Cape Town Turns Water Crisis Into Legacy

Editor’s Note: In this issue, we launch Boardroom Spotlight, a new series produced in partnership with Boardroom, a Brussels-based magazine covering the work of globally based associations. Each Boardroom Spotlight in Convene will be an excerpt from the magazine, with an eye toward a global association event’s creative execution vis-à-vis its host destination.

Cape Town’s worst drought in recorded history was feared to spell disaster for the city’s tourism economy as photos of water lines and doomsday headlines started appearing on news broadcasts around the world. [Cape Town will not run out of water this year or next, the South African tourist board has recently said, thanks to water-conservation efforts and a period of heavy rain in early summer that increased its reservoirs by 20 percent, according to an article in The Telegraph.]

The Cape Town International Convention Centre proactively prepared for worsening drought conditions, reducing its annual water consumption and recording a 42-percent savings in water consumption between the first quarter of 2017 and 2018.

As the top-ranked city in Africa for business tourism events by the International Congress and Convention Association (ICCA), Cape Town relies on conferences not only for the visitor boost but also to attract investors. Rather than scare conferences away, however, the crisis became an opportunity to become a knowledge leader and global champion in an under-recognized but growing field.

In addition to the Young Water Professionals Conference held in December 2017, Cape Town has hosted or will host three water-related conferences in 2018, including the International Water Association’s (IWA) 2018 Water Loss Conference held in early May. [Other conferences included WISA 2018 (Water Institute of Southern Africa) biennial event, held June 24–27; and the upcoming Sustainable Sanitation, Waste, & Water Conference 2018, to be held Nov. 20–23.] It was the first IWA conference to be held in Africa and seen as an opportunity to highlight best practices from across the continent.

“One of the criteria for selection is how appealing and relevant a destination is for water professionals from a professional development and learning perspective,” explains Kirsten de Vette, learning and capacity development officer, IWA World Water Congress & Exhibition. “In Cape Town’s case, the drought provided attendees an opportunity to learn firsthand about the response of the city to such a severe crisis.”

What the Centre’s is Doing

The Cape Town International Convention Centre (CTICC) proactively prepared for the worsening drought conditions, reducing its annual water consumption by 8 million liters over the last six years, and recording a 42-percent savings in water consumption between the first quarter of 2017 and 2018. CTICC’s chief executive Julie-May Ellingson wrote all clients in early 2018 alerting them of the center’s efforts to reduce water usage and the learning opportunity at hand.

Water professionals are aligning themselves with Cape Town to spark further opportunities for the sector as a whole. “Cape Town’s drought crisis has provided an opportunity to elevate the relevance and importance of an event such as the WISA biennial conference, given the organization is the largest professional membership body for representatives within the water sector,” explains Jason Mingo, chief scientific committee member at WISA.

WISA has been instrumental in driving the International Water Association – Water Loss Conference and its own biennial conference to Cape Town this year. The biennial event aimed to be water neutral, offsetting the water footprint of almost 1,000 delegates [at the time of Boardroom’s story].

Information sharing is at the crux of Cape Town’s growing knowledge hub, explains Corne Koch, head of the Cape Town and Western Cape Convention Bureau, who takes a holistic approach to hub building.

“Even before the water crisis became a huge challenge, conferences identified opportunities to build a legacy in the destination,” Koch said. “The bureau drives discussion about knowledge sharing and building legacy with conference planners. “Conferences promote and support other business sectors, providing direct and indirect opportunities, to spread knowledge. This creates additional opportunities to attract other meetings and conferences.”

When the international Conference on Sanitation, Waste and Water is hosted in Cape Town in November, it’s not likely to be the last of Cape Town’s growing water-related lineup.

Samantha Shankman is a freelance contributor to Boardroom. Learn more about Boardroom at

This article was published in Boardroom’s July issue. Content in brackets has been added by Convene.

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