Meetings report: Johannesburg

Jo’burg is currently undergoing some remarkable changes. Tom Otley reports on the resurgent South African meetings and events destination

Johannesburg is in the middle of an astonishing turnaround for a city that, until only a few years ago, had seen both businesses and residents take flight to the suburbs. Investment centred around the 2010 FIFA World Cup – most notably the superb Gautrain system from OR Tambo International airport through the city centre and out to the suburbs – has transformed the city.

Johannesburg was set to have a projected 2.54 million international visitors in 2013, making it the most popular destination in Africa according to the third annual Mastercard Global Destination Cities Index. It has seen a 53.6 per cent growth in international visitors from 2009 to 2013, making it one of the Index’s top 20 fastest growing cities globally, and comes out top in Africa in terms of international visitor spending, with US$2.7 billion estimated to be injected into the city during 2013.

Unlike Cape Town, Jo’burg has always been principally a business destination, with 36 per cent of local visitors and 32 per cent of international visitors travelling there for the sole purpose of business.

Travel is an important part of the economy of the city and South Africa as a whole: the estimated direct spend from tourism-related activities for 2012 was approximately US$3.5 billion, or just under US$7 billion for indirect spend and ancillary services. Given that the gross regional product (GRP) for Johannesburg was US$37 billion for 2012, the contribution makes up some 20 per cent of the total.

Nonnie Kubeka of the Gauteng Conventions and Events Bureau says the city is popular for meetings, incentives, conferences and exhibitions (MICE) events because of the airport’s unrivalled status as the African aviation hub. “They come because we are an African and international hub, because they have headquarters here, or because there has been a bid for it [MICE business]. You can also fly overnight here from lots of places.”

Visitors come from the UK, Germany, the US, India and China, and as far as association business is concerned, Jo’burg recently rose 92 places in the International Congress and Convention Association (ICCA) rankings from 234 to 142, and large shows are selecting the city, including the Johannesburg International Motor Show and the first Bauma Africa trade fair for construction machinery.

Jo’burg is the most powerful commercial centre in Africa, generating 16 per cent of South Africa’s gross domestic product (GDP) and employing 12 per cent of the national workforce. It is the financial capital of South Africa and is home to 75 per cent of SA’s corporate headquarters, with the Johannesburg Stock Exchange (JSE) rated as one of the top 20 exchanges in the world in terms of market capitalisation.

Some 55 airlines fly into OR Tambo and there is a great range of convention and meeting space, and accommodation and support services, as well as excellent infrastructure and an ease of doing business. Currently the trend is to host the convention/exhibition/meeting in Jo’burg, with pre- and post-tours to the rest of the province and the country, and into the continent.

Jo’burg has four convention centres capable of hosting between 5,000 and 20,000 people: the Gallagher Convention Centre, the Sandton Convention Centre, the Coca-Cola Dome and the Expo Centre.

However, that’s not the whole story – there are around 130 other state-of-the-art venues of various styles and sizes in the city, and Buying Business Travel investigates some of the lesser known, high-quality options.

This former farmstead in the upmarket suburb of Rivonia, ten miles north of central Johannesburg, was where the ANC leadership would meet to discuss and debate the fight against apartheid in the 1960s. Nelson Mandela stayed here between 1960 and 1962, posing as a chauffeur,  with his wife, Winnie, visiting him with their children. The farm was raided by the police in July 1963 and papers incriminating Mandela in plans for armed insurrection against the South African state were found. Facing the death penalty at the famous Rivonia trial, Mandela made one of his most famous speeches.

Today Liliesleaf is not only a superb museum dedicated to an understanding of the past, but is also aimed at future reconciliation, with chief executive Nicholas Wolpe planning for it to be a place of “engagement, debate and discourse”. The grounds are peaceful, and the buildings renovated and filled with interesting interactive exhibits. There are also several dedicated event areas, from a 70-seat auditorium to meeting rooms of various sizes.

The flexible and spacious Urban Tree event space is in the Eastgate industrial area on the edge of Sandton. A total area of 2,700sqm includes reception, cocktail and bar areas, a dining room, a stage and lounges, production offices, changing areas, crew facilities and a third-floor roof garden allowing visitors to see an aspect of Johannesburg they may well find surprising – leafy suburbs among the rolling hills of Strathavon and Morningside, as well as the modern skyline of Sandton City.

The venue can take up to 500 guests for a banquet, and a maximum of 1,000 for drinks, and has the ability to host everything from small gatherings (dinners from 50 upwards) to large events, such as car launches.

The Rand Club was founded in 1887 and the present building dates from 1904, though the interior was completely refurbished in 2005 following a fire. The club has several outstanding rooms available for hire, and for any event it gives a sense of the history of both the city, and the country. The main dining room on the first floor has chandeliers, a colour scheme of soft powder blue interspersed with white, and Burmese teak furnishings. It can host up to 220 people for a banquet. Other rooms include the Rhodes Room, on the second floor, which can cater for up to 70 people for lunches, dinners, business meetings and cocktail parties.

Maboneng, meaning ‘place of light’, is the new up-and-coming industrial area of Johannesburg – think the Meatpacking District in New York or Spitalfields in London. Home to new business start-ups, galleries, and trendy restaurants and coffee shops, it also has plenty of function spaces. For instance, the Main Event Space is available for hire six days a week (Sundays are for market days), and it can be used for exhibitions, awards ceremonies and cocktail-style functions, as well as weddings. There is also Open, which is shared office space for both members and day-users. Maboneng is available for events, presentations and launches, and its dedicated events team deals with all enquiries for the various spaces.

With fantastic views of Johannesburg, Randlords is a rooftop bar-and-lounge venue on the 22nd floor of South Point Towers in the Braamfontein district of the city. There are 360-degree views though floor-to-ceiling windows, taking in everything from the FNB soccer stadium in Soweto to the suburban Sandton skyline. The venue is open both day and night, and can accommodate banquets for up to 120 people, and receptions for up to 450.

Set in the upmarket Sandown suburbs, the newly-opened and stylish business hotel The Maslow is ideal for accessing the Sandton Convention Centre. It also has impressive meeting facilities itself: there’s a ballroom that seats up to 400 for a banquet (600 theatre-style) and a separate auditorium that can be used for presentations.

There is a good-sized business centre (with computer terminals and printers), and meeting rooms on the ground floor ranging in size from 23sqm to 54sqm, all with natural light and access to either the lawns or the decking area for the swimming pool. There’s a break-out room with coloured bean bags and some novel technology allowing the walls to be used as giant flipboard charts.


  • World Credit Congress
  • Pan African Franchise Federation Conference
  • Pan Pacific Association Business Congress
  • Metropolis– The World Association of Major Metropolises
  • Chartered Institute of Management Accountants (CIMA)  Global Challenge
  • Commonwealth Parliamentary Association Congress
  • International Council of Management Consulting Institutes
  • One Young World Summit
  • World Agility Championships
  • WADA (World Anti Doping Agency) Congress

COMING UP FOR 2014/15…

  • C40 Summit on Climate Change (February 4-6, 2014)
  • General Meeting of the International Mineralogical Association (September 1-5, 2014)
  • World Orchid Conference and Show (September 8-12, 2014)
  • World Congress of Healthy Ageing (March 21-26, 2015)


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