South Africa's National Minister of Tourism, Marthinus van Schalkwyk, arrived at Meetings Africa 2012 to applause and great fanfare. After a short walk around the exhibitor hall at the convention centre, and brief discussions with exhibitors, the Minister officially opened Meetings Africa 2012.
Thulani Kzane from South Africa Tourism (SAT) welcomed Minister van Schalkwyk along with dignitaries including MEC for Economic Development and Tourism in Gauteng, Qedani Mahlangu, the Director-General for the Department of Tourism, Kingsley Makhubela, the MEC for Economic Development in Johannesburg, Councillor Lemau and the Deputy Chairperson of the SAT board, Frank Kilbourn.
Kzane welcomed international and domestic media to the opening ceremony, and extended his welcome to include industry players. "We got the Meetings Africa 2012 ball rolling with a round of golf at the Legend course and spa," he quipped.
"An event such as this is proof that South Africa has plenty to offer the leisure and business tourist. At SAT our aim is to bring all MICE parties together in order to grow leisure and business tourism together."
MEC for Economic Development and Tourism in Gauteng, Qedani Mahlangu, extended an official welcome to the tourism Minister.
"We recognise Minister Marthinus van Schalkwyk and the provincial government departments and we are proud to be associated with this established business tourism event," she said. Addressing the exhibitors, MEC Mahlangu said she hoped that they would make business deals that offered associated investment for the country.
"It is apt that we are hosting Meetings Africa 2012 in Gauteng. The province is an economic gateway to the rest of Africa, and is Africa's fourth-largest economy. We aim to grow from strength to strength as we continue to host Meestings Africa for the next five years," she added.
MEC Mahlangu urged visitors to visit the Constitution Hill stand (4501), and to join the AmaGeePee movement, an initiative put in motion by the Gauteng Tourism Authority, which offers superb visitor discounts to domestic travellers.
In his opening address Minister van Schalkwyk spoke about the national tourism department's intention to grow business tourism in South Africa, and how as an industry business tourism had experienced continental growth.
"In the first three months of 2012, with the help of the National Convention Database, the cities of Cape Town, Johannesburg and Durban have secured 50 conferences for the country," he said. "With further assistance from the NCB, South Africa aims to host another 200 conferences over five years."
But what does this mean for the economy? Minister van Schalkwyk explained that South Africa's hosting of 200 conferences over five years equalled a R1.6-billion cash injection that would see more than 300,000 delegates visit our shores.
"Now that the National Convention Bureau (NCB) is up and running, the body is committed to bid for another 30 conferences, which equals a further R162-million in investment and 80 000 more delegates who are expected to visit," he explained.
Speaking about the potential of tourism, and business tourism in particular, the Minister said that during his walkabout he had the privilege of viewing some local toursim products. "I have seen wonderful convention centres, hotels and leisure products. South Africa has good infrastructure - We have it all!"
In terms of the convention bid process, the Minister reiterated that the NCB would consolidate bidding with a view to making the process professional and ensuring that the most people benefited.
Speaking to domestic exhibitors and visitors, the Minister added: "I invite you to attend the Association Lekgotla's corporate speed-dating session, which promises to be a fun and exciting event, and I wish you 'good hunting'."
The Minister then unveiled the official logo for the NCB and declared Meetings Africa 2012 officially open.