Conference Venue Eastern Cape – Review by Rosalie Howard – The Venue Pages

Map of South Africa showing the Eastern Cape p...

Map of South Africa showing the Eastern Cape province after the 12th amendment of the constitution in December 2005. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Who said that East London in the Eastern Cape is a ‘sleepy hollow’?

I recently had the pleasure of visiting the ELICC (East London International Convention Centre) and was taken by sheer surprise!  This venture, ‘though initially believed to be a brave one, has already proved that it is worthy of much that Johannesburg, Cape Town and Durban are when it comes to hosting large, national and international conferences!

Recent news is that the 16th National Congress of the South African Society of Psychiatrists was held at this fine conference venue in East London, bringing 500 delegates to this Eastern Cape Port city.

THE SASOP was so impressed with facilities, standards and service that they awarded this conference venue with SASOP’s Certificate of Service Excellence! Well done East London!

In another development, the ELICC will also host the biggest conference of medical doctors in South Africa when 1500 cardiologists attend the SA Heart Association congress next year, including 15 international speakers from various countries and representatives of 45 pharmaceutical companies.

East London is a central destination and far from it being merely a holiday destination or an industrial city, it’s face has changed and it is proud to present one of the most up-to-date conference venues in South Africa. Not only is this a large, and multi functional convention centre, it also incorporates the 261 roomed Premier Hotel Cascades, with panoramic views of the coastline, with VIP Lounges, a Business Centre, a rim-flow pool and a state of the art Wellness Spa Centre, presenting conference delegates with on-site accommodation and conference facilities at a top class hotel plus adjacent to the centre is the Premier Hotel East London offering another 175 room luxury rooms.

Call 0861 262 262 for more information or conference bookings. Visit out website www.venuepages.co.za

Other Aspects of Conference Management

Car Hire Centre At Luton Airport The Explorer ...

Car Hire Centre At Luton Airport The Explorer map shows this site as a car park. The Car Hire Centre is linked with the airport terminal by a courtesy shuttle bus service. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Pre-Planning

Any large conference in South Africa, as you know, requires a lot of time and thought, patience and planning each day from breakfast through to bed-time to ensure that every aspect is covered thoroughly and that nothing is left out! For example …

  • Invitations
  • Transport Arrangements and airport transfers
  • Purchasing conference bags
  • Name badges
  • The checking-in process at your hotel and conference/workshop registration

Invitations to a conference in South Africa should be planned and sent out many months ahead of time, especially if there are international delegates included, as delegates have to arrange their flights, their leave if necessary, what clothing to pack and what papers they might require and a host of other important issues.

We all acknowledge the usefulness of electronic means to send out invitations, it being an age of technology and efficiency and speed in everything we do is of the utmost importance so get this planning out of the way first.

Your invitations might be themed and this can add an element of fun to the planning. The following example however would be better hand made and posted, better still hand delivered by a ‘Court Jester’ (there are many actors who do this for a living) providing your event is for local folks … this theme might be something arbitrary like Medieval Days vs the 21st Century’.  … The welcome evening event might be set in Medieval times … décor, definitely costume, food and drink … the invitation could be made on ‘parchment’ and worded in authentic Medieval language for example, written as a rhyme and always retaining a little of the mystical theme.

More practically, electronic invitations can be prettied up with Photo Shop or the like and can be just as effective, the artists amongst you will know!

Transport

Airport transfers are sometimes a nightmare when flights are coming in at varying times.  What works really well is that some of the car hire companies run a service offering what they call Disposal Vehicles. These work out more cost effective and are at your disposal, literally for the day and evening if necessary, tripping back and forth. Contact your favourite Car Hire company for more details. These companies also offer a door to door shuttle or you might have one large group arriving en-masse in which case you would contact a private bus company or tour operator.

Conference Bags and Name Badges

There are companies who handle both these aspects and make life so much easier.  Simply e-mail them your logo’s and required wording and select from a wide variety of conference bags and lanyards and different styles of name badges to fit within your budget.

At large conferences, there is a very efficient electronic form of identification where delegates simply wear name badges which have been pre-programmed with necessary details, and these are bar coded for quick scanning at the registration desk at an event.

Check in at the hotel venue

Not to reduce the value of any of the above information, many conference organisers still rely on manpower, for no matter how marvellous hi-tech is, it cannot replace the personal touch and in this fast growing technological world, we should never forget that the personal touch is still essential to our comfort.  We are all still human and we all still have the need for being nurtured.

The Professional Conference Organiser (PCO) or company organisers should have their own desk at the venue for registration, and personally handle this aspect, hand out conference materials, name badges and gifts while for room check in, the hotel has their own very organised system for quick check in, handing out of keys, maps of the venue where called for and possibly offer a porter for luggage.

Where the conference organiser or PCO is on site for the duration of your event, he or she or they will be your contact person or people, (it’s good to have a nanny when it’s impossible to handle everything yourself!) and these people will liaise all issues between you and the hotel’s various departments, or with outside suppliers, team builders, entertainers, photographers etc. Use them to your advantage.

