In Conversation With Taubie Motlhabane, CEO, Cape Town International Convention Centre (CTICC)

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ES. Please tell us about your early life and career? What was an early project you are particularly proud of and an early defining career moment?

Taubie Motlhabane. I grew up in the North West Province, where I attended school and university. My career started in public relations, communications, broadcasting, and print media, where I learned the importance of customer experience and also the power of media in promoting brands.

Subsequent significant roles include:

  • Head of Conferences and Protocol at the South African Reserve Bank.
  • Events and Marketing Manager for the City Centre Hotel in Manama, Bahrain.
  • Events Specialist at Absa Bank South Africa.
  • Head of Events at the City of Ekurhuleni.
  • Executive Director of the Tshwane Convention and Visitors Bureau (Pretoria).
  • Business Tourism Manager at South African Tourism.

All these positions cemented my passion for people and the business events industry, culminating in my line of work today. In the past year, I accepted the role of CEO of Cape Town International Convention Centre (CTICC) and was elected as the Chair for the African Chapter of the International Congress and Convention Association (ICCA).

An early career-defining moment was being part of the team that developed the strategy and plan to build the South African Reserve Bank Conference Centre, as well as its subsequent management. This was my first strong break into the business events industry and it prepared me for the position I now occupy. I am also proud to have established the educational and networking platform known as Association Day for the African associations industry at Meetings Africa during my time as Business Tourism Manager at South African Tourism.

ES. With the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic, hosting a safe and secure event has become an utmost priority for any venue organiser. How much importance does the ‘Safe Travels’ stamp make during these times?

Taubie Motlhabane. The World Travel and Tourism Council’s “Safe Travels” certification was created to assist travellers in recognising destinations and businesses around the world that have adopted global standardised health and hygiene protocols. Receiving such an important certification gives our current and future clients peace of mind when visiting the complex. This stamp of approval is even more important now, as it highlights to our visitors that we adhere to strict health and safety procedures, and that we are compliant with all Covid-19 protocols.

ES. Could you please highlight some of the health and hygiene standards maintained by the CTICC?

Taubie Motlhabane. At the CTICC, we have always had strict health and hygiene standards in place. However, with Covid-19, we have upgraded our response by instating new and improved protocols under the name “C19-Care©”. These protocols consider current World Health Organisation (WHO) guidelines so that we can continue ensuring the health and safety of our guests, clients and employees. We will continue to update our C19-Care© protocols as new information becomes available about Covid-19.

The CTICC’s C19-Care© protocols include the following:

  • Digital screening and tracing of all visitors.
  • Appropriate response to and diversion of Covid-19 high-risk visitors.
  • Facilitation of social distancing, wearing of masks and sanitising of hands before entering the centre.
  • Management of delegate movements and flow within the venue to encourage social distancing.
  • A dedicated team who continuously cleans/sanitises all hard surfaces, especially high contact surfaces, as well as AV equipment.
  • Adoption of a remote working model for staff to minimise the risk of exposure.

ES. How is the CTICC efficient in managing large and small events/conferences? How does it offer unrivalled flexibility to the shows? Can you highlight key features that set it apart from other venues?

Taubie Motlhabane. Whether clients are planning a large international trade fair or a small half-day conference, the CTICC’s unique and expansive facilities offer unrivalled flexibility in the types of venues available, as well as their customisability. The CTICC provides meeting rooms with beautiful views of the city from floor to ceiling windows, natural-light filled conservatories and incredible mountain-view roof terraces. We also have a wide selection of meeting pods and suites, a sub-divisible ballroom of 1 876m2, two raked auditoria, restaurants, coffee shops and, of course, our exhibition halls. Although the CTICC is only hosting small in-person meetings due to current Covid-19 restrictions, the centre has further enhanced its flexibility by offering digital and hybrid event solutions. One of the best things about bringing an event to the CTICC is the friendly and professional staff that facilitates a seamless experience, as evidenced by our 85% customer satisfaction rating . By providing advice, support, and expertise, and being on-hand during event days, we ensure that every event is world-class.

ES. What are some of the initiatives undertaken by the CTICC to assist clients in creating ‘green’ events and generating business with a positive economic impact?

Taubie Motlhabane. We are as committed to protecting the planet as our clients and the centre can help customise and green events to clients’ requirements, creating extraordinary experiences for their delegates and visitors while also ensuring their events have a reduced impact on the environment.

Our sustainability initiatives include:

  • A portion of each conference package is contributed to the Nurture Our World (NOW) Fund, which is utilised in aid of the CTICC’s local community partner activations.
  • Event organisers are encouraged to discuss ways to offset their carbon footprint.
  • A green events checklist has been included in the marketing collateral to create more awareness of event greening.
  • Locally produced food and beverages are used where possible and we only provide fish from the SASSI Green list.
  • The use of compostable and recyclable take away food containers for all public catering events.
  • Kitchen waste is segregated and diverted from landfill and sent to fly farms or to our composting company to make bokashi.
  • On-site bottled water is provided utilising the Vivreau dispenser system in conjunction with our reusable bottles or jugs.
  • Cork-less wine bottles are sourced, and those with corks are handed over to the waste company for recycling.
  • Provide several Fairtrade wines or organic wines, as well as biodynamic wines (wines produced in a holistic, ecological, and ethical farming approach).
  • Provide recycled/green conference items (notepads, pencils and pens, for example).
    Provide a multi-bin system to encourage recycling, with separation at source.
  • Upcycle exhibition items, such as wood from custom stands, furniture left behind and packaged food, by donating those items to organisations in need.

