Meetings Africa 2024: empowering SMMEs and promoting inclusive growth in the tourism sector | The Planner

The 18th iteration of the South Africa Tourism-owned Meetings Africa, held in Sandton Convention Centre from 26 to 28 February, saw the continuation of the participation of SMMEs at this prestigious tradeshow, thereby further opening up tourism’s lucrative Meetings, Incentives, Conferences and Exhibitions (MICE) industry to small businesses that might have struggled to break into the sector. With last year’s edition of the show contributing close to R400 million into the South African economy, there is excitement that this year’s show will be qualitatively better and will be a lucrative platform for SMMEs looking to grow their footprint, particularly into the African market.

The flourishing of the MICE industry has also meant that a bigger investment appetite in conferencing venues. Consequently, not only as participants in the different industry gatherings but also through the provision of services, SMMEs gain from more events taking place. At least 20 African countries participated in Meetings Africa 2024. The Africa Development Bank Group (AfDB) recently announced that, in 2024, of the 20 fastest growing economies in the world, a total of 11 will be in Africa. The AfDB’s Macroeconomic Outlook Report said that while the global real Gross Domestic Product is forecast at averages of 2.9 and 3.2%, for 2024 and 2025, respectively, in the case of Africa these figures stand at 3.8 and 4.2% in 2024 and 2025, respectively.

Africa’s robust economic growth and other factors have coalesced to create excellent conditions for the growth of the continent’s tourism sector in general and the MICE industry in particular. Other factors include the reset caused by COVID-19 whose unintended consequences have been to level the playground; the scramble by established economies to invest in Africa and the existence of real greenfield opportunities to start new ventures in the continent. With the MICE industry closely intertwined with economic growth, there could not be a better time for Africa’s MICE industry to thrive. There could not be a better time for SMMEs to enter the MICE industry. There is general consensus among economists of different persuasions that the development of SMMEs is one of the most economic development approaches.

As a truly Pan African show, this year’s Meetings Africa theme is: “Africa’s success built on quality connections”. This theme underscores the work done elsewhere by African leaders to build a continent that can hold its own among the economic blocs of the world, one that values the currency of collaboration in developing her people and addressing challenges. This is aptly captured in the signing of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) agreement in 2018, which is a major initiative under the African Union’s Agenda 2063. It aims to create a single market for goods, services, and facilitated movement of persons to deepen the economic integration of the African continent.