2010 is the best opportunity that South Africa has had, certainly since 1994 and quite probably ever before or ever again, to position and promote ourselves on the international stage as a successful country that can prove the Afro-pessimists wrong. As one of the nine host cities, Cape Town has as much, if not more, opportunity than the rest of the country to make the most of the world’s biggest sporting event.
It is widely recognised today that development does not take place at a national level, but at the level of cities and city regions. Likewise, the opinions of journalists, tourists, business leaders and other opinion makers about the country as a whole will be determined by their experiences in the host cities. Therefore, it is up to us in the host cities to make sure that the country hosts a successful World Cup, more than the country itself.
As a business organisation consisting of 40 of the Cape’s biggest companies, Accelerate Cape Town is committed to working towards the development of our region into what we refer to as the “Southern Tiger”, a region characterised by high, sustainable, inclusive economic growth over the next twenty years. We see the 2010 FIFA World Cup as a very important step in that long-term process, especially because of its potential to address perceptions about the city and the region as not being a serious business destination.
It is clear that Cape Town currently has a perception problem. We are consistently voted one of the greatest holiday destinations on earth, but at the same time we are not seen as a serious player in the world of business. For example, some 18 months ago the head of the Johannesburg Chamber of Commerce was quoted in a Mail & Guardian article as saying “I`d imagine that being in Cape Town or Durban, you’d feel out of that international loop. Cape Town and Durban are basically villages.” There is no doubt in my mind that this perception has contributed to the decisions by companies such as Shell, Old Mutual and BP to move their head offices out of the Cape.
The World Cup gives us an opportunity to change these perceptions, particularly since we will be hosting literally thousands of business visitors from 64 countries; guests of the sponsors, groups on incentive packages and so on. That is why the City of Cape Town’s current positioning for 2010 – of Cape Town as “Africa’s party capital” – distresses me. Not only are we reinforcing the message that we are not a business destination but a beach resort; we are actually promoting the idea of Cape Town as a South African version of Ibiza. There is evidently a lack of understanding of the nature of the average football tourist; an understanding that is very clear amongst our foreign compatriots. Suggesting that we are “Africa’s party capital” will actually chase away potential business visitors, who would rather not be subjected to mobs of drunken louts that have chosen to base themselves in Cape Town because that’s where the party’s at.
As a matter of urgency, Cape Town business needs to develop a common business brand, something that we simply do not have today. If it is too late and we are too far down the track to get rid of the “party” brand for 2010, then at least we should have a business brand to sit alongside it. Accelerate Cape Town commits itself to working with the other business stakeholders in the region on coming up with one sooner rather than later. Personally, I like the idea of Cape Town being “Where the world meets”. This tagline could even incorporate the “party” brand, because people meet to have a party, just as much as they meet to hold a conference, do business deals or purchase a property.
Whether Cape Town does make the most of the 2010 World Cup or not is actually up to the business community more than anyone else. It is the business community that will welcome people, excite them, give them special offers, provide them with service, advertise to them, accept their money and discuss with them future opportunities for living, working, studying or investing in Cape Town.
Currently, however, Cape business is still in wait-and-see mode, unwilling to engage with this scary monster for fear of it being a failure or for lack of knowledge of what we can and cannot do within the very restrictive constraints imposed by FIFA. We are waiting patiently for government or the local organising committee (LOC) to tell us what they are going to do to make this tournament a success and what the business opportunities are for us. Time is running out and we need to wake up to the fact that the City, the Province, the LOC and the other players who have been there since the beginning are far too busy delivering on the very important job of ensuring that the stadium, the roads, the airport, the train station, the bus rapid transit system and other ambitious projects are completed on time. How can we expect them to find the time to also help us identify business opportunities? Besides anything else, the majority of people in government don’t come from business, and I personally wouldn’t be asking them for advice on the subject. It should be business who is helping business come up with business opportunities for 2010.
This is why Accelerate Cape Town and the Cape Regional Chamber are working together to develop a series of 2010 Business Opportunities Workshops. Part of this process is to conduct significant research into the real opportunities that exist for ordinary businesses, including understanding the legal issues in detail and sharing lessons from other major events around the world. We hope that through these workshops, as well as the development of a handbook and dissemination of the information via the media, we will not only encourage businesses to develop creative approaches that have not yet been considered, but also to become enthusiastically engaged in this awesome event. That will take us at least some of the way to emulating Paris, which has received accolades for its enthusiastic and creative approach to making Rugby World Cup supporters feel at home and alive with rugby fever (in a city where most of the people have never really got into rugby).
If we do manage to get the messaging right to encourage business people to visit our city in 2010 and we give them a friendly, fun and exciting experience, we can be sure of one thing; there will be a lot of influential people running over in their minds how they can spend more time in the Cape, whether that is by doing business, investing or buying property. This place does that to one. What we can’t afford to do in that case is let them slip away without engaging with them and offering them local opportunities.
We do this currently. Cape Town is today the 29th busiest conferencing destination in the world, with literally thousands of business visitors passing through our region every week. But we do not do enough to collar them while they are still hot prospects and turn them into active investors in our local economy.
Accelerate Cape Town is hoping to address this shortcoming by creating an international business hub; a proactive network of networks that draws on the connections and opportunities that exist within structures such as Wesgro, the chambers of commerce, the Black Management Forum, the Afrikaanse Handels Instituut and others. This is beginning with a virtual presence on the web, and the intention is to set up a physical presence before 2010, with facilities for networking, events and information. The physical location will ideally be based in or around the CTICC, which hosts the vast majority of South Africa’s international conferences.
The concept is largely modelled on the very successful Business Club Australia, which has facilitated billions of dollars of investments by leveraging large events to actively connect foreign business visitors with local business opportunities ever since the Sydney 2000 Olympics.
According to research done in the USA by an organisation called CEOs for Cities, there are four key ingredients to developing successful cities and regions, namely 1) the ability to attract talent, 2) connections within the city and between the city and the rest of the world, 3) distinctiveness that makes the city stand above the crowd, and 4) the capacity for innovation. I believe that Cape Town has the potential to lead in all four of these ingredients, and the 2010 World Cup provides us with ample chance to demonstrate why.
We hope that the initiatives that we have embarked upon and that I have mentioned here will help get Capetonians off their seats and involved in making the most of the amazing opportunity afforded us by the 2010 World Cup. We look forward to hearing from as many businesspeople in the city region as possible about what they are planning to do to put our region on the map and change the perception out there that we are no more than a visdorpie, a nice place to visit but not to do any serious business in.