South Africa has secured more than 200 international conferences for the next five years, Tourism Minister Marthinus van Schalkwyk said.

“This is estimated to attract 300,000 delegates and provide an economic boost of more than R1.6 billion for the economy,” he said.

Van Schalkwyk was speaking at the annual congress of the Southern African Association of the Conference Industry in Fourways, Johannesburg.

In 2011, South Africa received 392,000 business travellers, of which 140,000 were meetings incentive conference and events (MICE) delegates.

Van Schalkwyk said his department had set a target of 15 million international arrivals by 2020.

It recently launched the SA National Convention Bureau (SANCB), which collaborated with cities and provinces to present a united front for destination South Africa.

“We are committed to build a competitive destination to grow our global market share,” he said.

Van Schalkwyk said the SANCB was targeting 81,500 convention delegates and 130 association meetings by 2020.

For this to be achieved, the country had to increase the business events industry by 57 percent.

It also had to double the sector's contribution to tourism and improve geographic distribution.

Van Schalkwyk said his department would need to support at least 30 bids for international meetings this year with a potential of 18,000 delegates.

These would contribute R162 million in direct economic spend.

The department wanted to grow the average number of delegates attending international conventions in South Africa from an estimated 54,000 in 2012 to 78,000 by 2017.

“These are targets we can reach, but to do so will demand deepening our partnership.”

Hosting the 2010 Fifa World Cup and the United Nations' COP 17 Climate Change Conference had proved the country's credentials, he said.

“We are also identifying key industries and sectors that can help us to win more meetings and will work closely with local industry associations.”

Van Schalkwyk said government was focusing on creating conditions that would help bids succeed.

These included building infrastructure, enhancing air travel, especially from Africa, and streamlining visas.

“We must ensure that our people share in the benefits of MICE tourism growth... we must create special skills to deliver service excellence and the capacity of SMMEs to share in its benefits.” - Sapa