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Chilling Words From The Man Who Broke The Bank Of England

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The multimillion-dollar circus called Davos rolled into the Swiss ski-resort yet again, in January, in all its big deal bombast and bean counting glory. This year, African debate was scant: the man who broke the Bank of England foretold of a broken world laden with fear and doom; there was scary talk of cyber terrorism; just another day, another Davos, for the World Economic Forum.


If you want an example of how the dash of Davos can descend into self-parody, you should have taken a look at the huge banner draped across the posh Belvedere Hotel throughout the World Economic Forum in the mountain ski-resort.

It was on the main street through Davos where thousands of delegates slip and slide to scores of functions – with at least one or two slipping over every day – along a line of shops taken over by big money corporate sponsors.

Much more money is being made elsewhere in this ski-resort: the people who live here go away for the week and let out their homes for a king’s ransom; $30,000 for the week is nothing unusual.  

READ MORE |World Will Improve Where It Matters Most In 2019

Most people saw an irony in the banner, yet clearly the people who spent a fortune on putting it up there couldn’t have.

“Free trade is great,” says the banner on behalf of Brexit-bound Great Britain.

“Didn’t someone tell them they were about to leave one of the greatest free trade zones in the world?” says one passer-by with a cynical chuckle.   

The crack summed up some of the irony that swirls around when cohorts of bean counters, highly-paid administrators and bosses gather in an Alpine icebox to solve the problems of the world.

The bigwigs weren’t there and this year, there was less buzz and fewer queues outside the briefing rooms.

Donald Trump, who made a big splash at Davos last year, stayed at home trying to figure out his government shutdown. The four ‘Ms’ – May, Modi, Macron and Mnangagwa weren’t there either; at least two of them tied up with fighting fires, from Brexit to economic meltdown, in their own backyards.

 Empty hot seats, at Davos, at a time when the world is crying out for the wisdom of sage leaders.

Instead, it was left to business leaders, like the Australian-born CEO of billion-dollar turnover infrastructure giant Arup, Greg Hodkinson, to cut to the chase.

“We need clear political leadership in this fractured world… otherwise we are going to get easy political leadership preying on people’s fears,” says Hodkinson at one of the first panels of WEF 2019, on infrastructure.

READ MORE | Why The Richest And Most Powerful Go To Davos

Hodkinson, who has worked in infrastructure for 40 years, also said investment in infrastructure could no longer ignore the future, or the deteriorating environment.

 “Carbon should be priced into infrastructure projects and that will act as an economic trigger for private money to come in because not only will it mean more revenue, it will help us put more money into saving the environment,” says Hodkinson.

According to the WEF Global Risks Report for 2018, some of the top risks by impact are posed by the elements: floods and storms; water crisis, plus earthquakes, tsunamis, volcanos and electric storms.

“By 2040, the investment gap in global infrastructure is forecast to reach $18 trillion against a projected requirement of $97 trillion. Against this backdrop, we strongly recommend that businesses develop a climate resilience adaptation strategy and act on it now,” warns Alison Martin, Group Chief Risk Officer, Zurich Insurance Group, in the report.

The money is there, according to Hodkinson, but needs to be channeled with foresight.

“Even if someone is building a car parking garage, I ask what else can they do with it because they won’t need it one day,” says Hodkinson.

“The money is there. Investors sank six trillion dollars into United States junk bonds last year; if investors are prepared to roll the dice on junk bonds, what about infrastructure investment?”

Investors, on this day at Davos, heard that 65% of world infrastructure projects are unbankable without government guarantees. Private money is needed to fill the gaping infrastructure gap, yet negotiations between investor and government officials can prove difficult.

READ MORE | World Bank Sees Global Growth Slowing In 2019

Just ask Heng Swee Keat, the Cambridge-educated finance minister of Singapore, the former Parliamentary Private Secretary to the father of infrastructure on the industrious little island who harnessed private money for public good – the legendary late premier Lee Kuan Yew.

The finance minister warned relationships between public and private sectors could be “lumpy”.

“I remember a man coming to me and saying he was never going to invest in infrastructure in your country again, I asked him ‘why’ and he said, because the last time we invested and made money the government came back to us and asked ‘why are you making so much money’,’’ chuckled Swee Keat.