ES. You said in a statement, “2020 was an unusual year; but like a chameleon responding to its changing environment, the CTICC adapted to the challenges presented by Covid-19.” What are those? Please elaborate.

Taubie Motlhabane. Like many businesses around the world, Covid-19 has had a significant impact on the CTICC. The CTICC adheres to the Government’s Covid-19 regulations, which has meant that the number of events and the size of those events at our centre has been significantly reduced. To mitigate the impact on the business, the CTICC has undertaken various initiatives.

Some of the initiatives include:

  • Concluding a rental agreement with the Western Cape Government (WCG) for use of the facilities during the pandemic for the storage of medical supplies and as a temporary Covid-19 hospital. Concluding a rental agreement with the Western Cape Government (WCG) for use of the facilities during the pandemic for the storage of medical supplies and as a temporary Covid-19 hospital.
  • Offering virtual conferencing facilities.
  • Reducing operational costs by mothballing the CTICC 1 building after the Covid-19 hospital was closed.
  • A freeze placed on vacancies, bonus payments and salary increases.
  • Minimal paid advertising and marketing.
  • Only incurring critical maintenance and capital expenditure.
  • A staff cost reduction programme (which included a reduction in headcount).

ES. What are your new priorities and strategies in the year 2021?

Taubie Motlhabane. The CTICC is striving to adapt and find innovative strategies by employing an evolving business model, one which sees us becoming more agile and responsive.

In order to secure our future, we have adopted a four-part approach that includes:

  • Adapting to the Covid-19 environment by a) instituting our in-house C19-Care© programme, which ensures all Covid-19 regulations are followed, b) enabling our staff to work remotely, c) implementing Covid-19 venue protocols so that our centre and meeting spaces remain safe, and d) continuing to offer digital and hybrid events.
  • Creating our own events so that new revenue opportunities can be realised while also allowing us to support small businesses and boost job creation in our region. Two of our own events, The Gift Fair (launched in November 2019) and the AllSport Expo, a one-stop-shop sporting exhibition (launched last year) demonstrates our commitment to pursuing this strategy as a viable revenue resource. We are currently developing three more own events, namely: This is Art, the Ultimate Beverage Trade Show, called BevEx, and a procurement conference yet to be named.
  • Expanding our African footprint, with the intention of focusing on local markets as a resource with opportunities to explore. We are working on securing more regional conferences, having already hosted a number of Africa-themed events, including AfricaCom and Investing in African Mining Indaba.
  • Improving our forward book – having already secured over 200 events into the future, by continuing to expand our forward book, we continue to stoke the embers of our struggling sector and economy for its eventual revival.

ES. How many MICE events are organised at the CTICC in a year? Please name some big MICE events organised at the CTICC?

Taubie Motlhabane. The total number of events held at the CTICC in the 2019/20 financial year came to 397, of which 34 were international conferences, 33 were national conferences, five were exhibitions and 11 were trade fairs. The largest international conference held in 2019/20 was AfricaCom 2019, which was also an exhibition, and was attended by 11 527 delegates. The World Economic Forum on Africa 2019, the 36th International Society for Quality in Healthcare International Conference and the Investing in African Mining Indaba 2020 all attracted over 1 000 delegates to their respective conferences.

ES. How do you utilise technology and innovation to engage your MICE guests? What is the latest trend use at the CTICC which makes it way ahead of other venues?

Taubie Motlhabane. The CTICC has responded to the constraints on public meetings and can safely provide for smaller in-person meetings when requested. But one of the most innovative ways we have pivoted during the Covid-19 pandemic is through our offering of digital and hybrid solutions so that clients can host much larger numbers without any worries. The very latest technology has been harnessed to create these events, with state-of-the-art infrastructure and technology incorporating MICE industry best practices. The technology in place includes 1 792 network points, 1 496 fibre optic points and 28km of fibre, which caters for high-speed, high-volume traffic. Wi-Fi connectivity is enabled through a combination of high and standard density points, providing for a combined total of 15 000 connections with an internet connectivity uplink of 10 gigabytes. And that’s just in CTICC 2. Additionally, both CTICC 1 and CTICC 2 have a state-of-the-art Building Management System in place that automates the control of services throughout the complex. This includes the lighting, shading, access control, security systems and air-conditioning. Everything is interconnected, allowing us to provide clients with a streamlined, safe, and efficient service offering.

ES. What will be the top 3 trends in the year 2021?

Taubie Motlhabane. The trends we are seeing include:

  • A rise in hybrid events due to a reluctance to travel brought on by the Covid-19 pandemic. The advantage of hybrid events is the ability for content to reach a larger global audience.
  • The growth of local and regional events, with the virtual and or hybrid element attached.
  • An increase in the need for the diversification of business models for the MICE industry.

ES. What is your message to the industry?

Taubie Motlhabane. Covid-19 has shown the world the importance of working together to solve problems, as can be clearly seen in the teamwork and cooperation it took to develop the various Covid-19 vaccines in a very short amount of time. It is important to continue to work together as an industry as we go towards recovery and beyond. Our strength is in our collaborations and partnerships.