Travel And Tour World: How did the idea of transforming Cape Town International Convention Centre (CTICC) into “Hospital of Hope” come along?
T.Taubie Motlhabane: It was during a discussion with Rashid Toefy, a former chief executive officer of the CTICC, at a COVID-19 response committee meeting, when the idea of using the CTICC to help curb the pandemic was mooted. We spoke about how we, as an industry that has been stopped from hosting events, could help to get us over this pandemic more quickly. Similar spaces around the world have been repurposed as either quarantine facilities or field hospitals. With its expansive halls, the CTICC lends itself to being used as a hospital.
Travel And Tour World: Tell us something about the impact of COVID-19 pandemic in Cape Town’s MICE industry.
T.Taubie Motlhabane: Travel and tourism have been severely affected since borders were closed and mass gatherings were restricted, halting the MICE industry for the foreseeable future. The trickle-down effect of the postponement or cancellation of events has impacted hotels, restaurants, transportation, all other formal or informal trade and jobs dependent on tourism and the events industry.
While business travel for local South Africans has reopened within the country, mass gatherings are still on hold. This uncertainty will impact the local and international economy. The CTICC’s impact on local tourism income is considerable, with events generating an additional 566 057 room nights in the Western Cape in 2019. It has hosted numerous congresses, major trade fairs, exhibitions and festivals since its doors opened in 2003, and it is recognised as a leading events venue in Africa. More than 90 international events had been confirmed until mid 2027.
Travel And Tour World: What are the steps undertaken by CTICC authorities to combat the difficulties caused by the coronavirus pandemic?
T.Taubie Motlhabane: Our halls and meeting rooms have not stood empty during the epidemic. The CTICC exists to serve the communities of the Western Cape. We felt it was very necessary to do our part to help alleviate suffering in our region. Besides the ‘Hospital of Hope’ in CTICC 1, we also turned part of CTICC 2 into a storage facility for medical equipment and handed over one of our exhibition halls and satellite kitchens to non-profit feeding scheme or soup kitchen, ‘Ladles of Love’, which required space to safely prepare food, and store supplies.
In its 2019 Annual Report, the CTICC said it would “continue to provide an inspiring platform for people to connect, share and collaborate around ideas”. A few months later, the CTICC has been able to honour its triple-bottom line approach of people, planet, and profit (in that order) by providing a place of healing for those recovering from COVID-19. The CTICC has waived the cost of venue hire, offering it to the Western Cape Provincial Government for its use as a medical facility. The temporary infrastructure build, operating and catering costs for the initial hire period is approximately R47 million. The agreement is for the hospital to remain in place until September 2020, with the option to extend on a month-to-month basis until the end of the year.
The CTICC’s food and beverage team, in consultation with the Department of Health and with strict adherence to healthy dietary guidelines, is also preparing meals for patients. It has been a huge learning curve for us, and a great opportunity to expand our skills and knowledge to do things differently. The CTICC’s elevators have been converted into “dummy waiters” to move patient meals, packaged in disposable cartons, from the kitchens below the hospital to the wards.
Travel And Tour World: What were the challenges faced by CTICC during the process of transformation into a hospital for COVID-19 patients?
T.Taubie Motlhabane: To transform CTICC 1’s four exhibition halls and the marshalling yard in just four weeks was a major undertaking by more than 100 people from various service providers contracted by the Western Cape’s departments of Public Works and Health. Starting in early May, the hospital was built in four phases: planning and design, construction and commissioning, ward fitting and testing, and activation of the 862 beds. The CTICC was not directly involved in the construction of the hospital. We just provided support services.
Travel And Tour World: How does CTICC plan to reopen as a convention centre once the trying times are over?
T.Taubie Motlhabane: We will adhere to all prescribed protocols, but we have much in place already, having implemented the guidelines of the World Health Organisation, Department of Health and National Institute for Communicable Diseases at the beginning of the spread of the pandemic in South Africa. We have put in internal SOPs, signage and developed collateral for the education of clients.
Travel And Tour World: Considered to be one of South Africa’s premier meetings and events venue, what does the future look like for CTICC and Cape Town’s MICE industry as a whole?
T.Taubie Motlhabane: The immediate future for CTICC is one where we will have to adapt to a new way of doing business like the whole world is doing at present. Recovery will be slow, but we will get there eventually, albeit under a new normal. We have been fortunate that most of our clients have opted to postpone their 2020 events to the following years. So although the impact of COVID-19 has been harsh, the recovery is promising. We find that our clients are optimistic about the future and that events will continue face to face as soon as government regulations allow. Our sales and events teams are hard at work (remotely), securing our forward bookings with new events for the future.
We anticipate that at first, we will see a decrease in delegate numbers due to people’s natural fear of travel and gathering. Understanding this natural apprehension, the MICE industry in South Africa (and most of the African continent), has implemented health and hygiene safety protocols to ensure that our facilities are safe and ready to do business. One of the other immediate future demand is the increase of virtual and hybrid meetings for the foreseeable future.
For now, the CTICC’s main focus is on supporting the operation of Africa’s largest coronavirus treatment facility. We are grateful to be a part of the solution and we have to get this (pandemic) behind us so that we can get back to hosting events.
Travel And Tour World: We are aware that CTICC 1 has been transformed into a hospital. Meanwhile, will CTICC 2 continue to perform as an events and meetings venue?
T.Taubie Motlhabane: We will only open for conferences when the country reaches Level 1 (we are currently on Level 3). Until then, we will continue to follow the guidelines and restrictions in place. However, with regards to CTICC 2, soon after events were stopped, the CTICC teamed up with the Ladles of Love feeding scheme to provide more than 1500 square meters of space – comprising an exhibition hall and kitchen – as temporary headquarters for the soup kitchen. The non-profit organisation provides over 5000 meals a day to Cape Town’s most vulnerable. Our halls were not being used, and we thought we could maybe help in a small way. We were honored to be approached to help.
Travel And Tour World: Once the pandemic finally comes to an end in the near future and CTICC starts performing as a convention centre once again, will there be any special measures or protocols to maintain safety and security of visitors and associates?
T.Taubie Motlhabane: The CTICC has also put various measures in place to ensure the health and safety of delegates attending events at our facility, and we will continue to investigate and update sustainable protocols. These measures will include stringent cleaning services, especially of hard surfaces in high-traffic areas, screening at access points, and isolation rooms should they be needed, as well as online registration of all visitors. The CTICC may also consider appointing an occupational health nurse to be permanently on-site. We are confident that when the time comes, we will welcome back clients, delegates, service providers and staff to a CTICC where they will be safe, and feel safe.