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Economy

Op-Ed: The eCommerce Lifeboat For South Africa’s Retail Industry

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Covid-19 led eCommerce revolution

The Covid-19 crisis has redefined the retail playing field.  This has seen retailers scrambling to accommodate changed consumer behaviour as shopping surges online.  

The pandemic has exposed the precariousness of a solely bricks and mortar model.  According to a recent report by McKinsey, consumers expect a relative shift to online shopping in most categories in the short term,  driven primarily by a sharp decrease in in-store shopping. In the longer term, 40 percent of consumers plan to increase online shopping once the crisis is over.

Fear of infection drives move to online

“Previous epidemics have foreshadowed this online trend,”  says Derek Cikes, Commercial Director at buy now pay later fintech, Payflex.  

“The SARS epidemic in 2003 expedited China’s path in launching digital payments and eCommerce in the country, creating a permanent shift in consumer behaviour.  Similarly, the Coronavirus has caused a marked change in South Africa’s consumer behaviour and habits, with social distancing, hygiene measures and self-quarantine now integral parts of our everyday realities,” says Cikes.

With the crisis expected to remain for the foreseeable future, these behaviours are anticipated to become further entrenched and remain even as the crisis eventually ebbs.

Shopping:  an altered reality

Shopping is no longer a leisurely, sensory-filled experience.  Instead, retailers have replaced sampling of beauty items or delightful food temptations with an antibacterial touch averse world of hand sanitizers and plexiglass barriers.  

This interaction or rather fear of interaction is driving new shopping behaviour, with consumers opting for the safety and convenience of eCommerce. And retailers are hastening to adapt to what they view as lasting changes in the way that people choose to shop as millions of consumers choose online as their preferred medium of shopping.

Epidemics’ impact on retail

According to a Global Shopping Index published by Salesforce, the number of unique digital shoppers rose 40% year-over-year for Q1 2020. 

In a South African context, 29% of online consumers say they are doing far more shopping online than before the coronavirus outbreak while 65% say they are visiting physical stores less, according to a Nielsen study of 10 markets in Africa and the Middle East, including South Africa. 

“The pandemic has fast-tracked trends that were already budding in the eCommerce space including digital and alternative payments. The 40% increase in shoppers and 25% increase in eCommerce merchant sign-ups to our platforms highlights this monumental shift towards digital as an increasingly preferred avenue of shopping and transacting,”  says Cikes.

Cikes says the increased availability of click-and-collect models, digital payment models like buy now pay later platforms and other alternative payment options,  as well as faster delivery models, are anticipated to further fuel this online revolution. 

Global players wake up to eCommerce opportunity

Major tech and retailer stores are waking up to the huge potential of eCommerce as millions of consumers choose online space for their shopping. Facebook is making a major push into e-commerce with the launch of Shops, a way for businesses to set up free storefronts on Facebook and Instagram. 

While Zara-owner Inditex recently announced plans to close up to 1,200 smaller-sized stores, and to invest 3 billion dollars in digital commerce. 

“Retailers and tech companies are recognising the significance, need and value to move online in order to accommodate consumer behaviour and sentiment for safer, seamless shopping alternatives.  It will be interesting to see the kind of personalised, targeted spin they can put on it based on their collected user data around interests and geolocation,” says Cikes.

How SA retailers can harness this opportunity

The consumer mindset has changed in terms of their relationship to eCommerce.  Online has become an accepted, go-to shopping alternative with the digital environment providing consumers with convenience, safety and access to a wide range of shopping options.

And while hygiene and safety concerns have provided the initial impetus in driving consumers online, shoppers have now experienced this environment as a feasible option with its accompanying convenience and benefits. This is entrenching the shift to online shopping, extending its impact to long after the pandemic has passed.

“We’re reaching a tipping point for eCommerce.  Standalone bricks and mortar are no longer sufficient as consumers demand more rapid digitisation solutions.  The fact that more people than ever are relying on the internet to shop for their everyday needs makes it imperative to have an online shopping model in order to remain competitive and viable.

The eCommerce revolution is here.  Those that will survive will be retailers who have a multichannel approach to sales that provides customers with an option for a seamless shopping experience from the comfort of their own homes.  This is no longer a luxury. It’s critical,” concludes Cikes. 

