If there is one thing that Meetings Africa can do, it is to create opportunities to reignite Africa’s economy so that it can grow back stronger than ever before.
This was the consensus at a pulsating Meetings Africa trade floor opening ceremony on 1st March at the Sandton Convention Centre, Johannesburg. The 16th edition of Africa’s premier business events show – a flagship of the South African National Conventions Bureau (SANCB) – has brought together some 161 buyers and 216 exhibitors from 13 African countries.
Speaking at the trade floor opening, Tourism Minister, Lindiwe Sisulu, said that Meetings Africa presents an opportunity to collectively review and realign our African business events industry – one that embraces the increasing interconnectedness of trade and tourism. “Opening trade corridors across the continent must also open pathways for intra-African tourism to thrive, and vice versa. It is us – the African business events sector that have to be intentional and strategic in ensuring that we leverage this mutual benefit between trade and tourism.”
Sisulu added that the business events industry accelerates progress as it is a platform for sharing information and collective engagement. “This, in turn, results in innovation and re-invention which are key for economic and professional development and advancement.”
She does not doubt that the industry will be able to recuperate swiftly after a dormant two years. “During our Global Brand campaign launch on Monday evening, we shared with you how we have risen time and time again, from many episodes of destruction and devastation of continent’s history. We shared our ability in always being able to rise with pride and resilience- that is the essence of Africanism. It is our ability to live again and build back better that sets us apart.”
Building Africa’s brand together
Amanda Kotze-Nhlapo, SANCB’s Chief Conventions Bureau Officer, said Meetings Africa will play a part in our sector’s recovery mainly by focusing on regional buyers to align with South Africa’s Tourism Industry Recovery Plan, which focuses on domestic and regional recovery first. It will also look at reintroducing international buyers to Africa as the Covid travel restrictions are eased. “Platforms like these allow us to come together as Africa. In our sector, while we are in competition, we are also in co-operation. And then of course, we need to build on our brand together go out there and tell the world that Africa is ready.”
She said bidding – a process by which a country competes against others to attract international events – can be a tool that will encourage collaborative efforts among African countries. “It is a collaborative effort to go out there and bid for these big events. With our culture of sharing, we as a continent have the opportunity to rotate meetings among each other. We can help build that knowledge economy on the continent.”
She said the business events industry is the catalyst to get the world to open up its borders again. “After two years of shutting our imaginary national borders to each other, now is the time to allow for a freedom of movement. Sharing minds and economies does not mean we sit behind our desks and stare at each other through screens. It means being able to travel from one place to another freely so as to create and grow relationships.”
She added that Africa can start the business events economy rolling by using its African Continental Free Trade Area (AcFTA) as a springboard to achieving a shared economy. The AcFTA was signed into existence in 2018 and was effectively underway in January 2021. It will push all African countries towards greater collaboration with each other so as to boost trade and tourism.