Events like Africa’s Travel Indaba that brought many international delegates were cancelled due to the pandemic. Picture: Motshwari Mofokeng/African News Agency /ANA
Events like Africa’s Travel Indaba that brought many international delegates were cancelled due to the pandemic. Picture: Motshwari Mofokeng/African News Agency /ANA

Lack of live conferences and events impacts domestic travel sector

By Clinton Moodley Time of article published Jun 21, 2021

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Conferences and events in South Africa have seen a steady rise since the pandemic halted its growth last year. People switched off their Zoom calls to travel within the country to attend in-person conferences and events.

In recent weeks, the industry seems to be back to where it was last year. With the third wave talks imminent, many organisers have put the brakes on live events, which could further impact revenue for the domestic travel market.

The organiser of Africa Travel Week, for example, cancelled its Connect in the City event scheduled for September. The Cape Town spectacle would have brought together the relevant stakeholders to experience the City’s offerings, including familiarisation tours and a dedicated conference.

Megan Oberholzer, Reed Exhibitions SA portfolio director for travel, tourism and creative industries, said it had been a difficult decision to cancel.

“There is nothing we had hoped for more than to host this live event. However, with the environment remaining fluid, the ongoing third Covid-19 wave, as well as the uncertainty as to when South Africa will be removed from ‘red lists’ and travel advisories, the decision had to be made,” said Oberholzer.

Many organisers for smaller conferences and events followed suit due to fears of future lockdown regulations within the country.

Glenton de Kock, the chief executive officer at the Southern African Association for the Conference Industry, said that the industry currently faced a tough predicament.

“It is a difficult balance trying to safeguard people from contracting the virus and making attempts to revive our industry,” he said.

De Kock said recent hybrid conferences upheld the strictest Covid-19 regulations. But, with the rising third wave concerns, he felt the industry had been volatile in recent weeks.

“Many organisers are sceptical to promote in-person events, in case there are new travel bans imposed due to high rate of Covid cases and death numbers.

“In the same breath, we do believe that it is unfair that the tourism and business events sector becomes a soft target when there is a spike in infection rates. We should be able to continue with these events while still ensuring we take all the precautions necessary,” he said.

According to De Kock, the industry called for a 50% venue capacity reopening. However, he said, disruptive social behaviour and non-Covid-19 compliance by some South African citizens made this unattainable.

“The industry is being painted with the same brush as people who host super-spreader events.

“We bear the brunt when government imposes lockdown or complete shutdown. Unfortunately, the conferencing, event and travel sector are offered little assistance during this time, which in turn contributes to massive financial strain on our industries,” he said.

The tourism impact

De Kock said the cancellation of live conferences and events impacted the travel sector negatively when events were cancelled and run as virtual events. Many delegates who attend these live events spend a substantial amount on flights, accommodation and activities at a particular destination. According to a recent AAXO study into the exhibitions industry, the estimated total income from direct, indirect and induced income for 2017 totalled R75 billion, with a direct spend of R24.4bn.

The road ahead

De Kock believed the vaccine roll-out in South Africa played a significant role in the full reopening of the sector for international and local travel.

“If the country speeds up its vaccine roll-out process, it could save the fourth quarter of 2021 or the first quarter of 2022. Not only will the vaccine save lives, but it will also build additional individual confidence to travel safely,” he said.

For now, De Kock suggested organisers host live events within their city or province before guests travel to other parts of the country.

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