This is a topic worth discussing while many of us would rather put to bed the ongoing negative talk that is still prevalent, world-wide and while we should also get out of Ostrich mode and face the facts that are … is it all bad news? I don’t believe it is … we can see light at the end of the tunnel.

When it all began, ‘all of a sudden’ … and the nasty words ‘World Recession’ hit the front pages, I didn’t believe that it could affect me or mine or our productivity to a great extent as it has never happened in our industry before with any great impact … but one morning I woke up and faced the realisation that suddenly the bottom seemed to have dropped out of business in our particular industry … that being the Conference Industry as a PCO (Professional Conference Organiser).

First the negatives, to get them out of the way …

In 2008 we had the best year ever financially, with so much going on, resulting in having to employ additional staff to manage the daily volume of enquiries and bookings. It was fantastic and I am sure I speak for many small businesses, in all fields when I say this … To adopt half a line from the old Frank Sinatra song … “In 2008… it was a very good year” … It was.

I took a trip to the UK for my Christmas holidays because I could afford to and from the moment of my return in January 2009, it was evident that things were not quite right in the conference tourism industry.

In our marketing capacity, we were being told by all and sundry that there just wasn’t a budget any longer for advertising and in fact, many corporate companies, and government departments were already retrenching staff and managing their businesses with skeleton staff … Worse than this was the realisation on a daily basis that companies and even government departments had been told to cut back on their conference budgets to such a degree that it became extremely difficult to find suitable venues for our clients to match their budgets. Many companies and government departments opted for the use of their own facilities where this was possible and I am sure that I am accurate in suggesting that the 4 and 5 star hotels suffered most in this industry with the enormous drop-off in numbers and ‘bums in beds’ as a result. It was 3-star or nothing …

In many ways this recession was a hidden blessing … however before anyone gets angry with me for this suggestion, I say this purely because I have observed and have been involved in how many individuals and companies have found alternative resources… it’s amazing how much talent is available in all of us which we seldom considered or were aware of until we were forced into the situation of having to find other means of making ends meet … I have seen degreed women and men turning their hands to wood-work, a previous hobby, to building houses, something they had never even considered was a possibility, to waitering in the evenings for tips to make up the shortfall … I take my hat off to all those who have rigorously looked for and found other means the subsidise salaries in their professions to put bread on the table.

However, all this is stale news now … for it has been a topic elaborated on over and over again, added to, expounded on and regrettably over-dramatised by the sensation seekers amongst us, resulting in fear, more fear and to many a sense of hopelessness.

Hopelessness is not the way to go ….. for we have all been equipped with the wherewithal to manage, to cope and to surge forward in any circumstances … though it doesn’t feel that way at times, I know … we have to move on, move forward and I think, in my humble opinion, try as best we can to ‘live in the present’ …. Yeah, I hear you say, we have to plan for our futures … and I do whole heartedly agree with that however the future is not clear at all … we haven’t got there yet, so focussing all of our energy and attention on ‘tomorrow’ can be exhausting and we forget to consider where we are NOW, and appreciate the present for what it now presents us with. We could miss the boat, in saturating our minds with what comes next. While it is necessary to dream about tomorrow, for our dreams often do become our reality (so beware of what you dream – it could just come true!) … however, to return to a more serious note … I am sure you will agree that most of us have found that we are really extremely entrepreneurial, resilient and very talented individuals, with many other resources we have been able to tap on, sufficient to keep us fed and housed, while we have had to forget about many luxuries, about that trip abroad or even just down the coast for a weekend, or our weekly dinner at a fine restaurant … I often ponder on something I was once told, that we can’t take with us any of the stuff we accumulate in our lives … we go solo when we go … so yes, let’s enjoy what we can afford to have but let us wake up to the fact that we have become a species that focuses way too much time on ‘having’ and too little time on ‘being’ … Being is guaranteed, having is not.

And now for the good news …

The old cliché claims that ‘when the going gets tough … the tough get going’ …

World Cup 2010 contributed enormous growth and was a major boost for tourism in South Africa. Stats claim that there was a 15.1% growth in tourist arrivals to the country in 2010 who visited South Africa primarily for the World Cup.

The United Nations’ COP 17 Climate Change Conference also contributed much to the economy and also proved what we are capable of.

Tourism Minister Marthinus van Schalkwyk said at the annual congress of the S.A. Association of the Conference Industry last week that South Africa has secured more than 200 international conferences already for the forthcoming five years. He estimated that this will attract approximately 300,000 delegates to the country and an economic boost of more than R1.6 billion for the economy. That’s good news!
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.
This augurs well, wouldn’t you agree? …
What we in the South African Conference & Tourism industry must maintain is the exceptionally high standard of service and quality of venues we are renowned for world-wide … we cannot afford to drop the ball … it is natural to our citizens to offer top class hospitality and standards – it is part of who we are – and we have the wherewithal for international-standard training. Let us never become arrogant or de-motivated for the hospitality industry largely contributes to our economy. We have so much to offer …. We also have much to gain for the good of all. Let’s pull out all the stops and be better than our best … we can do it. We have proved this. World Cup Soccer was a fine example of this.

Article written by Rosalie Howard. The Venue Pages