– Paul Behrmann, Founder & CEO of Payflex

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Economy

Why It Must All Ad Up

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With Covid-19 emphasizing the human element in advertising, brands should re-evaluate their strategies and reframe their messaging to stay relevant. Saying nothing is wrong too, add experts.

“How do we respond to the biggest global conversation taking place?” asks Robert Grace, Founding Partner: Head Of Strategy, at M&C Saatchi Abel, an integrated advertising agency with branches across Africa. “How are you actually going to match what you’re talking about with action?”

This is where advertising’s role becomes interesting, far from simply acting like a loudspeaker to products, or putting out mushy messages to engender brand loyalty.

How has marketing had to help brands pivot their messaging at this time?

The global pandemic is influencing every aspect of life. “I’ve never heard the word ‘unprecedented’ used so much. We’ve used so much hyperbolic language in this time,” says Grace.

From changing work cultures, to countries in lockdown facing economic crises, Covid-19 is impacting everyone in tangible ways. For agencies and by extension, brands, to pretend it’s not happening or go on with business as normal, reads as tone-deaf at best and disingenuous and ruthless at worst.

With that in mind, some brands have opted for silence, fearful of saying the wrong thing at the wrong time. “Saying the wrong thing is unforgivable – the consumer is smarter than they’ve ever been. You could have been in the right place but one wrong move could send you backwards,” explains Khuthala Gala-Holten, Managing Director at Joe Public in Johannesburg.

The risk of saying the wrong thing is paired with the risk of saying nothing at all. “Many brands have paused spending now, which is not the best thing to do, because people expect brands to play a role. 88% of consumers want brands to talk to them now,” says Shaun Frazao, Head of Digital at Wavemaker. The data backs this up – according to email service provider Everlytic, their March 2020 open rate was really high: 55.3 million unique opens.

Others that are still “talking” are dramatically pivoting on their marketing messages and communications.

“Whatever you say has to be authentic and not seen as a marketing opportunity,” explains Grace.

“There are some brands that should be going into quarantine over this period – don’t use this ‘opportunity’ to sell, rather use the time to refine your strategy. So that when you go back into the market, you demonstrate that you’ve understood what consumers will be wanting from your brand.”

Gala-Holten adds: “Strategy first – what are the guardrails? Sometimes clients have several agencies. So you really need to empower them with guardrails. This is now the ‘new normal’ – we will never be the same. From the creative perspective, in a way, it’s very exciting.”

Across sub-Saharan Africa, we’re seeing six key themes in communications and advertising, explains Frazao (see sidebar). “Consumer centricity needs to be first. Brands that are communicating now are looking long-term, to build trust, and not short-term at the sales they could make.”

Every agency interviewed for this article has seen a combination of two trends: contracts shrinking as businesses struggle to make money, and a shift to digital marketing. “The way business has been done will change in the advertising world. We have been moving gradually to a very focused marketing landscape, and this will be the tipping point to push them into that realm at a faster pace,” says Darren Leishman, CEO of Spitfire Inbound.

For digital agencies or agencies with digital service offerings, this shift has been less painful, but agencies with offerings like TV ads (that require crew and a studio to shoot in) and eventing (where large groups of people meet) are the hardest hit.

“People are spending more time online and media figures are reflecting higher views than normal for online ads. Clients are cutting spend in offline channels in favor of online ones. However, most brands remain very cautious with marketing spend in general at this time,” says Brian Carter, Executive Creative Director at Digitas Liquorice.

Clint Paterson, CEO at sport and entertainment agency Levergy, adds: “New behaviors and lifestyles will take root, but it’s critically important to remember, people’s passions won’t die. The role of the brand or event owner becomes one of adaption here, how can relationships be reinterpreted, reinvented and reimagined to generate the kind of connection with audiences appropriate to this new normality?”

Grace puts it another way: “Any cracks you had before Covid-19 will turn into gaping holes.”

Diana Springer, Partner: Head of Strategy for strategic consultancy Black & White, adds marketing as a whole has become increasingly performance-based and goal-orientated. But in unforeseen times, “brands have to reframe what they’re measuring,” says Springer. “Otherwise, they can lose relevance. You have to change how you define success to shift your strategy. This pandemic is really making us consider the fundamentals.”


