demonstrates that the country has the intellectual property to complete globally,” said Mahlalela.

South Africa’s proactivity in actively seeking out business in the global MICE space is very much in line with one of the current international trends identified by ICCA, called ‘Beyond Bidding’.

This refers to the role of destinations and convention centres in the winning of association conferences. This trend, which is mapped out in ICCA’s ‘Third Wave’ report, tracks the expanding role played by cities and venues in staging events. Whereas historically the model has been ‘tourism and logistics led’, with the destination acting as a grateful host to the meeting and deriving economic benefits from increased business tourism traffic, ICCA has highlighted an evolution in destinations and venues supporting events through their own intellectual and economic capital.


One of the leading trade associations in the incentive travel industry, SITE (Society for Incentive Travel Excellence), monitors the long-term success of the industry. It operates in two ways; firstly by measuring the level of confidence that businesses demonstrate in the results offered by incentive travel programmes; secondly, by measuring the economic business outlook for these companies. In both respects, according to SITE, the global incentive market is currently in good health.

This confidence is confirmed by the Incentive Travel Industry Index 2018 Report, a new report that saw SITE partner with the Incentive Research Foundation and the Financial and Insurance Conference Professionals. The report noted that both budgets and the amount of incentive travel trips being booked were up in 2018. It stated that over half (54%) of buyers reported an increase in budgets year-on-year, with the median per person spend remaining $4,000, and with corporates spending more ($4,550) and incentive agencies less ($3,500). The amount of incentive programme trips was also up by 65%, which the report attributed to ‘company growth and optimism in the economy’.

The report also stated that the reason for the continued use of incentive programmes by businesses was attributed to ‘sales’ and ‘profitability’. However, it stated that more importance was being given to ‘building relationships between management and employees’. Almost 70% of buyers said their programmes were effective at achieving business objectives. However, with this growth and confidence comes increased cost, and the industry continues to wrestle with supply and demand dynamics that impact on its profitability, the report added.

Finally, the report picked up on three incentive trends.

Firstly, the fact that over two-thirds of corporate bookers of incentive travel include meetings in their incentive programs, which underlines the increasing merging of different sectors of the industry. Secondly, the fact that ‘wellness is the new golf’ and supports the trend of planners including wellness activity in incentive programmes. Lastly, the increase in ‘all-inclusive’ destinations. This was partly due to cost saving measures, particularly by incentive agencies.


ICCA CEO, Senthil Gopinath, wraps things up quite nicely.

“Our industry is facing challenges from saturation, consolidation and new entrants to erosion of traditional business models and fragmentation,” he says. “There are also great opportunities, including market growth, disruptive innovation, digitisation, new players, less market barriers, new audiences and new scalable models. Alongside all these developments, the number of events is continuing to grow exponentially.”

Nicely put.


If you’re looking for something different for your board meeting, conference or incentive trip, you might want to consider hopping on the train. Specifically, South Africa’s The Blue Train, which has been around for some time, but in November re-positioned itself to place more of a focus on the MICE industry.

“There is a need within the market for that different, off-the-beaten-track experience – a need for memorable experiences that effectively engage stakeholders, and experiences that are exclusive and can be tailored to meet specific needs,” says Vincent Monyake, Executive Manager at The Blue Train.

Corporates are able to hire out The Blue Train for their engagement and these private charters span a range of experiences:

  • Lunch or dinner experience in Pretoria or Cape Town that typically lasts 6-8 hours. This is called ‘A Trip to Nowhere’ and guests are treated to a five-course gourmet meal, whilst onboard entertainment can be arranged. A Trip to Nowhere accommodates up to 80 people.
  • A return overnight trip from Pretoria or Cape Town. Guests here are treated to a complete experience, with access to suites and personal butlers, gourmet lunches, dinners, high teas and breakfasts, open bar, hand-made Cuban cigars and onboard entertainment.
  • A safari experience from Pretoria to the Kruger Park and back. This includes game drives, a bush breakfast, and a boma dinner.


Neelma Maru – Director: Sales & Marketing
Mövenpick Hotel & Residences Nairobi
  1. Biggest MICE talking points? Big meeting spaces; culinary experiences; technology
  2. What type of requests are you seeing? Clients looking for a one-stop shop; working lunches as opposed to buffet lunches; clients more sensitive about value for money
  3. Spend in the Nairobi conferencing space? Meeting enquiries up, but spend down
  4. How are you using technology to strengthen your offering? Free wireless high-speed internet in all meeting rooms, as well as advanced technology systems, including presentation screens, video conferencing, tele-conferencing and mirror technology


Henri-Basil Hearne – PR & Communications Manager
Time Square
  1. Biggest MICE talking points? Venue technology
  2. What type of requests are you seeing? Complicated audio-visual and presentations; bigger set designs; strange venue set-ups; over the top performances
  3. How prevalent is the ‘confex’ theme/element? We’ve seen an increase, due to our large space, which offers many options
  4. Spend in the SA conferencing space? The market is very competitive and no property will ever be a 100% satisfied. At the moment we are positive that the market will always look up and continue to grow
  5. How are you using technology to strengthen your offering? Polycom telephone conference facilities; full video conference facilities; digital signage options; a preferred AV supplier in MGG Productions; whilst it’s worth noting that the Sun Arena is one of the biggest and most versatile venues in the country

This is according to Benchmark, a US-based global independent hospitality management company, operating 80 hotels, resorts, and conference centres, with the group’s top meeting trends announced by Ted Davis, Benchmark’s Chief Sales and Marketing Officer.

  1. Privacy is the #1 Technology Requirement of Planners today!

Yes, super-fast and reliable wi-fi throughout a property is a must, but it must be secure!

  1. Food for the Soul

Food that is fresh and locally sourced, in-season when flavour is most robust, presented in small bites, and enjoyed interactively-family style.

  1. Don’t Facebook me. Don’t Tweet me!

It’s not that professional meetings planners aren’t sociable. It’s just that email by far continues to be the most preferred method of communication.

  1. Preference for Independents

Flexibility, customization, authentic and unscripted experiences all rank high in the minds of planners today, as does the feeling that independent properties excel in providing these for groups needing to create memorable and highly productive meetings.

  1. What Millennials Want from Meeting Venues

State-of-the-art technology, multiple plug-ins and USB ports for their myriad of devices in the meeting room, public spaces and in their guest room, entertaining and fun activities on property and outside, non-traditional seating and meeting arrangements to enhance engagement in meetings during the day.

  1. Curated Travel

Curated travel for groups (and their spouses/partners) on or off property is of very high importance.

  1. Millennials Team Build Differently!

Bringing groups together interactively and family-style as a culinary team is red hot. But planners are also looking for entertainment to be included in team-building, so learning is not only instructive and flavourful, but great fun to enhance learning.

  1. Cocktails, S’mores and Barges

Believe it or not, the most popular after-hours meetings group scene is gathering around an outdoor fire pit on property, kicking back and relaxing with colleagues over cocktails.

  1. Speedy Response and Pay Commissions Promptly

Lightning fast response to RFPs is essential to winning business with planners today.

  1. Work/Life Balance

Wellness is huge with professional meeting planners today.

Source: Benchmark