In conversation with
Ms. Lindiwe Rakharbe

CEO | Durban ICC

FDI Spotlight: What is the DNA of the Durban ICC and what are some of the achievements you believe both the local and international community should be aware of?

Ms. Lindiwe Rakharbe: The Durban ICC was South Africa’s first International Convention Centre, opened by former president, Nelson Mandela in 1997.

Through the years, it has definitely played a pioneering role in attracting international events to not only KwaZulu-Natal but also to South Africa. It is the biggest convention centre in Africa, offering the largest flat-floor, column-free event space in Africa. The building itself is over a kilometre in length, longer than 3 football pitches or large enough to park four Airbus A380s end-to-end. We have the ability to host a wide variety of events, form international conventions, exhibitions, sporting events, concerts or special occasions.

Flexibility and versatility are key factors in the design of this state-of-the-art, technology-driven centre and the team constantly strives for world-class service excellence.

The Durban ICC Arena offers full technical capacity for live broadcasts as well as house lighting suitable for TV production filming. The Centre houses four on-site generators which can fully power the centre in the event of power disruptions.

Some of the most notable events held here include the recent 21st International AIDS Conference which attracted over 20,000 delegates to the City, the United Nations Climate Change Conference namely, the Conference of the Parties (COP 17-CMP7) and the 5th BRICS Summit in 2013.

Our reputation is, naturally, very important to us and we work closely in collaboration with the eThekwini Municipality and the Durban KZN Convention Bureau in targeting and securing international events which leave a significant legacy in the destination after their hosting. The selected events are chosen through a focussed, strategic approach to research, destination marketing and the alignment of their marketing efforts with the objectives of the provincial and national development plans.

The Durban ICC’s contribution to both the national and provincial economies has been quite substantial. Tracked by independent researchers over the past ten years, the Durban ICC’s contribution to the country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) has exceeded R30-billion, not counting its contribution over the first nine years of its operation. During this time, over 80,000 jobs have been created.

In addition to its vital macro-economic role, the company has also achieved significant improvements in its own financial performance, growing its revenue and effectively controlling its costs to produce strong financial results in recent years. In 2016, the Durban ICC received its third consecutive clean, unqualified audit from the Auditor-General of South Africa.

The international events hosted here attract thousands of foreign delegates to Durban each year. This is obviously very good for the province and for South Africa’s overall economy.

Russell Curtis from the Durban Investment Promotion, now called Invest Durban, said that KwaZulu-Natal is the perfect combination of business and leisure. What are your thoughts on this?

Ms. Lindiwe Rakharbe: I completely agree with him. Many of the people come for conferences and events at the Durban ICC spend time as tourists in the city and the province.

We have things that other provinces do not have, which makes it very appealing. People get hooked on KwaZulu-Natal. Our diverse cultures is a big draw for people; we have Indians, Africans, Whites, and Coloureds. Very often at business events there will be traditional Indian dances as well as African dances.

Other attractions include the Big Five, the Drakensberg, and most amazing beaches and oceans. While Cape Town is beautiful and the beaches are fantastic, people do not swim all year round because the water is cold most of the time. In KwaZulu-Natal, you see people can swim in the ocean the entire year because the water is always warm.

Therefore it is definitely the perfect combination because those who come for business extend their stay in order to explore and enjoy what we have to offer.

According to Sisa Ntshona from SA Tourism, business and leisure travellers – known as “Bleisure”- travellers – spend three times more than leisure travellers when touring and return to a destination within five years. What do you believe are the socio-economic benefits of targeting this group when marketing Durban?

Ms. Lindiwe Rakharbe: The positive impact on the communities within Durban and KwaZulu-Natal are definitely one of the biggest benefits.

When we have events, we try to bring as many local jewellers, bead workers, seamstresses and designers from rural areas and disadvantaged communities into it. That way they can sell their products to the visitors as memento’s form Durban to take home.

The money they make from sales is used to support their families, so the lives of the people are made much better and that is what South Africa really needs to move forward.

What are some of the strategies moving forward and what would you say is the best opportunity you have?

Ms. Lindiwe Rakharbe: We want to make sure that we hold more conferences focusing on those sectors in South Africa that can improve investment – both locally and internationally – and that will show the best side of Durban and KwaZulu-Natal. Manufacturing, agriculture and ICT are two good examples, as well as focussing on the ocean economy. These sectors will also bring in more conferences, therefore hosting events not only allows us to be the platform for local leaders, it also creates a win-win situation where all parties get positive exposure in some way.

Therefore our strategy is to focus on increasing as much awareness about the Durban ICC as possible, especially internationally, to bring people to the province, introduce them to what we do and through that show what South Africa can offer through our sectors.

What would you message be to the readers of The New York Times, especially those that are CEOs and leaders in some way themselves, about why KwaZulu-Natal province is the gateway for South Africa into Africa?

Ms. Lindiwe Rakharbe: Firstly, and most importantly, I would say that people have to come to the province to see what it is like and experience the magic of its offerings.

Secondly, it is a thriving and promising province, especially if you look at the number of international companies that are already here. Tata and Unilever have been here for quite some time, and Samsung has joined this year.

These companies have been very important in generating jobs and relieving unemployment. The local businesses, in turn, have been able to piggyback on this because it has created a healthier economy than expected. However, job creation remains a challenge in South Africa in general, which is why it is something we target and will continue to target.

The one big challenge we still have to deal with constantly is promotion awareness of Dur­ban as a business events destination; it means that we have to work so much harder than other provinces to get people here. It is also why our service – and especially the service of the Durban ICC – is and has to be absolutely excellent.

It has definitely made us better and stronger, especially in terms of thinking ahead and making sure that everything – every small detail – is absolutely world-class, as well as pushing us to innovate and continually improve.