Business travel infrastructure is more than ‘bricks and mortar’

When talking about infrastructure development for the business travel industry, the first thought is bricks and mortar, and while ‘hard’ infrastructure is important, it is imperative that focus is also placed on soft infrastructure – human resources, emotional capabilities and creative efforts that are required to build a business in this industry.

Gary Grimmer, Gaining Edge ceo and moderator for a Meetings Africa panel discussion on the topic of infrastructure and development, says: “Africa is at a crossroads. It will be the fastest growing part of the world in terms of this industry, yet there is much to do if we’re going to capitalise on this potential.”  

The panel consisted of industry experts Nina Freysen-Pretorius, PCO, and president of ICCA; Frank Murungwa, director of destination marketing, Rwandan Development Board; Lindiwe Rakharebe, ceo of Durban International Convention Centre; and Amanda Kotze-Nhlapo, chief convention bureau officer at the South Africa National Convention Bureau.

Africa, and the need for an Africa-centric focus, was again emphasised, and panellists were optimistic about the prospects for the continent. Industry leaders noted the nay-sayers who believe that abroad is always best, and said that it’s a mentality that we as Africans need to challenge and change. Kotze-Nhlapo says: “The important thing is to have infrastructure across the continent. It doesn’t help to just have pockets.”

How then, if there are only pockets of excellence, is Africa at parity with the rest of the world with provision of home-grown content? Freysen-Pretorius says that we need to get back to basics.  Companies want a good return on investment for sending delegates to conferences, which means that content must be new, it must be informative, and perhaps even provocative. People need to feel that the take home value at the end of the day was worth the investment of the registration fee, the travel, and the time spent attending the conference.

Even if, as a continent, Africa manages to curate content and maintain a universal standard of excellence, are there enough professional conference organisers (PCO) on the continent for this to be a success in terms of the soft infrastructure?

Kotze-Nhlapo says, while we host huge events, there is still a perception that Africa has a lack of expertise. Freysen-Pretorius adds that the continent has many professional people, but that the market needs to be grown.  “It’s the soft infrastructure, the human infrastructure that we really need to look at. And it’s not only the conference organiser, it might be the other service providers. We shouldn’t have these pockets of excellence, but rather the continent as a whole should be perceived as a good destination, and regional rotation should be encouraged. There is definitely promise, and there is talent.”

The long and short of the infrastructure discussion was that Africa is ripe for the pickings, and should there be collaboration and support throughout the continent, the development of both hard and soft infrastructure will soar, and the MICE industry will grow in leaps and bounds.

Says Rakharebe:  "Let's share more about what we are good at. Let's change the narrative and promote ourselves."

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