Rwanda overtakes Kenya in hosting conferences

Thursday, May 28th, 2020 00:00 |
Kenyatta International Convention Centre hosts most global conferences held in Kenya. Photo/PD/File

Kenya is scrambling to wrestle back the mantle of leadership in hosting international meetings from East African Community sibling, Rwanda.  

Kenya ranks fifth with 27 African meetings country rankings in the latest (2019) Africa International Conference and Conventions Association (ICCA) country rankings. South Africa led with 103 followed by Morocco with 45, Rwanda (32) and Egypt (31).

Among the city rankings, Cape Town led 48 meetings followed by Kigali (32), Cairo (26), Marrakech (23) while Nairobi city ranks fifth, with 19 meetings. 

South Africa’s dominance has been attributed to the presence of an effective convention bureau in Johannesburg.

“Convention bureaux are important as they assist in the bidding for conferences.

When there is more organisation in terms of the associations present in a country, then conferences (Mice- Meetings, incentives, conferences and exhibitions) will come,” says Esmare Steinhoff, Regional Director, ICCA Africa.  

Convention strategies 

Speaking at the Post Covid-19 Leap Forward: Conversations Towards Restarting Kenya’s Mice Sector  webinar last week, Steinhoff said hotels and universities were popular venues for events and that the top five topics of discussions were Medicine, Science, Economics, Industry and Management.

“Despite the pandemic, this is the ideal time for convention bureaux to begin bidding for events. Don’t wait for another moment,” she said.  

Kenya’s Mice industry has grown steadily over the years both from demand and supply perspectives. 

The World Bank has classified business and travel as Kenya’s third major tourism product line behind the coastal beach and safari tourism product lines. 

However, the ground has since shifted in favour of Rwanda. Kenya’s main problems are massive traffic jams in Nairobi city and fears over insecurity due to threats from Al Shabaab and muggers in city streets at night.    

This year,  travel restrictions and flight cancellations/frequency reductions have significantly diminished the supply of travel services (both domestic and international).

This has in turn disrupted the Mice industry with potentially $6 billion (Sh607 billion) worth of international association meetings cancelled between March and September. 

“While we are not sure when things will reopen, we must be proactive even when things are still down,” said Tourism CS Najib Balala. 

One of the key concerns will be re-building clients’ confidence. Jacinta Nzioki, National Coordinator for the Kenya National Convention Bureau said the top concern for clients will be health and safety.

“We must build a caring brand; we must continually project positive and reassuring messages by conducting travel manuals, webinars and trainings in readiness,” she said. 

Nzioki said one of the major trending topics in events will be on health and such discussions will be key in restarting the industry.

“Protocols will be vital to assist in movement within the country once things open up domestic before international travel,” she added. 

Currently, technology plays a vital role in the Mice business growth as many corporations adopt e-conferences as a substitute for face-to-face meetings and conferences.

Other technologies such as 360-degree images and virtual reality have also become integral for events and conventions globally. 

Still, Nzioki insisted that face-to-face interactions were still relevant and could not be replaced by the virtual world. 

“Virtual meetings only facilitate events. Despite the rise in technology, we need to look into ways to  position Kenya as a virtual destination,” she added.  

Jeffers Miruka, President African Society of Association Executives (AfSAE) said  the youth are comfortable in the virtual space, hence much more emphasis should be placed on it. 

“If we don’t invest in tech, we are doomed. Face-to-face is for older bloomers.

Millennials will be comfy in virtual spaces and will be more health and conscious post pandemic,” he said.  

With plenty of the meetings being held for free currently, there was concern on how to monetise the event.

Rick Taylor, Mice Consultant at The Tourism Business Company said: “Depending on the industry, they can charge participants before being granted passwords to join webinars.

Event firms can also be sponsored to have their meetings but they need to also watch out on return on investment of the events and how to build their brands,” he said.

Miruka South Africa and Rwanda are leading in terms of Mice because they are well established in terms of events and convention bureaus. 

With hundreds of business-class hotels, 241 conference venues and stunning coastal views on offer, as well as a host of cultural and outdoor attractions, Cape Town is the top Mice destination in Africa. 

Additionally, South Africa has already established convention bureaux across country, to improve the standards in conference facilities, meeting venues and allied services in the country and the wider region. 

There are over 40,000 proffessional associations in the Kenya, which have the capacity to link up with their global offices for them to have meetings locally but some are dormant. 

“We need to encourage counties to start their own convention bureaux and link up with the main national office.

It is not having WTO meetings that will make Kenya big but the small meetings in various counties that will make us great,” said Balala. 

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