Unlocking South Africa’s business events potential: Understanding demand side decision-making and where to connect | The Planner

Press release supplied by the South African National Convention Bureau (SANCB)

In the ever-evolving landscape of the business events subsector, growth has been a constant companion, driven by globalisation, the expansive reach of service industries, and the relentless march of scientific and technological progress. However, the recent pandemic brought an unexpected pause to the flourishing journey of this vital tourism subsector. Yet, it is the unyielding resilience of this subsector that fuels our anticipation, as it is poised to soar towards a projected value of $1 272.2 billion (R24 200 billion) by 2031 globally.

In this post-COVID-19 era, uncertainty shrouds the business events arena, prompting the question: Has the game fundamentally changed? As businesses seek to navigate this new landscape, understanding the factors that increase their chances of success in the business events space becomes paramount. Life after the pandemic is undeniably different, reshaping the very fabric of how business is conducted.


Harnessing insightful data

Emerging from the shadows of the pandemic, the industry requires a robust set of tools to compete effectively on the global stage. As a part of the developing world, our continent holds immense potential to attract an even greater share of global business events. To harness this potential, it is imperative to gain insights into the preferences and criteria that decision-makers consider when selecting a destination for business events across the Meetings, Incentives, Conferences, and Exhibitions (MICE) segments.

In a pioneering effort, the South Africa National Convention Bureau (SANCB), through SAT’s Insights and Analytics division, has undertaken a groundbreaking study. This study not only sheds light on the prevailing mindset of decision-makers but also provides valuable insights into the information necessary to capacitate ourselves as an industry.

This unique study marks a significant milestone, as South Africa emerges as an early trailblazer in Destination Marketing Organisations by delving into a comprehensive Brand Equity study. Covering a broad spectrum, the study was conducted across 18 markets, gauge the level of awareness, familiarity, the equity and competitiveness of South Africa as a business events destination.

The study surveyed decision-makers on the demand side of business events industry, to understand their awareness, business needs, and decision-making processes when selecting destinations across the four distinct MICE segments. Despite South Africa’s impressive infrastructure and market expertise, there appears to be a noteworthy lack of awareness among the demand side of the business events industry regarding the extensive offerings of South Africa.


Are decision makers aware of South Africa?

The study’s findings have unveiled a noteworthy trend, indicating that awareness of South Africa is notably limited, especially within three regions: Asia Pacific, The Americas, and Europe. However, it is heartening to observe a more prominent awareness of South Africa within the African region for Meetings and Incentives. Across segments, South Africa is ranked in the top ten (10) for Conferences across the regions out of seventeen (17) destinations, and top ten (10) only in Europe for Exhibitions*. This diminished awareness, in turn, has a direct impact on consideration, a fact equally applicable to familiarity. The lesser the awareness, the lower the level of familiarity, ultimately resulting in reduced consideration.

In light of these insights, it becomes evident that enhancing the country’s awareness and familiarity is a pivotal step. By effectively showcasing our diverse product offerings through targeted channels, we can anticipate substantial benefits. This strategic approach will not only bolster awareness and familiarity but also elevate all other facets along the brand journey, yielding positive outcomes in various measures.

Source: Business Events, Brand Equity Survey 2022/23 (An illustration top countries that Business Events decision makers are aware of as business events


Choosing the right channels

Undoubtedly, South Africa boasts world-class infrastructure and more, and the country meets the fundamental requirements as a business events destination. While this fact is well understood within South Africa, more effort is needed to increase the saliency of South Africa as a business events destination amongst business events global community.

Understanding channels in the business Events space is pivotal, in that the industry has a high dependence on multi channels, such as internal stakeholders as well as other mediums including external stakeholders, travel intermediaries and Tourism boards/Convention bureaus, although this may vary across the MICE segments.

