The award-winning Durban International Convention Centre hosted the sixth major international in-person conference since March 2021 and the seven-day expo which kicked off large-scale business events in the city was a resounding success.

The who’s who of African leaders attended the Intra-African Trade Fair (IATF2021) from 15 to 21 November to build a strategic platform to boost trade and investment throughout the continent.

The fair attracted 11 828 attendees (against the target of 10 000 attendees) from across Africa to see a total of 1161 exhibitors (1100 targeted) showcasing their goods and services, with $36 billion of trade and investment deals estimated to have been signed and sealed at the event, the IATF said.

An ecstatic Lindiwe Rakharebe, CEO of Durban ICC, said the convention centre lived up to expectations to successfully stage a crucial event after being almost mothballed since the COVID-19 pandemic grounded world global travel and the MICE industry.

“When the sky is grey, the sun is still ever-present and ready to share its warmth and life-giving energy when the dark clouds have lifted. The Durban ICC has always been fit and ready to rekindle the warm spirit of togetherness which the pandemic has dampened by keeping us apart,” she said.

From the opening address by President Cyril Ramaphosa; the welcoming of high-profile African delegates by KwaZulu-Natal Premier Sihle Zikalala; the trade and investment forums; the networking sessions; exhibitions; right to the closing address by Kanayo Awani, managing director of Intra-African Trade Initiative at Afreximbank, the main organiser; IATF2021 passed with flying colours.

Delivery the closing remarks on Sunday (21 November), Awani said the event exceeded all expectations and it was an all-round success, especially in light of the challenges.

Rakharebe said IATF was previously due to be held in Kigali, Rwanda. The decision to move the Trade Fair to Durban was arrived at after formal consultations with the Government of Rwanda, who indicated that logistical constraints related to the COVID-19 pandemic had adversely affected the progress of construction of a new facility to host the event.

“Thus, when the call came for Durban ICC to be the venue, we did not have to think twice. We pulled out all stops to prepare to stage an international event within five months – a mammoth undertaking which usually takes at least two years to put together,” she said.

Recalling the past 20 months, she said the COVID-19 pandemic brought travel and conference tourism to a standstill and, in the last financial year, left ICC with only 15% of the previous year’s revenue.

“However, we were determined to bounce back after the pandemic, and were confident that bookings would resume when the lockdown was progressively eased and the plague had been eliminated.

“The Durban ICC has won the World Travel Awards – Africa’s Leading Meetings and Conference Centre, no fewer than 17 times and we were single-minded about retaining the number one spot as Africa’s leading convention centre.

“Winning awards is a visible demonstration of all the behind-the-scenes hard work from the Durban ICC teams and people whose principal focus is to continuously provide world-class customer service to clients, both local and international.

“Therefore, the executive management team of the Durban ICC responded with several measures to counter the impact of the pandemic on our operations.

“Cost controls were implemented across all our operations. We extended the reliability of our infrastructure and assets, including refurbishing essential lifts, replacing non-compliant air-conditioning systems with ozone-friendly units, and providing a secure water storage and supply system.

“Cash reserves were used sparingly to meet shortfalls in revenue, ensuring sufficient funds were kept on hand for operational and other commitments, and expenditure was restricted to critical projects.

“Health and safety measures included training staff and contractors, sharing information widely across the organisation and with our trade partners, implementing all protocols, adhering to social distancing guidelines and issuing staff with the required PPE.

“Although the doors of the Durban ICC largely remained closed, staff were continually being trained so that they would be in top form when the Durban ICC resumed its central role in the city, province and country’s tourism economy, creating opportunities and jobs in the broad value chain, and supporting the transformation of our economy to become more inclusive of all our people.

“The close-knit team of employees strives to maintain the Durban ICC strong inherent culture of warmth and hospitality that we are known for. Our people are the main contributors to our success – they always ensure that each guest leaves the Durban ICC happy and satisfied with the service received.

“When we look ahead, we see a future which will be reshaped with virtual and hybrid meetings, with continuing innovation stemming from technology solutions. We look forward to a tourism sector that is stronger than ever, one that is more environmentally, socially and economically sustainable,” said Rakharebe. -ENDS

Issued by: The Inkosi Albert Luthuli International Convention Centre (Durban ICC)

For more information contact: Durban ICC Marketing Manager – Sandile Makhanya, 031 360 1192 or sandilema@icc.co.za