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By Roy Cokayne

Moneyweb: Freelance journalist

Dramatic uptick in post-pandemic conferencing

Some hospitality groups reporting a return to pre-Covid-19 levels.

South Africa’s hospitality and tourism industry is seeing a dramatic pick up in conferencing post-Covid-19, with major groups providing meetings, incentives, conferencing and exhibition (Mice) facilities reporting a speedy return to pre-pandemic levels.

Sun International CEO Anthony Leeming told Moneyweb the group generated more than R220 million from conferences and events in 2022 alone since the upgrade of the Sun City resort, with Sun City’s Conference and Exhibition Centre last month awarded a five-star grading.

He said the group spent R150 million on modernising the business infrastructure at Sun City before the onset of the pandemic and had set its sights on Sun City securing a share of the growing conventions market.

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“In 2022, the Sun City Convention Centre welcomed more than 400 conferences and 250 lifestyle and sports events, from intimate team-building sessions to large-scale corporate events, banquets, seminars and exhibitions,” he added.

Sun City resort.
Sun International spent R150m on modernising the business infrastructure at Sun City resort before the onset of the pandemic. Image: Supplied

“While the majority of the conferences have been local, international bookings are starting to pick up for 2024,” said Leeming.

“With the new five-star grading, we are confident that Sun City can set the benchmark for business travel, just as it has done for leisure travel.”

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Leeming added that 1 600 delegates are scheduled to attend a financial services conference booked for July 2023 and the impact of business travel is also good news for the local community because about 100 casual workers are needed for every 1 000 conference delegates.

Another major event set to be hosted at Sun City later this year is the annual Sapoa (SA Property Owners Association) Conference.

Southern Sun CEO Marcel von Aulock confirmed that conferencing was one of the sectors that recovered remarkably quickly once the Covid-19 pandemic restrictions had been lifted and this included the demand from both public and private sector clients.

He said large facilities, such as the Sandton Convention Centre, experienced strong demand almost immediately once the restrictions were lifted that limited the number of people to 50% of capacity.

“I’d say the Sandton Convention Centre in the last 12 months has done as much as pre-Covid-19, if not more in numbers,” he added.


Von Aulock said the recovery in the conference business has been sustained and good for more than a year and that forward-bookings for something like the Sandton Convention Centre “are very good”.

He said the recovery in conferencing was stronger than what the hospitality industry calls the transient business, which is people travelling on business and visiting a customer, or for some other reason.

Von Aulock noted that this demand for conferencing facilities has been sustained, adding that a comment that made sense to him was that a meeting that previously would have happened in an office, probably happens online more often now but where companies previously had to use a venue, it has gone straight back to a venue.

“So the minute they needed 10 people or 20 people [together], those went back to in-person immediately,” he said.

Transient business travel

Von Aulock believes there is still quite a lot of the transient business that is missing, particularly in the Sandton node.

He attributed this to the large banks and insurance companies not being “back to full speed” and many of the office towers in Sandton being empty and where they do have tenants, not all the people are there.

Von Aulock attributed the strong rebound in conferencing to people’s desire to get out and reconnect. He said conferencing did not account for such a large part of the group’s revenue, but it drives a lot of bedroom business, which if this was added accounted for about 15% to 20% of the group’s revenue.

Amelia Beattie, CEO of JSE-listed Liberty Two Degrees (L2D), said the hospitality sector has experienced a good rebound in activity versus the prior periods.

“Conferencing has seen a steady incline since the hard lockdown in 2020, hosting 67 events within the first four months of 2023 compared to 47 events in 2022 for the same period,” she said.

L2D owns a portfolio of retail assets plus the Sandton Sun, Sandton Towers and Sandton Convention Centre.

Beattie added that year-to-date to April 2023, conferencing has surpassed the 2020 and 2021 total full year number of events. However, she said conferencing within the node has not yet reached pre-Covid levels, with 2023 tracking 75% of 2019 levels for the same period.

She noted that the gradual return of events is due to the nature of planning and executing conferences, with major events in some cases taking more than a year to plan.

“The final lifting of capacity restrictions in June 2022 supported corporate confidence in booking and planning once again, without the risk of postponing or cancelling these major events. Conferencing allows for in person interaction and learning, where guests can discuss ideas and focus on a topic of mutual concern, she added.

“This is one of the factors driving the demand for these events. Sandton Convention Centre has seen the return of pre-Covid events as well as repeat bookings due to the success of events,” said Beattie.

Projeni Pather, spokesperson and immediate past chairperson of the Association of African Exhibitions Organisers (AAXO), said this week the Mice industry plays a crucial role in the global economy, driving economic growth, fostering innovation, and facilitating trade and investment.

“By hosting conferences, exhibitions, and other Mice events, countries and cities can tap into the potential of this industry to create sustainable economic growth and generate employment opportunities,” she said.

A recent Allied Market Research Report titled “Mice – Global Opportunity Analysis and Industry Forecast, 2021-2028” predicts the global events industry is projected to register a compound annual growth rate of 21.3% from 2021 to 2028 and reach $1 337.4 billion by 2028.

This article originally appeared on Moneyweb and was republished with permission.
Read the original article here.

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