The Durban name is not one that is familiar to many, but Lindiwe Rakharebe believes that it should be. “Durban is such a beautiful city,” she enthuses. “It’s got warm weather, friendly people, pristine beaches, delicious food and great culture. You cannot come here and not want to stay.”
As the CEO of Durban ICC, one of South Africa’s most prominent convention centres, she wants to entice more travellers to her beloved city through events hosted at the venue. “There are many things I like about my job, but the best thing is probably that through Durban ICC, I get to play a role in raising the flag for my favourite place in the world,” she says.
“Every time we host a major international event, thousands of people get to hear about Durban. What often happens is, people visit for the first time for a conference, but return with their families for holidays.”
I love giving world-class customer service.
At 112,000 square metres, Durban ICC is a sprawling complex comprising the Durban ICC Arena and Durban Exhibition Centre. It’s a multipurpose space that can be configured to suit the requirements of any event, with auditorium-style seats that can be lowered from the ceiling and retractable platforms.
It also boasts comprehensive support infrastructure, including full technical capacity for live broadcasts and TV productions, a business centre, an onsite travel agency and a clinic.
Some of the most high-profile events the centre has hosted include the World Economic Forum and the International AIDS Conference, which saw the attendance of Prince Harry, Charlize Theron and Elton John.
Beyond raising the city’s profile to outsiders, Durban ICC has also played an important role in the local economy. Its 2019 report revealed that the centre had contributed ZAR6.3 billion (€349 million) to South Africa’s gross domestic product in the previous financial year.
Out of this, ZAR6.1 billion (€338 million) directly benefited the KwaZulu-Natal province in which Durban is located. “I am proud to say that we have successfully exceeded our economic impact target every year under my leadership,” Lindiwe shares.
A success story
Durban ICC was inaugurated in 1997 by Nelson Mandela. It was originally built as a part of Operation Jumpstart, a scheme to encourage development in Durban and the surrounding region. Construction for the Durban ICC Arena began in 2004 and was only finished in 2007. It cost ZAR395 million (€21.9 million) to build and doubled the size of the complex. Today, the centre is the largest flatfloor, column-free exhibition and meeting space in Africa.
“And the ZAR6.3 billion last year was our largest-ever contribution to the country’s GDP. We created more than 14,000 jobs in the process. For me, what I am doing for my country is important. We must continue to exceed our targets, challenge ourselves, do better and create more employment.”
But it’s not just about the money. For Lindiwe, Durban ICC is also a platform for social contribution. “I am a firm believer in the power of education. I believe that through education, you can lift people and help them reach their inherent potential,” she explains.
This conviction has led to the creation of a program within the company that gives employees the chance to further their schooling.
Depending on their desired career path or growth plan, they can choose to dig deeper into their area of expertise by taking relevant tertiary courses in partner institutions like Stellenbosch University, Durban University of Technology and the distance learning school, MANCOSA.
“We want to invest in people who are assets to the company,” Lindiwe points out, which is why the opportunity is open only to the top performers.
“But this encourages everyone to do better. By combining their years of work experience and their new knowledge and proficiencies from furthering their education, our employees can unlock more outstanding customer experiences for our clients.”
Given that venue management is a part of the hospitality industry, it’s no surprise that the last point is important to Lindiwe. “I love people. I love serving people and I love giving world-class customer service,” she professes.
“It’s rewarding to see our clients realise their visions for their events together with our team.” Increasingly, this vision comes with a digital element. “We had a few events late last year where we offered the option of live streaming and the uptake was great,” Lindiwe recalls.
“We found that participants spent less money flying delegates over, and we are now seeing regular demand for similar features. Some attendees value face-to-face contact, but for those who can’t fit the event into their travelling schedules, it gives them an opportunity to get all the information they need from the conference without having to be physically present. Live streaming is becoming an increasingly important service.”
Technology is also good for something else: making up for Durban’s limited visibility and consequently, the lack of flights coming into the city.
“We are working relentlessly to push for more direct international flights to Durban,” Lindiwe reveals. She is hoping to harness the centre’s connections with four main organisations – KwaZulu-Natal province’s tourism board, Tourism KZN; the city’s tourism board, Tourism Durban; Trade and Investment KZN; as well as the King Shaka International Airport – to achieve this. Lindiwe is confident that through the work she is doing for Durban ICC, more people will come to share her love for the city. “I have always been passionate about KwaZulu-Natal and Durban and I want the world to see everything this place has to offer.”