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A conceptual framework towards conference tourism competitiveness
Welthagen, Lisa Charmaine
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The conference industry is showing significant growth and has become an integral part of global tourism. The International Congress and Convention Association (ICCA) has ranked South Africa as one of the top 15 long-haul meetings destinations globally. South Africa aims to host approximately 53 international association conferences over the next four years, which will attract approximately 97000 association professionals and generate R1.4 billion in economic impact for the country. Yet the conference industry is a young, dynamic and growing industry which has untapped research potential/needs, specifically from a competitiveness and sustainability perspective. Notably, the South African government has recognised this need and identified the valuable contribution of conference tourism towards economic growth and sustainability. The National Tourism Sector Strategy (South African Tourism, 2016) recognises events as a strategic gateway to competitiveness. South Africa has successfully hosted a diverse portfolio of successful events and conferences. However, the concern remains that these events and conferences need to be sustainable in a competitive environment. There are many studies and models on the importance of branding and competitiveness of destinations and venues, but few of these include the aspects of conference tourism. Currently, there is no framework indicating the competitive factors, the attributes of the conference industry and how the framework should be utilised. It is the purpose of this study to develop a conceptual framework for conference tourism competitiveness, thus addressing a knowledge gap in the conference tourism domain. The literature review provided a body of knowledge drawing from the fields of tourism, conferencing and competitiveness, demonstrating the interconnectedness of the research topic. An important contribution to this study was the proposed definition of conference competitiveness. Furthermore it was established that destination competitiveness differs from that of conference competitiveness and that conference tourism has a unique set of competitive attributes. The aim of this study was therefore to develop a conceptual framework for conference tourism competitiveness that could be a useful tool for government planners, strategists and policy makers and to encourage proactive participation with all relevant stakeholders. Furthermore, the framework can assist stakeholders in developing marketing strategies to sell South Africa as a conference destination and make conferencing in South Africa a more competitive and sustainable industry. The data for the study was obtained through qualitative data (interviews) and quantitative data (questionnaire). Through semi-structured interviews with industry stakeholders, conference themes (attributes) that affect conference competititiveness were identified, which were then used to develop the questionnaire that was administered to international and domestic delegates attending conferences in Cape Town, Durban and Johannesburg. The conferences were a mix of association, academic and industry conferences. A total of 300 questionnaires were analysed using a reputable analysis process. Section A provided the results of the qualitative findings of the industry stakeholders. The findings yielded that location, accessibility, price, food and technology were the five top ranked conference competitiveness attributes. Section B provided the results of the quantitative data supplied by the delegates. The main factors and the sub-factor attributes were reported using descriptive analysis. The data was then subjected to the AHP online calculator to determine the main factor priorities and the sub-factor priorities of the attributes. The delegates ranked general conference attributes first, conference venue facilities second, conference services third and destination elements fourth. Amongst the conference attributes, general conference attributes were ranked as the top priority and destination elements the last. In relation to destination elements, safety and security; value and cost; and attractions and activities were deemed top priorities, with accessibility and weather as the lowest priorities. Conference services yielded that value and cost, program and accommodation were top priorities, with size of conference and entertainment as the lowest priorities. Regarding conference venue facilities, service quality and facilities/services were rated as top priority, with advanced technology and venue design as the lowest priorities. General conference attributes saw environmental practices as the top priority, with political and economic stability and promotional business tourism as equal priorities. The results were subjected to a one sample t-test to determine the effect size of the variables and practical significance