South Africa is striving to realise its own vast potential, with no shortage of help from SAACI; an association looking to capitalise on the ‘bleisure’ industry.
South Africa has seen its share of ups and downs over the years; a fluctuation of economy, industries and reputation that is cast more vehemently into the spotlight as a result of its ‘gateway to the continent’ status.
In reality, the country still remains the leading light from a touristic, business and dynamism perspective. And while it is by no means the complete article, there are still more than enough reasons to keep South Africa as your prospective gateway should you choose to visit the wonderful continent of Africa.
As ever, the prime concern surrounding the sustainability of this status revolves around economic stability. The cycle of a positive economic infrastructure, creating more opportunities, leading to a more advanced proposition, contributing to increased incomes from the rest of the world; hangs in the balance at all times. Africa Outlook spoke with the Southern African Association for the Conference Industry (SAACI)’s CEO, Rudi van der Vyver about the pitfalls that still remain, and – importantly – the vast opportunities that can still be capitalised on from a business development perspective.
“The biggest stumbling blocks we have seen in recent years with the development of the country – and Johannesburg is a good example – within the business events industry has been the vulnerability we have in Africa in terms of perception management,” he says. “Africa is still seen by the international market in many cases as one country. This may seem like a strange concept but is evident in the booking declines seen when there is media attention around instability on the continent or even health concerns with outbreaks like Ebola etc.
“This being said, Johannesburg has still seen consistent growth within the business events space. South Africa is a world-class destination and with the consistent development within the industry and especially from private sector investment, there continues to be a great pace of growth. We consistently see new venues being added to the stable and infrastructure development also continues on an ongoing basis.”
Van der Vyver predicts that the conversation surrounding Johannesburg – as South Africa’s largest city and an indictment of trends across the rest of the country – will be very different in as little as five years’ time.
He adds: “I think we will see major improvements in infrastructure. Ease of access, public transport as well as safety will be items of top priority for us to continue growing the business events industry.
“I believe we’ll see more venues creating that immersive experience for delegates/travellers by linking our history and culture closely to their venues and using this concept to create a more collaborative business environment, as we are all moving closer to a shared economy, especially within the business events and business tourism space.”
THE BUSINESS END
As the country’s biggest urban hub, van der Vyver pinpoints Johannesburg as an apt sample of what to expect across the rest of the country’s economic strongholds in the years to come. The rise in events and expos; the increase in event facilities being developed; and the amount of new businesses setting up shop in the city are alluded to as primary indicators of the country’s progression.
“As this is the core business of our members within the business events space there are many exciting projects on the go in this specialised area of events and expos,” he opens. “SAACI utilises the services offered by our stakeholders like the Gauteng and Johannesburg Convention Bureaus to assist our members when bidding on international events coming to the province and specifically coming to Johannesburg.
“This assistance is offered in the form of bid support. This translates into financial support, public services support as well as support and guidance to put together the bid documents required for these types of international events. We as SAACI also have a focus on inter-African business, to encourage business operations between African countries and to increase support of African events across the continent.”
From a physical infrastructure perspective, the extent of new constructs, buildings and facilities is an area of constant change. A stream of new business-centric centres continue to enter what is widely considered to already be a congested space. But as long as the demand is there, van der Vyver is confident that there’s no such thing as having ‘too many facilities’.
He continues: “Even in an environment where it is seen to be a rather saturated market we see our members re-investing into the future of their own brands through innovation and infrastructure creation, as well as investing in the sustainability and growth of the business events market by upgrading their established venues with technology; as well as increasing the functionality offered by their venues and the services that go along with such upgrades.”
And the same upward trajectory can be seen in relation to the final strand of consideration – new businesses and international business migration to South Africa.
“Here again, we see Johannesburg as an ever-evolving market place with constant change, movement and upgrades. This is most evident when using Sandton as a case study. Even while we see constrained growth estimates for the country’s GDP, we are consistently aware of the development continuing to take place at some incredible pace in this economic hub within Johannesburg,” van der Vyver explains. “We are also seeing a much more diverse business landscape moving into Johannesburg which offers our members operating within the business events industry a constant renewal of the potential client base they have within the boundaries of Johannesburg.
“Many of these businesses within Johannesburg have an international or African footprint which again speaks volumes to the potential for players within the business events industry to maximise on.”
