The Current State of South African MICE Tourism
Written by Jamie du Plessis
Tes Proos builds an understanding of the current state of South African MICE tourism with Tourism News Africa. The founder of Crystal Events Africa, President of SITE Africa, and Chair of SA Events Council digs deep into the simple yet fundamental problems we face and demonstrates how even minor changes could have a larger impact.
The current state of the MICE industry in South Africa
There have been key developments in the MICE tourism market within the changing economy, Tes reasons that the current state depends on where you are.
“Many markets are fully back to business – in fact, to the point where some markets are flooded with postponed business from 2020 trying to find space to get on with things, and other markets still semi-locked down. We are fortunate that in South Africa, we are now 100% restriction free. Yet, we are now facing new challenges with global service delivery issues which need to be addressed as a matter of urgency,” Tes says.
Sector recovery & growth
The international MICE market has very attractive incentive travel programs, and tourism is incredibly lucrative. Rapid advancements back into recovery have occurred, which Tes highlights in their present outlook.
“Speaking to the ‘I’ in MICE, things look very buoyant worldwide, especially in the USA, where short-distance regional trips are especially popular. These would include incentive trips to Hawaii, Mexico, Canada, the Caribbean, and related cruising options, which are extremely popular in that market. Same for Europe, where it is relatively easy and cost-effective to move between the UK and Portugal, Belgium, and Denmark,” she says.
South African MICE tourism is an industry that is growing rapidly and has the potential to become a top earner in the coming years. If sustainable development, measurements, and strategies can be appropriately met.
“Apart from previously postponed trips, the local industry now struggles with finding availability within hotels, safari lodges and the like for trips up to late into 2023 and even Q1 of 2024. This is a good problem for the industry, but not necessarily good for a long-haul destination. If the client is keen on a unique destination for a long-haul trip, South Africa might find itself competing against the likes of South America, Australia, and the Far East. Availability could become the key consideration, depending on numbers and budget,” she says.
She further elaborates, “availability and cost of flights have become a further challenge within Europe. Yet, in Southern and Eastern Africa, things appear to be improving despite its challenges with its budget carriers closing in recent times. It is comforting to know that industry partners like Wesgro Air Support and companies like Aviadev and other African airlines are constantly developing new air routes that make Africa more accessible.”
Critical impacts & considerations
The massive cutbacks were the key decision drivers in MICE tourism that have undoubtedly seen the most critical effects on the sector.
Tes says, “I cannot speak for the entire industry, but one massive factor is that we have all had to cut back on everything. From office space to staff to salaries to cars. Also, some of our most trusted suppliers have had to close their doors. COVID-19 has been brutal, and I believe the full extent of the socio-economic impact will never be quantified in our lifetime. SITE Africa hosted another webinar in March 2021 about the loss of skills in our industry and how that could potentially impact when we get back to business. Well – we are there, and the impact is severe – globally. We need to be able to confidently sell our destinations with world-class service, among other things – but can we?”
She firmly believes that with the knowledge and industry experience, it’s important to unite and take steps to rebuild a better future.
As an advocate, Tes calls on business leaders and professionals to support youth development, experience-building, and on-the-job training. The Youth Tourism Summit and the South African Communications Industries Association’s (SACIA) professional credentials, to illustrate the point, are examples of industry initiatives that support the idea of youth development.
“Everyone who knows me knows that my soap-box topic right now is on the job training. Now. Start with customer service! I am sick of walking into a restaurant, coffee shop, hotel reception or even a clothing store, where it is more important for the staff to finish their conversations before even looking at a customer. Newbies in our industry will make mistakes – so be patient with them. But management and owners need to ensure they get the best opportunity at training possible. You don’t always need experience for frontline service, but you do need Personalities! And empower them as soon as possible. They will drive your business into the future,” she says
Recovery strategies & measures
The developed price and MICE model approaches have seen a need for flexibility. Even though it’s the game’s name, Tes translates and supports that it all needs to be within reason.
“Clients, DMC’s, PCOS, and their respective suppliers have had to learn to be more flexible regarding contracting, postponement, outright cancellation, and attrition. Even though COVID-19 restrictions have been fully lifted in many parts of the world, we must remain cognizant of corporate and association clients’ apprehensiveness as there are still governments who change COVID-19 regulations at the drop of a hat,” she says.
If you’re wondering where that leaves the local suppliers, Tes goes on to elaborate on the position that they are in within the marketplace.
“In a recent conversation during the height of the umpteenth lockdown, based on South African buyers and suppliers, we discovered that there is a very amicable agreement between clients, DMC’s, and their suppliers. It all boils down to relationships. If the DMC has a solid relationship with the client, anything can be negotiated. This could include a reasonable admin fee in case of a full cancellation, considering work done up to that point, which could include expenses, on-site inspections, etc. Similarly, often, incentive travel programs were postponed the first time at a no-increase cost. Yet when third and fourth-time postponements started happening, suppliers had to increase costs by a reasonable degree,” she says.
With a concerted effort from all stakeholders, the African economy, tourism, and the MICE tourism industry are bound to reach new heights in the coming years.
Our next industry expert will share her thoughts on the South African MICE industry in the next part of the series. Read and subscribe to Tourism News Africa’s social media pages and weekly ‘Industry News’ newsletter.
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