Sustainable events industry: Successes and failures

Event tourism is a growing global phenomenon. All events have impacts on the economy, environment and society – playing an important role in communities. Events add to the quality of life for local residents and driving tourists to an area. Events provide an opportunity to showcase positive community brands and image to the media, business community and visitors and further create economic impact that translates into jobs, tax revenues and enhanced infrastructure improvements. ‘Community Capital’ (as it is referred to by IFEA Africa, International Festivals and Events Association Africa) is built as a direct outcome of events, e.g. through exposure of artists, local community programmes and experiences.

Events include, but is not limited to, business meetings, exhibitions, festivals, entertainment, government interventions and sports events. The event management process of planning, preparing and production creates opportunities for rich localised work integrated learning experience and job creation.

The 2000 National Skills Development Strategy (NSDS1) provided the platform for a visionary skills development initiative. In 2002 the first learnership in Event Support was funded by The Business Trust working with THETA – the Tourism, Hospitality, & Sport Education and Training Authority. A sustainable curriculum was developed to upgrade service levels, build capacity and promote job creation in this field to generate increased economic revenues from events and event tourism. The skills based competencies were linked directly to internationally validated performance outcomes with wider opportunities for employment and career success (Silvers 2000). A group of 200 learners from across the Gauteng province participated in the year long programme that would took us into communities where we were privileged to participate in real community experiences.

The possibilities for events based on local assets created wonderful opportunities, as well, traditional event and event tourism. There is often criticism on the ‘waste of money on events’ – and our response is – which part of the event value chain? The agro-ecology – from the Urban Farm in Bertrams, in the Inner City of Johannesburg to the large scale farmers, from the local community markets to the 2010 FIFA World Cup – the growers, the pickers, the transport, the small and large food and beverage suppliers for events, the venues, the decorators, the event organisers, the event security, the event marketing, the recyclers…where is the waste?

The South African events industry has the potential to create 876,785 jobs by simply planning, preparing and producing small events, based on local assets in local communities. There are 4,277 wards in South Africa. In each of these wards, a group of 205 youth – entry level and graduates could embark on a skills development journey, mentored, coached and support by local businesses and event industry experts.

Our challenge would be to create and sustain a physical and virtual place- making portfolio of harmonized places, flowing one from another, yielding cross-demand through the portfolio, generating new forms of revenue, driving sales of authentic commodities, goods services and experiences (Pine & Gilmore, 2007) that could maximise the multiplier effect and contribute towards poverty eradication.

Policies like the amended BBBEE Act, the National Minimum Standard for Responsible Tourism, government commitment to procurement on 10 products from SME’s and Co-operatives, including Events all are in place to support enterprise development in the event value chain. However, the challenge remains this: With the best will in the world, you can’t buy local and support small enterprises and co-operatives unless the competencies, capabilities and capacity to deliver are developed and quality standards maintained.

This requires a commitment to sustainable skills development initiatives supported by industry and government. A number of event industry initiatives are under way with associations working with government departments on transformation, tourism, sustainability, health and safety and the professionalization of the event industry, including the formation of the Council of Event Professionals currently in process at South African Qualifications Authority (SAQA).

The journey, over the last fourteen years has included over 1,000 learnerships in urban, ‘rurban’ and rural South Africa, with events touching the lives of many new entrants into the event industry.

Evidence indicates that significant community development takes place only when local community people are committed to investing themselves and their resources in the effort. Each community boasts a unique combination of assets upon which to build its future”. (McKnight & Kretzmann, 1993)

It is these natural and built assets – commodities extracted from the earth, goods made, services delivered – that come together in the planning, preparation and production of small, low profile events. Local communities create an “Experience Economy in which Work is Theatre and Every Business is a Stage” (Pine & Gillmore, 1999).

One of the greatest benefits of events is social inclusion – and how the industry could turn eventing know-how into a collective vehicle for sustainable social and economic development solutions. This led to the start of Skills Village 2030 as a space where government, business and community could work together using events as the catalyst for change.

Skills Village is a bridge builder between the traditional and new realities – the industry having pioneered and protected the South African event knowledge systems and solutions – understanding the diversity and complexity of the South African, and Africa client’s needs. This created an understanding of how cultural products could be developed by training and empowering practitioners for the benefit of our society. The Skills Village pilot has proved that a realistic business and community space can be created and provided the best opportunity for enterprise, the development of human capital and nation building. Events through this process can grow a dynamic cross-sector that can strategically enhance the economic benefits of the industry, advancing extended industries exponentially through a co-operative linkage system.

The Skills Village model and framework are scalable and replicable – there are many individuals who have participated in in the one year training programmes who are successfully employed, or in their own enterprises able to sustain decent livelihoods. The visionary National Skills Development Strategy lll recognises the critical need for all stakeholders to work together: Academic Institutions, FET Colleges, the proposed Community Colleges, the Workplace Integrated Learning Experiences and Industry Certifications. The biggest challenge has been the lack of support for progression – if we really want to successfully unlock the potential of event tourism that benefits local communities, we need a four year plan, supported by Skills Development, that will take individuals through the different skill levels – Support, Co- ordinate, Manage, Direct. This should apply to the event organiser, the destination manager, the cleaner or the caterer, hiring décor or hiring transport, the Concierge in a five star hotel or the Community Concierge. The collective event industry can turn its eventing expertise into catalytic value for clients, for partners, for communities – delivering the best experiences, getting the job done right and making a different to the event practitioner’s lives that it empowers in the process.

Source: The Responsible and Sustainable Tourism Handbook Volume 2



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