TOURISM INSIGHTS: SOUTHERN AFRICAN ASSOCIATION FOR THE CONFERENCE INDUSTRY
The Southern African Association for the Conference Industry (SAACI) was formed in 1987 with the aim of maintaining and improving standards of efficiency and professionalism in the conference industry in Southern Africa, and to seek ways of actively expanding the industry. SAACI is the recognised umbrella body of the Conference and Meetings Industry in Southern Africa. In fact, SAACI membership is a vital recognition of professionalism practice. SAACI has a national board, five regional branches, and a host of international members; making it one of the most knowledgeable and invested bodies regarding South Africa’s role in the global business climate.
Van der Vyver introduces: “With SAACI celebrating 31 Years of serving the industry in 2018 we have seen the association progress and evolve with the industry. As the industry body our aim remains focused on being relevant and providing our members with the best possible value. We have evolved into being a voice for our members. The collective power we have as an industry body allows us to partner with industry stakeholders – both private and public sector – to encourage collaboration throughout the industry and thus create growth platforms for both the industry, as a whole, and more specifically SAACI members within the industry.
“We consistently review our strategy on order to serve our members and address relevant issues they are experiencing in the day-to-day as well as strategic running of their individual businesses. With the most recent strategy review for the association we have made a clear decision to remove clutter and ‘politics’ as much as possible. We want to focus on what our members truly need, what creates direct and tangible value to our members and to do these things really well. We also relooked the SAACI mission, vision and purpose statement and combined all of these into one, easy to digest SAACI Manifesto, which will be our focus for the foreseeable future.”
Q&A WITH RUDI VAN DER VYVER, CEO, SAACI
Taking a more general industry stance, how would you evaluate the tourism sector in Johannesburg and South Africa now compared to its condition when SAACI began?
Rudi van der Vyver (RvdV): To be honest, there is no comparison between the tourism sector in Johannesburg now versus when SAACI began working within the industry 31 years ago. As a country we have totally reinvented ourselves and the same can be said for Johannesburg as a destination. The beauty that Johannesburg offers as a destination is a true ability to offer almost anything to the business event delegate or business traveller. We have seen the business sector in Johannesburg explode since the inception of SAACI and unfortunately with recessions implode to an extent as well, although the business events industry has survived all these challenges and today this industry is one of the fastest growing industries in the country. We are also now starting to measure and see the effects business events have on the larger economy as well as the residual benefits this industry offers to all other GDP contributing sectors.
The benefit Johannesburg has is the ability to host events or travellers in a very corporate fast-paced environment in the city itself but on the flipside also have the ability to offer venues (a mere 30-minute drive outside of the city) which provide a completely different atmosphere and addressing totally different needs and event objectives to delegates and clients alike. We have also seen Johannesburg embrace the heritage of the country and the city and promote this as additional tourist destinations not only relevant to leisure travellers but also to business events and business travellers. Johannesburg has evolved into a world-leading destination within the business events industry.
Looking forward, what progress and development would you hope and expect to be able to report back, both in regards to SAACI as an entity, and in regards to the business travel industry in South Africa as a whole?
RvdV: From a SAACI perspective we are firmly focused on our three key strategic drivers over the next five years, these being Learning, Growth and Collaboration. We will be introducing some exciting and innovative learning/training interventions not only for the benefit of our members but also with a massive focus on creating sustainability within the business events industry. We have identified training as a key area for us to create platforms with meaningful and measurable effects on the industry. Our training and drive to professionalisation of the business events industry is not only aimed at South Africa but rather at upskilling the African continent as a whole.
We are leading by example in terms of collaboration and we firmly believe we need to work closely together with our stakeholders and members to increase the effectiveness of the platforms we provide to our members and the industry to increase market access, experience, potential for business and the ever-growing need for a safe and trusted business environment, driven by collaboration. SAACI also has its eyes focused on the international market and we are consistently driving collaboration and knowledge sharing in this arena, through various partnerships with other international bodies. We believe we have world-class facilities and expertise in South Africa and Africa alike and we need to be the first to stand behind what our members have to offer the world in this regard.
We not only believe in the abilities of our members to offer world-class services but also their ability to thrive, innovate and truly put our stamp on the international business events stage. Africa hasn’t just arrived, we are here to be seen and take the world by storm. SAACI will remain dedicated to the industry and our members, and will continue to create platforms for our members to drive the industry forward at a freshly energised pace.
