South Africa to top conference destinations

South Africa is sure to break into the top 10 international conference destinations by 2010, Environmental Affairs and Tourism Minister Marthinus van Schalkwyk said on Monday. Speaking at the national conference of the Southern African Association for the Conference Industry, he said conferencing and its allied products continued to thrive.

This despite the “looming threat inherent in the many economic, political and social curved balls presently in play in our troubled world, all of which have the potential to seriously impact global travel”, he told the South African Press Association.

Conferences and meetings, a vital component of business tourism, were one of the fastest growing, most complex and little understood sectors of the wider tourism economy.

They had their own special demands. Only those who could guarantee to meet and exceed expectations with a committed professionalism, would excel.

This year, the global conference and meetings sector was forecast to make up 10 percent of the estimated US672 billion generated from travel and tourism, and this overall total was expected to double by 2013 at the rate of 3.7 percent every year.

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In the United States, direct spend in the business tourism sector during 2005 was US122 billion, 94 percent of which came from conferences, exhibitions and meetings.

Many delegates were “high spenders” and usually accompanied, and spent time travelling around on pre- and post-conference tours.

Van Schalkwyk said South Africa’s own conference industry, small though it was at present in comparison to some of the longer-established destinations, was holding its own on the world platform.

“In recent years, it has successfully hosted some of the largest, highest-profile international conferences on the worldwide circuit, I may add without serious incident and to much acclaim.

“It has established an enviable reputation, consistently verified by being listed amongst the International Congress and Convention Association’s top 40 leading conference destinations in the world (32nd) and we have declared our intention of breaking into the top 10 by 2010,” he said.

South Africa attracted 63 percent of all conferences in Africa, supported 12,000 jobs and contributed R2.6 billion a year to GDP.

International conferences alone generated R951 million and were worth R42 million in foreign exchange alone.

While many places around the globe were constructing dedicated state-of-the-art conference centres and opening convention bureaux to aggressively market their destinations, ultimately success or failure would be determined by the professionalism exhibited by the industry itself.

“There is no doubt that the differentiator between success and mediocrity will, in the future, be centred around those who adapt fastest and embrace the professional levels of service excellence demanded by our fast-paced world.”

South Africa was renowned for breaking new ground and for succeeding against all odds.

“I have no doubt whatsoever that the goals we have set ourselves in securing a meaningful share of the world’s conferencing market will be realised within record time,” Van Schalkwyk said.
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