MICE Events in West Africa: A Delegate’s Guide
Observe any airport lounge in Lagos, Accra, Abidjan or Dakar, and you’ll notice thesheer number of travelers in the sub-region travelling for business, be it for meetings, incentives, conferences or exhibitions or any other type of event. This observation is certainly not unique to West Africa, but isevidence of the sustained interest in the continent, its potential and the opportunities it presents. MICE events are gaining ground in West Africa as businesses and governments seek to connect interests and present opportunities for collaboration.
While the sub-region does not have the established MICE industry and stories as can be found in East Africa in cities such as Kigali, Nairobi, Addis Ababa, Arusha and Dar es Salaam, or in South Africa with the Cape Town International Convention Centre; destinations in West Africa such as Accra, Dakar,Abidjan, Lagos and Abuja are established MICE hubs in West Africawith regular events scheduled throughout the year.
You may have been a delegate at any of these events,or are likely to be invited in the future, but any event is only as good as the value you are able to draw from it. Optimizing your attendance at a MICE event starts, of course, fromknowing about it in the first place!
One good way to do this is to connect and become a member of the professional associations that operate in your industry. This will ensure that you are on the mailing list for announcements on relevant events.LinkedIn is another good way to identify and connect with the key people in your field, and receive notifications on upcoming relevant events – join relevant LinkedIn groups. Another strategy is toensure that your company is on the mailing list for newsletters from and announcementsby reputable eventorganizers such as Bench Events, API Summits andLnoppen (there are several more) who organize regular events in West Africa, and sign up with exhibitors and for trade and business magazines – this way you get to know of relevantMICE events which will help you plan for these in your company’s annual budget and event calendar.
Registration for MICEevents should bedone as well in advance as possible to take advantage of early bird rates. Early registration also enables you to get a room in the hotel accommodation of your choice – good MICE organizers provide a list of preferred hotels close to the event venue(s) with specially negotiated rates for delegates.It’s good practice to stay at one of these preferred hotels because they provideavenues for networking in a relaxed atmosphere. Staying at the hotel also makes it easy for airport transfers, and to be easily informed of any changes to the schedule or any new information that may arise over the course of the event.
Closer to the time, double check online to ensure the event programme has remained the same- some popular networking events might require pre-booking to get in, and it is good practice to review the programme to highlight any changes or connect with any speakers you would like to speak with.
Travel and Getting to the City
If at all possible, try to get into the host city a day or two before the event, depending on where it is that you are travelling from – this ensures you are able to attend the event, even if there are last minute airline cancellations or flight delays, and so you won’t miss any of the opening activities. Cutting it too fine is asking for trouble in West Africa!
Make sure you have your valid passports and visas for the country you are going into and any required vaccinations. A Yellow Fever vaccination card is one of the most important requirements for travel to West Africa.
Plan for the Event Programmes
The organizers should have designed an event programme that has something of interest to every delegate. Spend some time going through the programme and earmark the sessions you need to attend that will be of interest and relevance to your work. Draw up your own personal event timetable, and you will see if you have any free time during the day, which you can use to schedule meetings. I always suggest that delegates attend a few sessions that are outside of their direct field of interest, try to attend one or two of these – you will be surprised at what information you can learn and who you may meet and the business connections that can come out of going slightly out of your comfort zone.
MICE events provide speakers who are experts in their field, and you can gain valuable insights in 10-15 minutes of a meeting or speaking to an exhibitor. Who knows, the new subject area can spark ideas and reveal business opportunities!
Take an ample supply of your business cards – that means take far more business cards than you think will be necessary – it is always better to have more than enough than not. It looksooounprofessional to keep saying“I’ve run out of business cards”.
A few weeks to the event, or now, go through your business cards and ensure that these have the most up-to-date contact information for you – it is also not very professional to give out your business card, only to have to be correcting your telephone numbers or email address on the card.
The aim of these events is to provide the space for individuals working in similar or related industries to meet and connect and, hopefully, collaborate in the future. The aim is not to speak with every attendee, rather after every session, or during the breaks built into the
programme, you can identify a few people that you would like to speak with, and try to get to know them, and what it is that they do, and how your business may be of value to them.
There is a fine art to networking. It is important to be able to communicate as clearly and as simply as possible, what it is that you do, and why you are at the event.
When you meet someone, introduce yourself and have a thoughtful comment about the meeting, conference or exhibition, and then ask what they are working on, and perhaps why they are at the event. It is rude (and immature) to go to these events and aim to get business cards from every attendee - more polite and more effective is to connect well with four to five individuals and build a relationship with them. They in turn might be able to recommend/refer you to other individuals over the next couple of days.
West Africa really is a beautiful region, and if possible try to stay one or two days after the event to explore the host city. The event organiserswould have chosen the city for a reason, and may have organized some experiential learning tours to bring the city to life for delegates. Take part in these as best as you can. Not only do they give you a chance to explore the city, they also provide additional networking opportunities. West Africa is generally safe, and its people are very friendly and hospitable.
As with any event meeting or gathering, attend these with as open a mind as possible, but with a clear idea of what you would like to gain from the event, and do try to touch base with good connections once you get back to your office, you may have come across an article or report that will be of use to them and it is helpful to share these in the emails you send – it makes you more memorable!
W Hospitality Group, Lagos