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South African In-Person Events and Conferences Making a Comeback in 2023

Forget hybrid. In-person events are making a comeback in the South African corporate world in 2023.

The first major South African corporate calendar event is the African Mining Indaba, which is currently underway in the Host City of Cape Town. “With many of our clients in the mining industry, the Mining Indaba has always been an important date on the events calendar. It’s heart-warming to see thousands of delegates converge in person to discuss issues affecting the African mining sector under the theme: Stability, Security and Supply,” says Bonnie Smith, GM FCM.

Smith explains that there is a clear movement away from hybrid events in favour of live events in 2023. “Clients planning for virtual and hybrid conferences dropped by 75% in 2022 as compared to 2021,” she says. “With budgets ready and no concerns about interruptions and cancellations, corporates are once again booking live events throughout 2023 and 2024. Significantly more events are being planned for than in 2019.” 

According to Forester research, this evolution is not surprising if you consider that 74% of marketers see events and conferences as their most important demand-generation tactic. The reason is that events allow brands to reach audiences faster and build more personalised relationships with customers. 

According to Smith, there are five clear trends that are expected to define live events in the coming year: 

Let’s go green

Going green isn’t just a trend. It is an important focus for most companies around the world. “As we move towards in-person events, delegates will look for events that promote sustainability and a carbon-neutral approach,” says Smith.

COP26 recently released a report to encourage event planners to run more sustainable events. Advice includes low-carbon alternative energy sources, using reused and recycled material, prioritising locally sourced and seasonal food items and encouraging attendees to use sustainable transport. 

  1. Tech is here to stay

Delegates in 2023 expect a frictionless event experience with integrated technology. They want simple, user-friendly solutions before, during and after their conference. They’ll expect real-time networking that allows them to interact with other participants in person or through digital channels like forums, social media, or event apps. We could even see AI and voice technology make their entrance into the conference world. 

  1. Not just a spectator

Audience integration and on-the-go content distribution will be the new norm in 2023. Audiences at events need the chance to be involved and participate if you want to keep their attention. We’ll see the emergence of audience-engagement tools for events and conferences that make attendees feel valued. Think live Q&As, polling and even mood meters to gauge attendees’ happiness.

  1. On-demand content

With modern event communities now online, conferences are no longer once-off events. Delegates expect on-demand content tailored to their needs throughout the year. They have short attention spans and want to consume content at the time they prefer. In 2023, we will therefore see event organisers building a 365 community engagement model. 

One event organiser that has been particularly successful in doing this is Megan De Jager, RX Africa Portfolio Director: Travel, Tourism & Marketing. She says: “A trade show is no longer a once-off event. It requires the event organiser to build a community of engaged attendants and connect with them throughout the year.” De Jager explains that in terms of 365 engagement, RX Africa is working year-round to build a faithful WTM Africa community thanks to its virtual hub: ATW Connect.

  1. Inclusivity is the new diversity

A phrase coined by Skift: inclusivity truly is the new diversity. As Skift aptly puts it: “Diversity means being invited to the party, while inclusion means being asked to dance.” Conferences in 2023 will need to reflect the inclusive environments we are creating in the workforce, as inclusion has become one of the cornerstones of a modern event. 

According to Smith, 2023 will be an exciting conference and events a year for South African corporates who crave a return to ‘humanity’. “As South Africans, we enjoy interacting with people and see conferences as a person-to-person experience,” she says, adding that with South Africans dealing with ongoing power outages, she can see more in-person events taking place – where colleagues can meet and interact without dealing with connectivity issues and load-shedding frustrations. 

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