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Where Conferences Meet The Coast

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KwaZulu-Natal in South Africa is not just azure seas and white beaches. It is increasingly drawing business and the MICE sector to its sunny coast, says Sonto Mayise. 

The KwaZulu-Natal (KZN) province of South Africa offers a breath-taking vignette of visuals, ranging from the majestic mountains to the azure sea and white beaches. But it also boasts convention centers that bring travelers from the rest of Africa and beyond. Sonto Mayise, the Acting Chief of the Convention Bureau, says you can have the views, the world-class hotels and state-of-the-art conference centers but they mean nothing without the warmth of the people. She tells us how business tourism is growing in KZN and its coastal city Durban:

What are the main attractions in Durban at this moment?

It comes down to what you see when you land. The beauty of our people in the Zulu Kingdom takes it all. You come in and people smile at you, they are welcoming. It is an attraction of its own. It’s the first-hand experience you give a traveler that will make a lasting impression.

How are you attracting business to KZN?

I see my mandate in terms of going after events and bringing conferences, meetings and exhibitions to destination Durban and KZN; over and above the mandate of bidding for events, of making sure that you give all the support required, you need to make sure you create relationships and that you maintain and nurture them as well.

What are the trends you have noticed in terms of tourism in general in KZN?

There is a shift in terms of people knowing about Durban as a [leisure] destination. The ICC in Durban is rated as the leading convention center in Africa. We say as a gateway, as Durban, we have what you need in terms of hosting big events. I’ve picked up that people always come as business tourists and a few months down the line or in a year, they come back as tourists. It is like killing two birds with one stone.

READ MORE: All Roads To The Economic Powerhouse

How does the MICE (Meetings, Incentives, Conferences, Exhibitions) industry here compare with Cape Town, Gauteng and the rest of Africa?

Internationally, people think of Cape Town and Gauteng as ideal provinces to bring business to and often ask where Durban is. We work twice as hard in promoting Durban as a gateway. We are not only promoting Durban but the KZN province as a gateway. We are still in a space where we compete with Cape Town; in instances, it will be leading in conferences, but in terms of delegate numbers, Durban will always be the highest. More and more people are having big conferences in Durban. We can name the World Economic Forum we hosted in 2016, the AIDS conference which was the biggest in 2016 and the BRICS Business Council we just hosted.

What are the top business sectors Durban attracts?

This is about creating relationships more than anything else. That is part of the mandate for bidding for events. This is confirmation that I am doing something right in the industry. They can see the best that we are doing in KZN and now we are taking the FORBES WOMAN AFRICA Leading Women Summit to Durban [in 2019]. There is much that still needs to be done so we can change and also empower our black people and young women in the MICE industry.

How has the maritime industry developed in recent years?

The moment you grow the maritime sector, the more you grow the business events sector. We have one of the biggest ports in Durban so when people want an event in the cargo space, they can’t go to Johannesburg or Cape Town. They need to go to Durban and they can only do that if we grow the sector as a maritime destination.

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