For any business, it is important to know whether one is reaching the correct target market, as not having the right intel on this could smother marketing efforts for effective communication. In any business endeavour, it is imperative to ensure that one is reaching the precise target audience, and the absence of accurate intelligence could stifle marketing efforts. Much marketing work has been done by the SANCB team, evident through the work done through the key business strategic platforms, that serve as key marketing tools for the destination as business events destination. However, in order to increase awareness on South Africa’s capability a more robust approach is needed to in selecting channels that can churn the highest audience reach and yield.


Where do decision-makers go to find information about a potential destination?

In the four MICE segments, decision-makers have conveyed distinct preferences for gathering information about business event destinations. Regarding Corporate meetings, their inclination leans towards reaching out to stakeholders and travel intermediaries as their primary sources. This differs from the Incentives segment, where decision-makers turn to social media for inspiration, and they also value the guidance of travel intermediaries. In both cases, contacting or visiting a tourism board website or reaching out directly to a tourism board appears to be less common.

Exhibitions, on the other hand, present a unique scenario where tourism boards play a somewhat more vital role. This importance stems from the nature of Exhibitions, which often rely on tourism boards for facilitating of business events exhibitions.

“So, we leverage our internal network. We also leverage other networks that we have, from GBTA, from other boards that I serve on, so I have a robust network that we get to typically tap into to help us with different venues and different opportunities.” — US Executive on Corporate Meetings, Technology company


Relationship building and networking is key!

The above observations underscore the critical role of relationship-building and networking within the industry. This importance is especially evident in the context of stakeholders, as they wield significant influence in the decision-making process regarding the selection of corporate meeting venues. Additionally, industry magazines and advertisements assume pivotal roles as primary sources of information for Conferences and Exhibitions. These mediums are instrumental in presenting essential details such as venue layouts, venue space, and other hygiene factors that Conference and Exhibition decision-makers rely upon to make informed choices. Therefore, a presence in channels such as industry magazines can significantly enhance South Africa’s visibility as a business events destination.

Association meetings and conferences offer a compelling illustration of the pivotal role played by relationship networks and fraternities in boosting destination visibility. Local chapters, in particular, play a central role in encouraging and amplifying the potential for attracting more regional and international business events. However, it is noteworthy that the country and the region suffer from a limited presence of local member associations. Establishing regional chapters further fosters regional engagements, thereby attracting global business. Nonetheless, associations often grapple with the challenge of lacking dedicated, full-time staff for effective and seamless chapter management. Therefore, efforts aimed at strengthening relationships and enhancing chapter performance can yield significant benefits for destinations.


Brand exposure builds familiarity and consideration

A study conducted by the CNBC with SANCB in 2019, which featured the “Where great minds meet” campaign, showed that Executives in businesses, who were not MICE decision makers once exposed to the campaign were likely to consider South Africa for future business events. This is illustrated on the graph below;

Source: Campaign Effectiveness survey 2019 (An illustration of positive associations about a destination, for those respondents that have been exposed to the campaign and recognised the campaign as a South African Campaign.

Source: Campaign Effectiveness survey 2019 (An illustration of consideration for South Africa, for those respondents that have been exposed to the campaign and recognised the campaign as a South African Campaign.

Overall, the paramount focus for decision-makers when selecting a destination is the assurance that their fundamental needs and essential prerequisites are diligently fulfilled. The ease of accessing the necessary information is also of vital importance. It is very clear that human interaction fostered through social networks is an invaluable key to meeting these crucial objectives. In the complex world of business events, it is the seamless integration of these elements that truly paves the way for success.

Source: Business Events, Brand Equity Survey 2022/23 (An illustration of key information channels that decision makers consult regarding for information on business events destinations.

Further to this, decision-makers indicated that information platforms that provide real-time information on existing venue and hotel capacity a list of approved local vendors to help organisers gauge the capabilities and leverage details of local partners are such things that are helpful when making decisions about destinations. Bearing in mind that bidding and pitching have become more complex, tools such as these can help win against competition. Being in the right channels, building and maintaining the right relationships and creating information-sharing platforms to capacitate the demand side with the right information to facilitate decision-making.


Cover image by Clodagh Da Paixao on Unsplash.