South Africa - a unique conference destination

Estelle Walmsley


South Africa is a highly sought-after conference destination and currently ranks as the number one destination in Africa, attracting almost 20 per cent of the total conference market.

Focused marketing by the South African Tourist Board (Satour) in promoting South Africa as a destination for conferences, exhibitions and sporting events is aimed at expanding the country's conference and exhibition industry.

The highly successful Rugby World Cup Tournament in 1995, and the role which this played in increasing tourist arrivals for the year by 52 per cent, proved beyond a doubt the value of this category of tourism. The hosting of the African Cup of Nations in 1996 and the 1997 World Veteran Games proved again that South Africa has the ability to host world-class sports events.

The viability of South Africa as a conference destination is reflected in the increase in the number of visitors coming to South Africa for this purpose. Surveys conducted by Satour have indicated that in 1992, only one per cent of visitors to South Africa attended conferences. By 1995 this figure had increased to six per cent and by 1996 to nine per cent. In 1996 it also became clear that 21 per cent of all business visitors to South Africa made use of conference facilities which were rated 'good' by 75 per cent of those who used them.

Wealth of conference facilities

South Africa has a wealth of conference and exhibition facilities and boasts over 1,000 top quality venues, ranging from small intimate facilities to huge custom-made centres designed to top international specifications. Settings range from beach and country resorts to exclusive game ranges and cities.

Existing facilities are constantly being upgraded and new venues developed. The most significant of late is the multi-million rand International Convention Centre (ICC) which opened in Durban in September 1997, adding a further 5,000 seats to the 19,000 that already existed in the city. The announcement in May 1997 that Durban had won the bid to stage the International Aids Convention in the year 2000 firmly established the ICC, even before its opening, as a serious contender in the world conference market.

Besides South Africa's world-class conference facilities, the diversity of the tourism product makes it an ideal conference destination. The spectacular scenery, magnificent wildlife, incomparable climate and excellent tourism infrastructure are but some of the reasons why many companies, associations and businessmen meet in South Africa.

An established track record in hosting major international events and a high level of expertise, especially in the fields of mining, medicine, science, ecology and conservation, show why South Africa should be favoured as a conference destination.

With some 61 airlines now flying into the country, South Africa is easily accessible from all over the globe. For the European markets there is the added advantage that there is almost no time difference.

Incentive destination

South Africa has the perfect blend of ingredients to reward top achievers and, as such, attracts a sizeable incentive market. Opportunities for incentive travel are unlimited.

Characterised by vast open spaces where a unique concentration of wildlife can roam safely, South Africa offers splendid game viewing. Whether on a camping safari or in air-conditioned luxury in a five star game lodge, the magic of the bush is timeless.

South African cities and resorts are as fast-paced and sophisticated as anywhere in the world and provide a host of leisure options. Add to this the cultural diversity of the country and its exciting range of other tourist products, and a more exciting incentive destination would be hard to find.

Accommodation is varied and the standards high. Situated in idyllic rural surroundings or cosmopolitan cities, all offer a warm welcome, good service, excellent food and fine wines.

As a world-class destination for ecotourists and adventure travellers, South Africa is eminently able to provide for the incentive market's growing demand for activity and action-based travel.

Majestic mountains, glistening oceans and sweeping beaches, desert dunelands, sub-tropical forests and incomparable private game reserves offer endless opportunities. Ballooning, bungee jumping, whitewater rafting, mountaineering, microliting game safaris and hiking are only some of the adventure options available. Whether it is steam trains, photographic safaris or golf circuits that are required, all can be enjoyed in superb comfort and surroundings.

Cruising is also fast becoming a popular form of incentive travel. South Africa's coastline of close on 3,000 km provides ample opportunity in this regard. All in all, there is very little that cannot be enjoyed in South Africa!

Support services

Support services available in South Africa include various exhibition and conference organisers, as well as speaker bureaux.

For further information on South Africa as a conference and incentive destination, contact Satour's Conference Promotion Division, Private Bag X164, Pretoria 0001. Tel: +27 12 347 0600 Fax: +27 12 45 1419 E-mail: or in the UK: Satour London, 5 & 6 Alt Grove, Wimbledon, London SW19 4DZ. Tel: +44 181 944 8080. Fax: +44 181 944 6 705. E-mail: