An increased demand

As more and more companies take their clients and staff into Africa for business, Julia Mafcher sits down with Kenya Airways sales manager for South Africa, Helena Maxwell, to discuss why business tourism and conferencing is so lucrative in the rest of the continent.

According to the International Congress and Conventions Association (ICCA) report of 2011, Africa’s Associations market share grew by a cumulative 1.3% in the past four years while Europe has fallen by just under a per cent. This trend, demonstrating Africa’s significance as a cyclical conference destination, is expected to continue. With major strides towards improved infrastructure, communication and growth in digital networks across the continent, it’s not a surprising statistic. That, married with the fact that development in Africa is booming and favourable economic ties with emerging super powers such as India and China are in place, Africa is poised and ready for its role on the world conferencing stage.

The continent is battling misperceptions and a certain level of ignorance of its ability to support the requirements of large-scale conferencing, yet the SADC and East African regions boast world-class conference facilities, a burgeoning regional air traffic network and state-of-the-art information and communication technology (ICT) capabilities.

Kenya received a recent boost when its fourth submarine high-speed communications network went live in April this year. The network line extends a total 3 000 km from Mauritius, via the island of Mayotte in the northern Mozambique Channel, to Nyali, and has significantly boosted the nation’s bandwidth. Kenya already enjoys connectivity through the East African Marine System, the Eastern Africa Submarine Cable System and SEACOM. The nation also benefits from 6 000 km of inland fibre optic cabling – amply sufficient to offer world-class communications.

Kenya was the first country in Africa to introduce digital maps; it offers effective mobile and rural banking, boasts the largest number of active opera-mini users in Africa and has its very own social network: Add to that its online real-time traffic monitoring system for all major roads in Nairobi, and you have the beginnings of a technologically advanced African destination.

Growth projections are also expected to be high because of the upgrade of the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport in Nairobi where a new terminal is being introduced. This will cater to additional destinations and frequencies in Africa, and will encourage additional international airlines to operate to this hub. Further growth will no doubt be fuelled by Africa’s status as a burgeoning market.

A recent GSMA Mobile Observatory report stated that Africa is currently the second biggest market for mobile technology in the world, with 649 million handset owners on the continent. Of this, 42 million of the total are South African mobile phone owners, and 23.5 million are Kenyan.

A comparison between the two nations shows that South Africa has an 84% mobile phone penetration among adults, as opposed to Kenya’s 56%. Internet user information shows a similar trend with Kenya revealing 2.6 million fewer internet users compared to South Africa’s 6.8 million users. It’s not hard to see why South Africa is also marked as pioneer when it comes to technology in Africa.

Yet, these are not the only countries that are getting attention in the global conferencing and exhibitions arena. The list below shows numerous international conferences are being held across the continent:

  • The Oil & Gas Forum DRC 2012 was held from 16 to 18 October 2012 in Kinshasa, which is evident of the country’s oil and gas sector fast becoming the new frontier in DRC’s extractive industries.
  • Fom 5 to 6 December, the East Africa Summit 2012 will be held in Kigali, Rwanda. The summit will facilitate open debate on the region’s future prospects and potential, highlighting recent discoveries of offshore gas in Tanzania and oil in Kenya, proving East Africa’s potential to become one of the world’s fastest growing markets.
  • For 18 years, Investing in African Mining Indaba has been at the forefront of African mining. Each year the event is well attended, with over 6 500 delegates representing more than 1 000 international companies. It’s held annually at the CTICC. The next African Mining Indaba is scheduled for 4 to 7 February 2013.
  • Also in South Africa, the Africa Energy Indaba Conference will be held from 19 to 21 February 2013 at the Sandton Convention Centre. The conference will discuss, debate and seek solutions to enable adequate energy generation across the continent.
  • Abuja, Nigeria, will host the seventh Pan-Commonwealth Forum on Open Learning (PCF7) in November next year. The five-day programme is designed to explore applications of open and distance learning in widening educational access, bridging the digital divide and advancing the social and economic development of communities and nations at large.

Such an influx of business tourism through conferencing is beneficial to economic growth, supports tourism suppliers across the continent, including African airlines, while creating a critical mass of experts to facilitate the creation of solutions for sustainable development in the continent.

The head of research and project development at the Kenyatta International Conference Centre, Daniel Muoka, says that the estimated economic contribution of conference delegates’ expenditure is five times that of a holiday tourist. This is mostly due to the nature of the travel which is often not financed out of a delegate’s personal savings, but is taken care of by the employer or sponsor. Furthermore, research shows that up to 40% of conference delegates will return to a host country for a personal or family holiday.

As one of Africa’s largest airlines with an extensive network across the continent, Kenya Airways understands the unique circumstances of the continent and offers the necessary flexibility for air travel to meet the prospective demand for group travel in Africa.

Standard services for group bookings include advanced seating and highly personalised assistance with check-in, luggage management and transfers. Furthermore, through its recent network expansion and fleet advancements, the airline can modify equipment allocation per route according to demand. Therefore, should a large booking substantially increase seating demand, equipment can be selected to satisfy such demand.

Conferencing in Africa offers more than merely a boost in business tourism in the region, it creates a gateway to progress for its vast and high potential developing nations.