The MICE come out to play as Africa’s conferencing industry booms
The continent has transformed into a serious player in the business events industry
The business events and conferencing industry has grown dramatically in Africa over the past decade as infrastructure, including new hotels and convention centres, and air access to the continent have improved.
Known by the acronym MICE (Meetings, Incentives, Conventions and Exhibition), this growing specialised tourism segment is also supporting growth in traditional leisure tourism and investment on the continent, says Amanda Kotze-Nhlapo, convention bureau officer for South African Tourism.
The transformation of Africa into a serious player in the business events industry is reflected in the latest statistics from the International Congress and Convention Association (ICCA), which shows there has been a 40% increase in the number of meetings held on the continent over the past 10 years.
“That’s really good growth and ICCA wants to support both South Africa and the whole African continent in really getting that percentage even higher in the years to come. We see that as a great growth opportunity,” said James Rees, the newly elected president of ICCA, in an interview at IBTM World in Barcelona last month.
IBTM World, which is the leading global event for the MICE industry, also saw a significant number of African countries showcasing their products and offering this year.
Kotze-Nhlapo said a number of African countries had started providing more financial support to their convention bureaus so they could launch more bids for conferences. That created a “fertile environment to attract business events”. There were about 12,000 association meetings alone that rotated around the world that African countries could bid for, she said.
Where South African Tourism had traditionally marketed SA as a leisure destination, government gave the organisation a mandate about six years ago to drive the MICE industry. Currently, SA is the number one destination for international association conferences in the Africa and the Middle East region, hosting more than 200 international and regional conferences last year. Morocco is ranked second in Africa by ICCA in terms of the number of meetings held. “After the World Cup [in 2010], there was a definite potential seen by the [SA] government that the meetings industry can help you to attract more people to the country,” said Kotze-Nhlapo. For instance, a global ophthalmology conference being held in Cape Town in 2020 is expected to draw 10,000 to 15,000 people.
“They didn’t make the choice to come. A board decided on SA, and if the meeting is in SA, they have to come, whereas when it comes to leisure there is more choice,” explained Kotze-Nhlapo.
“We are not speaking to a personal pocket, but a business one. People who are invited have accommodation paid for by companies. Therefore they have more disposable income for spending.”
The business events industry now contributes about R115bn a year to SA’s economy, according to Tourism SA.
The MICE industry can also contribute to concrete investments. One example is the International Aids Conference, held in Durban in 2006, which led directly to two research centres being built in SA, Kotze-Nhlapo said. The conference was hosted again in Durban in 2016.
A number of other African countries are also experiencing a surge in growth in conferencing events.
International marketing campaigns, government support for conferencing and also the strategising of African countries in bodies such as ICCA have all helped bring more business industry events to the continent, according to Elijah Korir, sales manager for the Kenyatta International Convention Centre in Kenya. “In terms of growth, we [Kenya] have more than doubled where we were in the last five or six years in terms of conferences, both international and local,” said Korir.
Korir said in 2013/14, the Kenyatta International Convention Centre, which celebrated its 45th year of existence this year, would host an average of 12 to 13 meetings a year. It was now hosting more than 20 annually.
Rosemary Twinomugisha, head of the Uganda Convention Bureau, said the MICE market was growing significantly and Uganda was “catching up”.
Twinomugisha said Uganda, which attended its second IBTM conference this year, was now hosting on average between 20 to 30 international association meetings a year, as well as intergovernmental and United Nations-related events.
Rwanda, ranked third in Africa as a MICE destination by the ICCA, is also seeing strong growth.
Nelly Mukazayire, CEO of Rwanda Convention Bureau, said Rwanda was not rich in natural resources and so had invested heavily in its services sector, “which goes with our ambitions of being an ICT hub”.
Tourism had also been a major focus area for Rwanda insofar as job and wealth creation is concerned, and that was where MICE as a relatively new sector has come in, she said.
The Rwanda Convention Bureau became fully functional two years as the government saw its potential to draw business.
Frank Murangwa, director of MICE destination marketing for the Rwanda Convention Bureau, said that over the past three years the country had seen the MICE sector grow 15% annually in terms of the revenue contribution to the economy. It contributed $51m last year.
“It is quite impressive considering where we are coming from,” he said.
Nick Wilson was a guest of South African Tourism in Barcelona.