For several years, South Africa has been vocal about its desire to become the hub for global meetings and incentives in its part of the world.
Seventeen years after casting off the yoke of apartheid, the Rainbow Nation has become the economic powerhouse of Africa, with numerous multinational companies electing to locate their regional headquarters there. But this progressive country is still struggling to make a name for itself as a business event destination. The movers and shakers of the South African event industry, however, believe that they reached an important milestone when the country successfully hosted the 2010 FIFA World Cup in 10 stadiums across the nation in June and July last year.
The spike in visitor numbers lasted beyond the event, with August 2010 arrivals from the UK and the US increasing by 12.5 percent and 35.2 percent respectively compared with the same period in 2009. The country had finally caught the world’s attention.
“The World Cup created a most favourable and receptive marketing development for Cape Town and the Western Cape,” says Calvyn Gilfellan, chief executive of Cape Town Routes Unlimited (CTRU), a tourism destination marketing organisation. “It is important now to build on the successes of Cape Town and the Western Cape’s 2010 campaign ‘Beyond the 90 Minutes’ to keep the destination top of mind.”
Cape Town is one of three primary entry points for groups visiting South Africa; the others are the economic capital Johannesburg and the port city of Durban. Cape Town is known for its natural beauty and rich cultural heritage. The destination has benefited from a post-World Cup windfall; CTRU claims that 70 percent of visitors that came to South Africa in August following the event included it in their itineraries.
The World Cup gave a chance to locally based destination management companies (DMCs) to show off their expertise in putting together corporate hospitality programmes. DMC South Africa, for example, designed three-night and four-night incentive itineraries for The Coca-Cola Company. Two groups came from the beverage maker’s Slovakia facility while another three groups were from its operations in Turkey.
“The high point for both programmes was watching a football match live at the stadium,” says Paul Stephen, managing director of DMC South Africa.
A walk on the wild side
The company is no stranger to crafting out-of-the-box group experiences for high-impact programmes. DMC South Africa counts Nokia, Turkcell and the Association for Women’s Rights in Development as satisfied clients. “South Africa is blessed with natural beauty and wildlife that gives us the opportunity to create unique and memorable programmes for incentives and conferences,” says Stephen. He adds that groups on multi-city itineraries taking in both Johannesburg and Cape Town also have the option to indulge in exclusive luxury train journeys on the Rovos Rail or the Blue Train.
With the country’s vast, open wildernesses, adventure- and nature-based programmes remain in demand. For event experts like DMC South Africa, the little touches make all the difference. “One can choose between champagne sundowners atop Table Mountain, a private dinner under the stars surrounded by wildlife in a game reserve, a private tented safari camp among the vineyards near Cape Town, gala dinners in a glass marquee overlooking Robben Island in Table Bay [seven kilometres off the coast near Cape Town], and hot-air balloon and elephant rides at Sun City resort [two hours from Johannesburg],” says Stephen. “We also incorporate the local culture into the entertainment, tacking on tribal singing and dancing into dinners set in African-themed locations.”
Creativity is key
Neulah Mellinson, operations director of Ovation South Africa, notes that the country remains a predominantly incentive destination, and although its majestic vistas already offer groups something out of the ordinary, event organisers must still put in the effort to make the programme truly unforgettable. “Creativity is often a simple adjustment and refinement of a small detail that just gets the logistics to flow better, the experience to pop and stick in a delegate’s mind,” she says. “It can also be massively complex, where the neat choreography of actors, dancers, technicians and musicians enhance a brand experience.”
The downside to any innovative idea, she adds, is that it has a shelf life – because you can’t keep the lid on a good idea.
“When the idea becomes public, it loses its creative edge.”
Last year Ovation, together with its sister company MCI Singapore, executed an action-packed, six-day incentive programme in Cape Town for a group of Hewlett-Packard’s Asia Emerging Countries premium achievers. Activities included a Desert Storm day, featuring quad biking and sand boarding in the Atlantis Dunes; high tea and spa treatments at the iconic Mount Nelson Hotel; a historical tour of Robben Island; lunch at the Castle of Good Hope followed by a trip up Table Mountain; and a walking tour of the town of Stellenbosch followed by a chance to interact with cheetahs plus a private display by bird of prey eco-tourism organisation Eagle Encounters at the massive Spier winery. There was also the obligatory safari, this one to Aquila Private Game Reserves, just a two-hour drive from the centre of Cape Town.