‘6 Marketing Themes FOR This Time’

Shaun Frazao, Head of Digital at Wavemaker, advises six key pandemic-driven themes in marketing for Africa:

  • Supporting the frontline workers
  • Repurposing production (instead of making products, brands are making products to help their consumer, such as South African Breweries donating alcohol to make hand-sanitizer)
  • Helping the vulnerable
  • Health messages (posters on social distancing, Pick n Pay’s message to avoid panic buying, and SA Tourism advising people to travel later)
  • Making staying at home easier (brands are trying to be empathetic by making staying at home easier, like Vumatel increasing internet speed for free)
  • Distributing positivity (Nandos’ latest ad is all about remaining positive, and Nike did something similar).

– Samantha Steele

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Economy

The Turn of Events: Will Local Tourism Lead The Recovery Of The MICE Sector?

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With the grounding of the global aviation industry, the money-spinning meetings and events sector is also on a downward spiral. Will local tourism lead its recovery?

Mauritian bride-to-be, Olivia Maurel, was all set for the wedding of her dreams at the end of April. But with Covid-19 playing party pooper, she had to make the heart-rending decision of postponing her nuptials. With three-quarters of her guest-list expected to fly into the sunny island of Mauritius, from every corner of the globe, she had no other option.

“The risks of countries closing borders and key people, such as my fiancé’s grandmother, being unable to come from England, was a huge motivator for us to [postpone],” says Maurel.

The billion-dollar global wedding industry will probably not see any big bridal gatherings for months to come. The cognac and crystal will have to wait so long as Covid-19 is the only attendee that has RSVP-ed.

With the coronavirus cancelling significant conferences and business gatherings worldwide such as the Adobe Summit and the Game Developers Conference; as also mega sports, social and entertainment events such as Coachella, the Cannes Film Festival and the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games, the meetings, incentives, conferences and exhibitions (MICE) industry is facing the annihilating prospect of empty venues and nil revenue. Closer home, in Africa, events such as IAB Bookmarks Awards and Summit; and lifestyle and entertainment events such as AfrikaBurn, the Cape Town International Jazz Festival and the Bushfire Festival hosted in Swaziland every year, have all been casualties. And alongside that reality, life-changing events such as graduations, anniversaries and funerals are now being conducted on laptop screens.

The meetings and events industry has been impacted disproportionately by the virus. Unlike many other economic activities, the events industry is based on physical interaction between people. It’s a type of tourism in which conventions of large groups, usually planned well in advance, are organized at a physical destination.

Securing major conference events can benefit the local economy of the host city or country – particularly attracting business travelers. Research shows that business travelers are the golden goose in the travel industry. Unlike leisure travelers, they, or their sponsors, often spend more money.

 According to the South African Tourism (SAT) board, the events industry, directly and indirectly, sustains more than 250,000 jobs and contributes an estimated R115 billion ($6.2 billion) to the country’s economy.

“Every year, South Africa hosts 211,000 regional, national and international meetings, conferences and exhibitions,” says the CEO of SAT, Sisa Ntshona. “The industry has undoubtedly been heavily hit by this pandemic, which also has negative bearings on employment and the continuity of businesses in the tourism sector.” Annually, the country attracts a million international delegates for business.

As the virus continues to sweep the continent, abandoned halls and venues are being transformed into field hospitals to be used as treatment centers for patients. South Africa’s minister of health Zweli Mkhize announced in May plans to convert the Cape Town International Convention Centre to become a temporary hospital with 857 beds for patients unable to effectively self-isolate until they are no longer infectious. This comes after the FNB Stadium in Johannesburg was earmarked for the same.

A report issued at the end of March by the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) estimates international tourist arrivals could decline by 20% to 30% in 2020 based on the latest measures taken by governments, businesses as well as the patterns observed from previous global crises. The impact thereof translates to a loss of $300 billion to $450 billion in international tourism receipts (exports). Ntshona cautions to interpret data prudently given the magnitude, volatility and unprecedented nature of the crisis. “The true effect may only be accurately calculated and reflected much later,” he says.

 It’s crucial to understand how Africa was positioned pre-pandemic. Henk Graaff, who runs SW Africa, a boutique destination management company in Johannesburg specializing in inbound tourism in the MICE, luxury, golf and leisure travel segments in Africa, affirms the continent has been an attractive destination for tourists, corporates, event planners, weddings and honeymoons. Countries such as South Africa, Namibia, Botswana, Victoria Falls (Zimbabwe and Zambia), Zanzibar (Tanzania), Kenya, Rwanda and Uganda were seeing increased interest and growing in popularity as events destinations.

