The African Association of Exhibition Organisers showcases the resilience of the business tourism sector in Africa for economic enablement.
Africa’s events industry has grown significantly in recent years, serving as a catalyst for economic development. In fact, foreign investors are increasingly drawn to business tourism in Africa due to the significant growth potential, with the World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC) reporting that business travel and tourism in Africa is projected to grow at an annual rate of 7.6% by 2028.
This promising statistic indicates a strong interest from foreign investors who recognise the untapped opportunities and potential returns that business tourism in Africa can offer. While under representation in global trade, rolling blackouts, poor reputation, digital divides and poverty are some of the core challenges faced by African businesses and events across the continent; in the face of adversity, the events industry is continuously looking to create solutions for local challenges through the transformative power of business tourism.
“African countries have adopted various innovative solutions to overcome the challenges specific to the events industry. Infrastructure development has been a key focus, with governments across Africa investing in state-of-the-art convention centres, exhibition spaces, and accommodation facilities. These efforts aim to enhance the continent’s capacity to host large-scale events and conferences and further drive foreign investment,” says Devi Paulsen-Abbott, Chairperson of AAXO.
Further to infrastructure development, countries across Africa are investing heavily in the promotion of their regions for business travellers. According to AAXO member, Farirai Nandipa Mabodza, who is the Managing Director of Farirai Nandipa Events in Zimbabwe: “Recently, our government has been moving to promote MICE tourism. As an organisation, we hope to be part of the initiative to promote Zimbabwe as a destination for business events and to be the bridge that connects external organisers to the Zimbabwean events space”.
Another key area for the development of the business tourism sector across the continent is collaboration and right-fit partnerships. Projeni Pather, Managing Director at Exposure Marketing and immediate past-Chair of AAXO, adds: “When expanding your event across the continent, it is extremely important to find a local partner that understands the economic, cultural and social nuances of the market and has access to excellent resources and venues that are accessible and well-equipped. A good local partner will have insights and access to securing funding, sponsors and industry partners for a successful exhibition.”
Improvements to accessibility, such as visa restrictions and access to the market, have also made progress in recent years with governments understanding and welcoming the economic opportunity of business tourism. Countries such as Rwanda and Kenya, as example, have implemented e-visa systems, streamlining the visa application process and making it more accessible for international visitors. Mabodza adds: “Africa is a vast market: foreign investors have the opportunity to use events such as tradeshows and exhibitions to market products to the continent. With most countries working on developmental programs, the African events space provides the platform to market what investors have to offer.”
“There is a wealth of opportunity in Africa’s emerging markets, and the exhibition and events industry provides a platform for investors and visitors to tap into; From social development, sustainability, business growth, knowledge transfer, diversification, channel growth, an untapped market with immense possibility, together with cultural diversity and heritage, leaving visitors returning for more,” adds Pather.
Business tourism has emerged as a powerful driver of economic growth across Africa. By attracting international conferences, exhibitions, and corporate events, countries can showcase their business potential and attract foreign direct investment, whilst the influx of business tourists stimulates the local economy, generating revenue for hotels, restaurants, transportation services, and other sectors. Moreover, business tourism promotes the growth of local industries by providing opportunities for local suppliers and service providers to collaborate with international businesses, while SMEs benefit from exposure to global markets, fostering entrepreneurship and innovation.
“The events industry in Africa has tackled the continent’s unique challenges head-on, leveraging business tourism to drive economic growth. Through innovative solutions, collaboration, and knowledge sharing, African countries have successfully positioned themselves as attractive destinations for conferences and corporate events. As the industry continues to flourish, Africa is set to reap the rewards of sustained economic development and international recognition,” concludes Paulsen-Abbott.