“The programme may be linked to a meeting, a teambuilding and a CSR activity,” says Mellinson. “That entirely depends on the client’s discretion. Where possible, we choose a CSR project that is within the group’s industry field to make it easy for them to empathise with the people they are meeting. For example, we had doctors spend time in a local hospital.”
Targeting corporate meetings
South Africa is keen to develop its events industry beyond incentive programmes, but local industry players say that the country does not have the capacity and hotel room inventory to host a large-scale conference, convention or exhibition.
The only big enough venues, Sandton Convention Centre in Johannesburg and the Cape Town International Convention Centre, can accommodate up to 4,500 and 5,000 people respectively in their biggest spaces. Two hours from Johannesburg, Sun City has a meeting venue that can cater for up to 2,400 delegates.
Karin White of Sandton Convention Centre believes Johannesburg makes an ideal hub for global meetings in South Africa. “Ninety five percent of international flights arrive via Johannesburg,” she says. “We have the international airport and we also have the infrastructure. In fact, the Gautrain (mass transit railway) links the airport to the Sandton (business, commercial and upscale residential) district in 14 minutes. As the financial capital, Johannesburg is where the business is done. Most of the corporate decision makers are located here. We have hosted a lot of tech shows targeting the African market.”
White says the centre’s focus now is on attracting Asian corporate groups to come to South Africa; countries such as China, Thailand and Singapore are seen as both industry rivals and sources of business. Recently, the country’s minister of tourism Marthinus van Schalkwyk told journalists: “China is a crucial tourism market. Several initiatives are underway to unlock its potential.
“These include securing an agreement to lift travel restrictions on Chinese tourists to South Africa, as well as pursuing direct air access between the two countries. Several talks were held with various airlines, including South African Airways, regarding the introduction of direct flights to Shanghai and Beijing.” He adds that he is confident these flights will be in place within the next two years.
High accommodation costs in the country are another deterrent that needs to be addressed. Fresh from a meeting with international tour operators at the World Travel Market in London in November, David Frandsen, executive manager of CTRU and the Cape Town Convention Bureau, is urging the South African hotel industry to review its pricing structures to maximise the country’s competitiveness as a business event destination. “There is a universal chorus of concern with regard to the unrealistic pricing of many four- and five-star hotels, the effects of which are exacerbated by the strong exchange rate of the rand (the South African currency) vis-à-vis the British pound,” he says.
One of those present at that meeting, Norma Meyer, managing director of Ecco Tours, says: “It does not makes sense to publish rack rates at unrealistic levels and to engage in persistent discounting to attract business where the achieved rate is often 50 percent lower that the published rack rate. This has the effect of driving potential visitors to Cape Town to competitor destinations such as Thailand and Brazil where the pricing is more realistic.”
Additional reporting by Andrea Zavadszky
SOUTH AFRICA ITINERARY
Morning: Arrival and meeting
After a colourful airport welcome by local Kaapse Klopse minstrel entertainers, transfer to hotel to freshen up. Business meeting commences with working lunch to follow in one of the hotel’s conference suites.
Afternoon: Sundowner cocktails
Take a cable car to the top of Table Mountain and enjoy a spectacular sunset, sipping champagne and snacking on canapés. The Old Stone Terrace, which faces the Twelve Apostles mountains, can be hired exclusively and cordoned off.
Evening: Gold Restaurant
A vibrant experience with a night of opulent feasting and live entertainment in a mystical African setting of trees and tents in an inner-city courtyard steeped in ancient history and decorated in gold. Tall, graceful Malian puppets dance for you, and guests can join in the final performance with the restaurant staff.