I hope this article has been helpful in planning a conference.  Please share your thoughts in the comments below.

Conference Leisure Time

Entertainment onboard the MSC Melody

Entertainment onboard the MSC Melody (Photo credit: barbourians)

From a delegate’s point of view, a two or three-day conference in South Africa can be taxing as, while many topics are discussed, informative and educational papers are read and many motivational aspects are given to improve performance and raise personal attitude etc. time out is also necessary to keep the balance and to afford delegates the opportunity to get to know one another on a social level in a relaxed atmosphere. This is therapeutic and is often valuable sharing time when individuals observe deeper aspects of what the conference is intended to leave with them.

Planning social functions during the run of the conference:

There are many considerations to take into account for the conference or event planner, besides it’s also fun as there is a host of entertainment and activities out there to select from!

  • Arrival Day – Welcome evening
  • Gala Night Dinner

Bear in mind that many delegates attending a conference do not know one another, have never met, perhaps not even ever corresponded. They are from diverse backgrounds, from different countries perhaps and therefore the first night of their stay at the hotel they are resident at is valuable for relationship building.

The most relaxed and comfortable evening event is a Cocktail Party or a Braai (if the venue has good outdoor facilities and most do). Formal seating is a no-no, but rather cocktail seating/standing to encourage mingling and easy conversation over a glass of wine, a beer and a snack.

The menu may consist of finger foods and/or fork foods, plenty of it to extend the evening into a sociable event while listening to good background music to create the mood and ambience you want.  A guitarist/singer, a pianist or a saxophonist will provide the setting for good atmosphere,  something unobtrusive.

While the conference is running, other evening meals are usually the normal restaurant meal of the day amongst other guests, unless specifically the client requires privacy in which case a private venue can be arranged. The final night, before departure however is important and this is usually combined with awards ceremonies, thanks and closure to the event. Therefore, this is usually a Black Tie Gala Event, or a themed evening which includes specific dress code, the menu, décor in the venue and entertainment.  Some ideas …

‘Night Of The Stars’ – the entertainment for which may be a professional dance troupe, solo performers, accompanied by a live band who would then continue throughout the evening,

‘Live at the (name of the venue- copy-cat-tying the well-loved British show ‘Live at the Apollo’) with two or three comedians …

Comedy Theatre … we have some super-stars in this industry in SA who will, given enough information, write a script specifically for YOUR event, about your company and its employers and employees . . . this could be entertaining!

Fire eating, belly dancing, drumming … and the list continues …

Menu : This is very important and may either take the form of a hot and cold buffet or a plated meal, depending on what’s on offer at the venue.  What works very well is an International ‘Around the World’ theme where the chefs create dishes from several countries and cultures, and the décor specialists provide booths around the perimeter of the room, decorated in theme, serving delights to guests as they move around the venue.

Any conference venue or hotel offering conference facilities will willingly design menus to suit your theme, your spec, and most importantly your budget!

International Association of Conference Centres (IACC)

When the International Association of Conference Centres (IACC) said it wanted to be the thought leader on the Meetings Experience, they took their commitment seriously. In this first blog to The Venue Pages audience, IACC is pleased to introduce readers and explain exactly why over 400 members in 14 countries look to IACC for fresh inspiration and knowledge to help them create innovative meeting experiences.

IACC’s Emerging Trends Committee released its first comprehensive Guide to Social Media for the hospitality industry at the association’s 31st annual conference in Houston, Texas.

The Emerging Trends Committee represents the perspective of the incoming generation on issues that may have an impact on IACC and/or the conference centre industry. As Co-Chair of the Committee, Sarah Vining, newly named IACC Board Associate, and Marketing Manager at The National Conference Centre in Leesburg, VA, co-authored the Guide with Co-Chair David Haas, outgoing Board Associate.

According to Vining, the goal of the Guide to Social Media was to help conference centres and other meeting venues “successfully launch a brand’s social media strategy.” The Guide features a detailed look at 23 social media platforms

In addition to easy-to-follow Descriptions, Target Markets, Objectives, and Best Practices for each channel, these platforms include currently popular platforms such as Twitter and LinkedIn as well as emerging platforms such as Foodspotting and Pinterest.

Vining noted, “Beyond traditional advertising and public relations efforts, social media is another media outlet marketing teams should be utilising to reach clients and guests. To win group business, guests and planners both expect conference centres and hotels to be reachable via social media channels.”

For readers, the entire IACC Guide to Social Media is available to download on the IACC website by visiting http://bit.ly/IACCsocialmedia and further details on how to become a member of IACC can be found at www.iacconline.org .

IACC looks after the commercial interests of its members by developing and maintaining excellent communication channels with all stakeholders involved in hosting corporate and association meetings both domestically and internationally. IACC aims to unlock the expertise of its members to help provide a stage for successful future meetings.  There is no shortage of good meeting facilities in the world today, but IACC believes that its members are some of the most passionate examples of venues and associated organisations in the meetings industry! There is no better example of this than what one member in Holland recently did to create a truly exceptional meeting experience. Kapellerput Conference Hotel built a stunning Tree House-style meeting environment in the woods adjacent to the main conference centre. Clients – old and new – now queue up to run their meetings in the ‘KABAN’ as it is truly an inspiring environment for meetings.