It’s unsurprising as Africa offers a vast array of exceptional, customized and personalized locations that exceed expectations. This is strengthened by improved infrastructure, accessibility, expansion of flights and connectivity services within the region from major source markets such as Europe, Asia and America. Attractions such as the wilderness, the Masai Mara and the mountain gorillas of East Africa are now easily accessible.

But at this time, businesses such as SW Africa are strained and seeking relief. “We received both cancellations and postponements, some of which led to demands for refunds from us and in turn from our suppliers, some of whom have been more flexible than others, leading to tension in supply chain relations,” says Graaff.

 He is pleading with suppliers to become ultra-flexible post the lockdown with regards to price, pre-payment and cancellation terms. He believes this will minimize or eliminate the perceived risk in the eyes of potential clients, who will be both relatively budget-conscious and risk-averse.

Maurel was luckier as her suppliers were more accommodating. “Thankfully, everyone has been super-understanding, and we’re all working together to find something that works for everyone’s schedules,” she says. “Luckily, my wedding dress wasn’t finished when lockdown started, so it’s still at Robyn Robert’s studio – if it hadn’t been, I would’ve been so tempted to run around in it and have a Friends moment!”

 However, some suppliers in the value chain are grappling with an even tougher predicament. According to the International Air Transport Association (IATA), no airline, regardless of how well-capitalized, would be able to absorb the impact of the Covid-19 groundings for a prolonged period. The government-imposed travel ban, social distancing and maximum limits to gatherings have caused a steep decline in passenger demand for air flights to which airlines have responded by reducing their scope of operations and costs. Many airlines have been forced to park their fleets, with most seeking financial support and debt relief measures amid the low, in some cases, non-existent demand.

 All African countries will feel the impact relative to the scope of their aviation industries, according to aviation specialist and analyst, Joachim Vermooten.

“The regulatory imposition of travel bans to and from specific states and later to airline operations have brought most scheduled commercial airline operations to a halt. Some one-way directional charter and cargo opportunities have arisen, but these are insufficient to maintain any scale of network operations,” says Vermooten. As a result, airlines are now focused on cash retention and several relief measures, including compulsory leave for staff and issuing travel vouchers and re-bookings, instead of ticket refunds to customers. The battle is uphill as several African carriers have remained financially distressed ahead of the pandemic. Air Namibia and South African Airways (SAA), for example, have been facing severe operating issues.

As global citizens navigate the new ways of engaging and working during the lockdown, technology has been both an aid and a threat to the tourism and MICE sector.

Organizations and individuals have embraced and leveraged technology to facilitate interactions. This includes the massive adoption of tools such a Zoom, Microsoft Teams and Skype. We are also seeing national tourism boards innovating through virtual reality to give travelers delightful “insperiences” from the comfort of their quarantined corners.

 To avoid minimum job losses and devastating economic damage, South Africa’s department of tourism has made R200 million ($10.8 million) available to assist small-medium enterprises (SMEs) in the tourism and hospitality sector who are under particular stress due to the lockdown restrictions.

In addition, SAT is in the process of developing an industry-wide recovery plan. “To ensure that this plan is robust, we are consulting the tourism sector from the large listed players to the SMEs to input into this plan. This plan will be a blueprint on how we move forward as an industry,” Ntshona says.

 With the end of the pandemic indeterminable, it’s currently impossible to speculate what lies on the other side. Due to seasonality and strong preventative measures taken by most African governments, the entire continent has the least positive cases and deaths from Covid-19 than other sovereign states. This might be advantageous for marketing African destinations to be considered relatively safer during the recovery phase. “At the heart of our recovery, will be domestic travel,” says Ntshona.

Even so, domestic travelers may initially favor alternative modes of travel to air, such as motor vehicle travel, further adding strain to the aviation industry.

 This is echoed by Graaff who believes domestic travel will lead the recovery, and then demand will expand to neighboring destinations and eventually further afield.

It may be a while before a new recovery path is defined, but for now, everything hangs in the air.

– Mashokane Mahlo-Ramusetheli

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