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(Cape Town, 25 September 2012) The successful hosting of the 16th World Economic History Congress (WEHC 2012) in July this year has provided a significant boost to the Stellenbosch economy and has helped position the town as an attractive conference destination.

WEHC 2012 was organised by African Agenda, a leading professional conference organiser that specialises in planning and hosting national and international conferences. According to Keith Burton, head of African Agenda, WEHC 2012 brought more than R2-million to the Stellenbosch economy. More than 750 delegates from 55 countries attended the WEHC this year, adding millions to the coffers of hotels, guest houses and tour operators in the area during a time of year that is traditionally quiet. Conferences such as this offer an attractive solution to the Western Capes seasonality issues, where the tourism industry often suffers during the colder winter months.

Based on statistics collected at WEHC 2012, the conference boosted the income of several key tourism sectors in Stellenbosch, including:

– Room nights booked through African Agenda for WEHC 2012 amounted to 1 988
– Hotel accommodation income of R1.526-million
– Guest house accommodation income of R125 000
– Tour operator income of R178 000
– Airport transfers of R101 000
Vendors from the Neelsie Student Centre were invited to sell lunch to delegates outside the main venue, and one vendor commented that her turnover in the one-hour lunch period was the same as it would be in an entire day during a normal academic week.

Burton adds that prestigious international conferences of this nature go a long way to improving the desirability of towns like Stellenbosch as conference destinations, bringing significant job creation opportunities to the local economy. In between the five days of plenary and parallel sessions, delegates also had the opportunity of exploring the beautiful Winelands attractions. We believe that, aside from the immediate economic benefits, conferences of this nature also hold the potential of boosting the economy in the long term as they help position Stellenbosch as an attractive leisure destination year-round.

The 16th WEHC was presented by the Economic History Society of Southern Africa and Stellenbosch Universitys Department of Economics and took place from 9 to 13 July 2012. Leading Harvard University Professor James Robinson, the co-author of a best-selling new book, Why Nations Fail: The Origins of Power, Prosperity and Poverty, was a keynote speaker.
Dr Sophia du Plessis, Senior Lecturer in Stellenbosch Universitys Department of Economics, says the impact of the conference on Stellenbosch was noticeable. July is normally a very quiet month for businesses, with most of the locals away on holiday, and tourism to Stellenbosch also declines. With the 800 participants staying in town, the guesthouses were fully booked and the restaurants and shops could really feel the difference.

Photo: Harvard Professor James Robinson, co-author of Why Nations Fail: The Origins or Power, Prosperity and Poverty, speaking at the 16th World Economic History Congress, held in Stellenbosch from 9 to 13 July 2012.