One of the fastest growing sectors of the global tourism industry is that which goes by the acronym of MICE, which stands for Meetings, Incentives, Conferences and Exhibitions.  The common denominator is that the events all involve groups of people, sometimes but by no means always travelling together, coming to the same place (destination) with a common purpose.

According to the World Travel & Tourism Council, the travel and tourism industry globally is worth some US$7 trillion.  This includes domestic and international travel, for leisure and business, the investment in the sector, spending by tourists and tourist businesses, and so on.  It is a measurement of the total industry, which is the most diverse of all.

Of that US$7 trillion, it is estimated that the global MICE industry is worth around US$650 billion to US$700 billion, a sizeable figure.  But it is also estimated that Africa accounts for no more than around 2 per cent of that figure, or around US$13 billion.  That’s just a quarter of what South Africa spent in the run up to the 2010 FIFA World Cup!

Granted, this is a sector of the travel and tourism industry, like the industry as a whole, that is extremely difficult to measure, or even to define.  What constitutes “a meeting”?Or a “conference”?  We can all visualise the large events, the International Bar Association, for example, but how can one possibly capture in the data each and every gathering?

The International Congress and Convention Association (ICCA) measures activity in one particular segment of the MICE market, that is the international associations.  Each year they produce data on the international meetings of those associations, i.e. the meetings that rotate between different countries.  They do not capture the meetings that are always held in the same venue, nor the thousands of domestic meetings that the associations hold each year, the regional chapters and others.  Even the ICCA themselves admit that the data they capture, analyse and report on are just “the tip of the iceberg”.

In 2013, a total of 11,685 association meetings were identified by the ICCA to have taken place worldwide, 539 more than in 2012.  In 2004 the figure was 7,513, so that market has grown by over 50 per cent in 10 years.

Of the 2013 figure, 375 meetings, just 3.2 per cent of the total, were held in Africa.  The fact that that is double the 2004 figure (195 meetings) doesn’t alter the fact that Africa’s share is very low.  And of the 2013 figure, almost one third (118 meetings) were held in one country, South Africa.  The chart below shows the evolution of the total number of association of meetings in Africa:

Source: ICCA

The top 10 countries in Africa for hosting these meetings were:

The Association Meeting Market 2013

African Countries Rankings

Rank Country No. of Meetings
1 South Africa 118
2 Kenya 38
3 Morocco 30
4 Tunisia 18
5 Egypt 17
Ghana 17
7 Nigeria 12
Tanzania 12
Uganda 12
10 Senegal 10
Source: ICCA

South Africa is ranked number 1 in Africa, and 34th globally.  But don’t think “countries”, think “cities” – Cape Town, Nairobi, Marrakesh, Tunis – cities that actively seek to attract these association events, as well as others, for the benefits that they bring to the destination.  Such promotional budgets can pass by the man on the street, who sees the adverts for the destination on the sides of the buses, but is not aware of the millions that are often spent by a city on promoting itself as a conference venue.

The large conference market is supply-led to a large extent – whilst organisers may debate where they want to hold their event, the question is also “who can accommodate us”?  Who has the conference facilities, the hotel rooms, the attractions and other essential components of the whole?  And for the largest events, the destinations will be invited to bid for the right to host the event, sometimes five years before the date.

Why would a city or resort want to attract hordes of people, clogging up the streets and causing annoyance for the citizens?  Why would the city authorities spend millions of dollars building a new convention centre, like the Cross River State Government in Nigeria is currently doing (the CICC in Calabar is due to open in early 2015), or extending their existing one (Cape Town), instead of spending the money on schools, hospitals and other social capital?

The answer is that the city benefits enormously from the MICE activity that results, both direct and indirect, and both in economic and less tangible terms.

Informed sources say that the average conference delegate spends six times (six times!) what the average vacationer spends in the destination!  Add to that the spend by the organisers on transport, the venue itself, with suppliers in the destination, and that adds up.  All that creates jobs, and that’s the direct benefit to the city, and its residents.

What are the more intangible benefits?  There are several:

is the medical sciences sector, including the pharmaceutical industry, and these events can be game-changers for developing countries.

In the introduction to the ICCA’s 2011 statistical report, the CEO Martin Sirk states “we struggle to even to begin to comprehend just how powerful international association meetings are as a power for good in the world, let alone calculate and communicate their impact”.  The same goes for the entire MICE industry, indeed travel and tourism as a whole.  A power for good indeed.  Cities in Africa need to wholeheartedly embrace the MICE industry, and focus on it and its benefits (jobs, jobs, jobs!) to their voters.

Trevor Ward

W Hospitality Group, Lagos

trevor.ward@w-hospitalitygroup.com

Affiliated to

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