South Africa’s business tourism boom

15 April 2008

An estimated 6-7% of all foreign tourist arrivals to South Africa in 2007 were made up of business tourists, translating to about 550 000 business tourists compared to 470 000 in 2006, Tourism Minister Marthinus van Schalkwyk said recently.

Speaking at the Meetings Africa Business Tourism Conference in Johannesburg last month, Van Schalkwyk said this figure was sure to grow even more in the lead-up to the 2010 Fifa World Cup, and that the industry’s vision of doubling this figure in the next three years was “not overly ambitious”.

The estimates are that year-on-year growth in business tourist “bed nights” was around 19% in 2007, following 18% growth in 2006, the minister said.

Business travel – ranging from small meetings and leadership breakaways to major conferences and exhibitions – is a lucrative sector of the market. Business travellers spend on average three times more than leisure travellers, and up to 40% of business travellers return to a destination within five years.

There is also a significant crossover from business into leisure travel. About 18% percent of business travellers go on tours prior to their business activities, while about 22% do so afterwards.

Total foreign direct spend business tourists in South Africa amounted to R2.4-billion in 2006, up from approximately R2.1-billion in 2005.


South Africa’s conference industry moved up to 31st place in the International Congress and Convention Association’s lastest top-40 list of leading destinations in the world, released in May 2007.

And in the 2007 M&IT Trends & Spends Survey of readers of the influential Meetings and Incentive Travel (M&IT) magazine – circulated to event organisers throughout the UK – Cape Town topped the list of favourite long-haul destination cities, while South Africa was voted the second favourite long-haul destination country.

The Western Cape’s business tourism calendar for 2010 and beyond is already starting to fill up, with 10 major conferences and conventions so far secured for 2010. According to the Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism, these conferences alone are expected to draw 16 300 business tourists and have an economic impact of approximately R166.3-million in the province.

Durban’s Inkosi Albert Luthuli Convention Centre, meanwhile, recently won the right to host the 57th Session of the International Statistical Institute in 2009, which will bring in 2 500 delegates. It will also host the International Committee on Non-Destructive Testing in 2012, which will attract 1 500 delegates.

New and future developments

Van Schalkwyk said public and private sector investments in South Africa’s infrastructure would enhance the country’s position in the global business tourism industry, with recent developments and future initiatives including:


  • Airports Company South Africa has injected R5.2-billion into extensions and refurbishments currently under way at South Africa’s three main airports, OR Tambo, Cape Town and Durban International.



  • A new R2-billion airport, King Shaka International, is under construction at La Mercy north of Durban.



  • Polokwane International Airport in Limpopo province will boast a new R45-million terminal by the end of February. The new terminal will be able to accommodate 200 000 passengers a year compared to the current 50 000 a year.



  • A state-of-the art R460-million indoor arena, capable of accommodating audiences of up to 10 000, has opened its doors at Durban’s Inkosi Albert Luthuli Convention Centre.



  • The Cape Town International Convention Centre plans to double its size by expanding across the adjacent freeway to the site of Customs House. The plans involve the establishment of a mirror image of the existing centre next to the harbour.



  • Port Elizabeth is to get its own convention centre, the Nelson Mandela Bay International Convention Centre. This will include a 1 000-seater convention and conference centre with a range of add-on facilities. The Mandela Bay Development Agency is inspecting sites on which to construct the centre.



  • The Bloemfontein International Convention Centre, with a main arena capable of accommodating up to 5 000 delegates, opened in the Free State capital in November.


SAinfo reporter

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