OUT AND ABOUT IN SOUTH AFRICA
Once in the country, and outside of the boardroom, SAACI has gone to great lengths in facilitating a pleasurable stay, as well as just a convenient or business-conducive one. To this end, there has been a strong focus on fostering more culturally significant experiences for delegates and professionals during their trip.
Once again using Johannesburg as an example, a plethora of new and exciting venues are being introduced but these aren’t solely convention centres or expo halls. Rather they have honed in on areas of hospitality, leisure, and the tour scene to show visitors the very best of South African history and culture.
“We are seeing more and more that a business event is no longer just arriving and sitting in a venue for hours on end; rather it becomes a completely immersive experience into the business at hand but also experiencing and exploring what the country or city is truly about. This is the “Bleisure” concept (a mix of business and leisure activities during a single trip),” van der Vyver explains. “This is achieved through innovative and collaborative venue design as well as collaborating much closer with auxiliary service providers like tour operators to allow delegates to experience as much of the culture and hospitality a destination has to offer and potentially turning them into repeat guests through a subsequent leisure tourist visit with their family or friends.”
And as more and more people flock to Johannesburg, Cape Town, Bloemfontein, Durban or Pretoria, major infrastructural developments await. From a transport perspective, this is epitomised by notions of innovation and sheer scale.
Van der Vyver adds: “There are various initiatives to be excited about. One of the biggest projects is the potential further expansion of the Guatrain to service key areas like Lanseria International Airport. Ease of access is always a top consideration when looking at the suitability of not only a venue but also a city or destination for a specific event.”
“…there is no comparison between the tourism sector in Johannesburg now versus when SAACI began working within the industry 31 years ago.”Rudi van der Vyver, CEO, SAACI
Across the Coastlands Umhlanga Hotel, Coastlands Musgrave Hotel, The Royal Hotel, and Coastlands Durban Hotel and Self Catering Apartments; innovation remains the recurring theme. Present and evident across not just each hotel’s facilities, but also its design and its concepts, the Coastlands portfolio has subsequently affirmed its status as one of the country’s foremost four and three star hospitality operators.
With each new hotel’s inception, a raft of advanced technologies, considered options, enhanced luxury, and refined business functions are implemented and as such, the chain has successfully bridged the business-pleasure divide. For more than 25 years, Coastlands has helped to boost KwaZulu-Natal’s hospitality scene and the Company is now looking forward to maintaining utmost standards for the next 25 years.
Events & Conferences
Situated in the hub of Cape Town’s central business district, the Cape Town International Convention Centre has become a figurehead for the city’s business and entertainment crossover. Answering a call for such functionality back in the late 1990s, the Centre has gone on to “transform the ordinary into the extraordinary”; leveraging a purposeful flexibility to facilitate events of all sizes.
“Circa is a fresh and innovative company, compiled of industry stalwarts, with team experience spanning over 120 years in the events, infrastructure, and rental service and hospitality industry.” This statement best sums up the expertise of an events company that has served Sandton and indeed Johannesburg for a number of years. Affiliated with high profile events including the ICC World Twenty20 in 2007 and the British & Irish Lions rugby Tour of 2009, Circa is a go-to provider on both a domestic and international scale.
“Constitution Hill represents South Africa’s dark past and its bright post-apartheid future. Johannesburg’s most notorious historic prisons (all of them now museums) sit side by side with the home of the Constitutional Court, a symbol of South Africa’s triumphant democracy. The site is located on the ridge between two city neighbourhoods, Hillbrow and Braamfontein, overlooking central Johannesburg, and is one of the most important tourist attractions in South Africa.”
Cape of Good Hope
“This 77.5 square kilometre section of Table Mountain National Park includes awesome scenery, fantastic walks, great birdwatching and often-deserted beaches. The reserve is commonly referred to as Cape Point, after its most dramatic (but less famous) promontory.”
Kruger National Park
“Kruger Park is South Africa’s most exciting African safari destination. Steeped in legend and history, the iconic Kruger National Park in South Africa is waiting for you to explore its vast landscapes and spectacular African wildlife.”
“Table Mountain is the most iconic landmark of South Africa. It is also the country’s most photographed attraction and its famous cable car took millions of people to its top. Table Mountain has become the single most welcoming icon to not only our people, but travellers from all over the world. But this mountain hides many surprises that wait to be discovered. It is much more than a scenic photograph background or a place from where you can take a breathtaking photo of Cape Town.”