Corporate and Association Meeting Planners have grown to trust IACC venues over the 30 years of its existence. Mark Cooper, IACC Vice President for Europe comments “through IACC, I have been able to promote venues at some of the world’s largest trade shows such as EIBTM and IMEX and I quickly realized that meeting planners would trust a IACC-member venue based upon a previous experience at an IACC venue somewhere else in the world. IACC is a brand like no other; it provides individual and small groups an identity which sits alongside and compliments their own brand”.

Just as many in our industry realise that the typical conference delegate will think differently by being around other like-minded people in a new environment, IACC realises that it is equally important for its members to meet and learn from each other. IACC members are typically the most experienced practitioners and most knowledgeable experts worldwide and ideas are exchanged at the many national, regional and international events IACC venues hosts annually.

The association not only helps members with guides like this Social Media Guide to help them communicate with clients, but also uses social media to support the exchange of ideas and communication between members. The IACC LinkedIn discussion board is usually active with some kind of debate or ideas exchange between members!

IACC’s Mission Statement sums up what it aims to achieve for members: “The International Association of Conference Centres is the thought leader on the meeting experience. IACC represents its members by defining and promoting the IACC Meeting Concept and providing learning opportunities”.  IACC would love to welcome new members in the Middle East and Africa over the coming years. Founded in 1981, the International Association of Conference Centres is a not-for-profit organisation dedicated to promoting understanding and awareness of the conference centre industry and to giving members the tools necessary to provide an exceptional meeting experience. Active members meet a set of Quality Standards and agree to a Code of Ethics. Currently, the association includes approximately 400 members from the United States, Australia, Canada, South Africa, Denmark, Sweden, Belgium, France, England, The Netherlands, Germany and Japan. For more information, visit the website at www.iacconline.org.

“There are meetings and then there are IACC meetings.”

Mark Cooper

IACC

Organising an Association Conference

WebFest: We are the people we waited for - Ric...

WebFest: We are the people we waited for - Ricardo Sousa (Curator) SWITCH Conference (Photo credit: New Media MK)

In recent articles we have touched on organising a conference and those articles have been more focused towards finding a venue, dealing with Audio Visual requirement and dealing with a conference organiser.

In this article we will briefly cover a few points of organising a conference for an association.

An industry association is normally a non-profit organisation established in order to serve the needs of its members who are normally companies or individuals from within that industry.  For example, CASA (The Chiropractic Association of South Africa) has largely practising Chiropractors as its members and its main objective is to serve these members in terms of education, continuing professional development etc.  An association’s income is derived largely from membership fees, sponsorships and of course its annual conference.  It goes without saying therefore that this annual conference should be well-managed and most importantly should not generate a deficit.  It should generate a small surplus in order to ensure there is no loss and at times it needs to generate a greater surplus for various reasons such as research that needs to be conducted for the benefit of its members.

Most of the components of organising a conference of this nature are similar, if not the same, as any other conference.  Venue sourcing, AV requirements, menu planning etc. are all the same.  The main differences are as follows: –

Speaker Management

For this conference, calls for papers will need to be distributed and abstracts collected, reviewed and a list of speakers will need to be decided upon.  Regular, relevant communication will then need to take place between the organisers and the speakers in order to ensure that they know when they are speaking, what they are speaking on, how long they can speak for etc.  Papers will need to be collected before the event for inclusion on the laptop being used to deliver these papers.  It is no good if a speaker arrives at congress with their paper on their flash drive only to find that the version of PowerPoint they have used is not compatible with the laptop that is being used, or that their laptop is not compatible with the system.  Worse still that the flash drive has been left in their room, on the plane or in the taxi.  This can adversely affect the smooth running of papers and leave the paying delegate with a bad experience for future conferences.  We need to always remember that the experience delegates, exhibitors and sponsors have will drive the decision of future attendance or non-attendance.

Budget

The other main item that is vastly different form a corporate conference is that these association conferences are normally funded by delegate’s fees, exhibitor’s fees and sponsorships.  Assuming a small conference of 300 delegates and 20 exhibitors, will result in 320 individual invoices to be sent, 320 follow-up for payments and 320 allocation of deposits received.  Without a dedicated, custom designed system to manage this, it can quickly become disorganised and, to put it bluntly, a complete mess.  Considering that this is the bread and butter of the conference it is imperative that this system be well run and reconciled for auditing purposes.

The other very important aspect with regards fees is that these fees need to be set in order to cover ALL costs associated with this conference.  Hence a budget needs to be drafted and needs to include all costs associated with the event.  Name badges, conference bags, marketing of the conference, speaker’s travel, to name but a few, need to be accurately budgeted for.  Once a total cost has been calculated, one can then see what fees need to be set at in order to break even and one can then either cut back on costs or increase or decrease fees to make the event attractive from a cost point