SOUTH Africa could no longer rely only on leisure business to support the tourism industry and was branching out to business-events tourism, SA Tourism chief executive Thulani Nzima said yesterday.
He was one of the speakers at the annual national congress of the Southern African Association for the Conference Industry, which is being held at the Boardwalk Convention Centre in Port Elizabeth until today.
“With the global economic meltdown and unpredictability of economic conditions in terms of disposable income, events of this nature are important – not only for the direct economic contribution to the local provincial economy, but also in terms of job creation and keeping facilities such as the convention centre in business,” Nzima said.
“These also offer an opportunity to showcase the province and make a statement about the confidence we have in the country’s infrastructure.”
He highlighted the importance of the growing middle class in Africa, saying that R47.6-billion of the R76.4-billion that tourism contributed to South Africa’s GDP last year had come from African markets.
Tourism Minister Marthinus van Schalkwyk, who was also a speaker at the congress, said: “There is not a business or sector that can afford to miss out on the African opportunity.”
He said despite the economic downturn that had made the business-events market volatile, it still offered significant growth potential. “Even in world regions characterised by low or no economic growth, we can still look forward to another period of moderate expansion in meetings, events and business travel.
“That applies equally to volume and spends in 2013. Most indicators point to at least a modest increase in demand and prices in 2013, while in those world regions with fast-expanding economies, such as ours, much greater growth can be expected.”
Van Schalkwyk said it was important to diversify in tough economic times and that the business-events industry had been a large contributor to the 10.2% international tourists arriving in the country last year.
The SA National Convention Bureau (NCB) was formed 18 months ago and focuses on growing the business-events industry.
“The NCB has secured 88 major bids for the period 2013 until 2017. Jointly, these bids will attract no less than R2.6-billion to the tourism economy. These meetings will bring an estimated 200000 delegates to the country,” Van Schalkwyk said.
Rhodes University business school lecturer Matthew Lester said the future marathon in business would be to run the race to sustainable development. “The exchange rate may provide the opportunity for better international conferences but we still need to provide value. With the downturn in the economy, conferences will be held closer to home and it will be tech-assisted with virtual conferencing being a lot cheaper.”