Cape Peninsula Discovery Adventure
The trip is designed to showcase the beauty, history and geography of the Cape while enabling delegates to explore the region and interact with each other and the local people. The group will be divided into smaller teams that will receive a race kit containing maps, a team passport, a race book with navigational clues and questions they need to answer en route.
Evening: Five Flies
The Five Flies restaurant and bar boasts a bare brick wall afternoon wine bar, an interior cobbled courtyard serving casual lunch and dinners, individually appointed private dining rooms and a sumptuous cigar bar and lounge upstairs.
Pinotage and Pillions
Experience a unique day in the Winelands on vintage sidecars. Transfer through the historic town of Stellenbosch and head over Helshoogte Mountain Pass for some wine tasting. Lunch at Rickety Bridge winery: sit on the deck or laze on the lawn in the heart of the vineyard and enjoy a Cape-inspired gourmet picnic. After lunch, head towards Paarl, where another tasting awaits at Seidelberg Wine Estate, as does a visit to its glass-blowing studio. Alternatively, visit the Cheetah Outreach facility and experience the excitement of a personal encounter with one of the hand-raised cheetahs.
Evening: Farewell dinner at Castle of Good Hope
Built between 1666 and 1679, this pentagonal fortification is the oldest surviving building in South Africa. Entertainment by Sterling EQ, a band made up of four young virtuoso musicians.
Morning at leisure for some last-minute shopping at the iconic Victoria and Alfred Waterfront before luxury transfer to airport and onward journey home.
OR Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg is the main gateway in the country and is served by Cathay Pacific, Thai Airways, Emirates and China Eastern Airlines; Singapore Airlines and Malaysia Airlines also fly to Cape Town.
Only Japan is exempt from visa requirements among Asia-Pacific countries. Visas take five days and cost R425 (US$65). For more information, check www.dha.gov.za/Applying for a South African visa.html
South Africa has 11 official languages and scores of unofficial ones. English is the most commonly spoken language in official and commercial life – but only the sixth most spoken home language. Some of the other most common languages are Zulu, Xhosa, Afrikaans, Sesotho and Setswana.
Most of the country has warm, sunny days and cool nights. Rainfall is generally highest in summer, between November and March, but around Cape Town it’s at its peak in winter, between June and August. Air temperatures in Durban, on the Indian Ocean, average nearly 6°C warmer than at the same latitude on the Atlantic coast.
South African Tourism
Paul Stephen, managing director, DMC South Africa
How far ahead does one need to plan and contact a DMC or PCO?
The lead times have become shorter in the past two years, with some clients booking just weeks before the trip arrives. As DMCs in South Africa, we are able to book these trips at very short notice; however, we encourage buyers to book early to ensure that they can get the room allocation they need for their conferences, especially in Cape Town and Sun City resort. If you are talking about large numbers of delegates then it is best to plan way ahead – book at least a year in advance.
Is it easy to do business in the cities?
It is very easy to do business in South Africa’s major cities.
What problems should one watch out for?
One thing to be aware of is that we only have a limited number of hotel rooms for large events.
Is security a problem?
Security is not a major problem as long as delegates stay within the tourist areas. Like in any big city, one needs to know which areas are unsafe. All visiting delegates receive a briefing and a security booklet. All major venues, hotels and attractions have their own security in place.
Do DMCs take care of security issues? Are there any special insurance needs involved?
There are no compulsory special insurance needs but, if the clients require cover, this is available in South Africa. If they do feel they need extra security during their event, there are many professional security companies in South Africa that can supply this service. However, (usually) the supplier’s own security is adequate.
What trends do you see among corporate groups visiting South Africa?
A popular practice for incentives is a multi-destination programme where a visit to South Africa is combined with visits to neighbouring countries – such as going to Zambia to visit the Victoria Falls with sundowner cruises on the Zambezi river and dinners in a local village. The Botswana option could include sleeping on a luxury houseboat surrounded by elephants, enjoying relaxed wildlife safaris by boat and visiting the Okavango Delta.
DMC South Africa
tel: +27 21 790 1254
Ovation South Africa
tel: +27 21 532 0880
tel: +27 11 679 3344