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American Express Meetings & Events examines perceptions of Africa among meetings professionals

Study Highlights How Insight into Attitude and Familiarity with a Proposed Destination is Crucial to Consider in Designing a Successful Meetings & Events Programm

American Express Meetings & Events released new research exploring the factors impacting the selection of Africa as a rising meetings and events destination.  
The study, titled “Emerging Africa: Exploring Meetings on a Changing Continent,” offers the meetings and events community an inside look into the perception and intentions of corporate and supply-side meetings professionals and provides insights into how meetings professionals view meeting capabilities within specific African regions.


With its results, the study highlights the importance of evaluating perceptions, as well as the benefit to be gained from education by regional suppliers, in informing destination selection as part of a meetings and events programme.    

Africa has long been a popular travel destination attracting those who seek adventure and unique experiences.  As a whole, Africa continues to rise in popularity, bringing new travellers to the continent from near and far.  At the same time, Africa has also become a global hot spot for business development, with the number of planned hotel openings up 40 percent in 2015 compared to 2013, according to the American Express Meetings & Events 2015 Forecast. Now more than ever before, there is a desire among the meetings community to convene in Africa; therefore, a deeper understanding of the continent and its regions has become increasingly critical for meetings professionals.   

Key findings from the study include:
·       Nearly 10 percent of the meetings held by survey respondents in the past two years took place in Africa. 
·       More than half of respondents indicated that interest in Africa as a destination for meetings and events is increasing.
·       When selecting a destination, meetings planners most value having suppliers they know and trust and the ability to offer viable air transportation options for attendees.
·       Among those surveyed, 67 percent consider themselves unfamiliar with the West Africa regio
n.  Across Africa’s other regions, North Africa and Southern Africa are the most well-regarded by meetings professionals due to their infrastructures, facilities, technology and safety.  

“As global companies expand and look to bring their meetings and events to emerging regions, such as Africa, meetings planners must consider a variety of factors when selecting their meetings destinations,” said Issa Jouaneh, Senior Vice President and General Manager, American Express Meetings & Events. “In looking at Africa specifically, our study provides the meetings and events industry unique insight into the perceptions and familiarity – or lack thereof – of planners with this region.  We hope it can serve as a baseline from which the industry can consider opportunities for education and local insight.”  

Current Meetings Environment in Africa
While total meetings activity in Africa is low compared to North America and Europe, approximately 40 percent of the survey respondents reported at least some meetings activity in Africa. When asked to look ahead to the next two years, the respondents predicted that the percentage of their meetings activity in Africa will likely remain approximately 10 percent.   

When asked about hotel and air rates in the coming years, approximately 36 percent of meetings professionals believe average group rates for African hotels and air prices will increase by 2017, consistent with predicted increases in hotel and air rates in other parts of the world. Those surveyed shared that group rates for hotels are expected to increase by 1.2 percent and average group rates for air are expected to increase by 1.6 percent over the next two years.  

Opportunity to Increase Familiarity
As specific regions across Africa work to attract a greater number of meetings and events, the continent as a whole faces considerable barriers tied to overall awareness and familiarity among meetings professionals. Only 60 percent of those surveyed indicated a degree of familiarity with North or Southern Africa; the percentage drops significantly when considering awareness of the Central, West, or East African regions, for which over half of the respondents expressed a complete lack of familiarity.  

As a result of the lack of familiarity, industry professionals are less certain when examining how African destinations compare to other regions when it comes to obtaining visas, managing payments and managing contracts. Furthermore, there continues to be an abiding perception among those familiar with the region that managing group travel in Africa is more difficult compared to other destinations.  

Qualities to Consider When Exploring Africa as a Meetings Destination
When it comes to selecting a meeting or event destination, survey respondents most value working with suppliers they know and trust, having a variety of air transportation options for attendees, and offering a destination that attendees will be enthusiastic about and one they themselves would like to visit. With those meetings essentials covered, the factors that follow relate to conveniences, infrastructure, and concerns about Ebola, terrorism, and crime.  

The study revealed key perceptions about specific African regions and how these perceptions can impact the decision to host a meeting or event in these regions. In some instances, respondents painted the continent with a broad brush and attributed qualities existent in one region to the other regions, especially in terms of infrastructure, attractions, safety, presence of suppliers, disease, terrorism, and crime.  However, clear regional differences do exist.  

·       North Africa: North Africa rates high when it comes to desired activities and attractions; its significant infrastructure; and facilities, technology and amenities to support meetings and events, including convention centers and hotels.

·       Southern Africa: Southern Africa is the most well-regarded of the five African regions, and is viewed to exemplify those qualities most important to a meetings planner’s consideration in infrastructure and facilities; however, some concerns over safety related to crime continue to persist.

·       Central Africa: While meetings professionals themselves are most interested in visiting Central Africa (due to the inclusion by this study of safari destinations like Zimbabwe, Zambia and Congo in this region), Central Africa does not rate highly as a desired destination for meetings and events due to its perceived lack of necessary technology and poor infrastructure to support the needs of meetings professionals.

·       East Africa: East Africa possesses a number of unique attractions and is cited as a destination meetings professionals are interested in personally visiting; however, these positive perceptions are limited. Similar to Central Africa, the region does not rate highly overall when it comes to the key characteristics of a meetings destination, due to recent concerns over safety, as well as a perception of the spread of Ebola – even though reported cases of Ebola have been limited to West Africa.

·       West Africa: Of all the regions, West Africa inspires the least amount of interest as a meetings destination. Meetings professionals remain highly concerned with the region’s infrastructure, amenities, terrorism, crime, and the prevalence of disease.  

Conclusion
While Africa continues to face challenges, the economic growth and expansion of global and multinational companies continues to drive meetings and events activities to the region.  To support the goals of these companies and deliver a successful meetings experience for attendees, this study can help meetings planners consider their own perceptions and gain insight to inform decision-making in the future.  Suppliers – including major hotel chains, airlines, convention centers and local visitors bureaus – have an opportunity to work together to clarify misperceptions and highlight those cities and countries within Africa that are strong destination candidates for meetings and events.  

 
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