Professional Conference Organising (PCO) – From the Horses Mouth

Article written by Rosalie Howard at Venue Pages who specialises in finding conference facilities in South Africa

Fancy joining a discussion group on various topics in the PCO, conference organiser industry?

We welcome anyone out there to add comments and feedback to today’s chat, on the PCO’s role in marketing conference venues in South Africa, what they should or should not be paid for … Join me!

Sales and Marketing … who would like to note the difference? …

I was employed in senior management in a fine hotel for over 10 years and the area I loved most and succeeded well in was the field of Sales and Marketing which included Banqueting and Conference Coordinating, every aspect of sales, promotional golf days, exhibitions …. You name it.

From this platform, due to a fairly serious back injury, I ventured forth into the world of the PCO’s, which until a little while before, I bore a little bit of a grudge towards. Why? Because quite frequently in my position I would find that events I had been toiling on for weeks, liaising with my client on a personal one-to-one basis suddenly became the possession of a leading local PCO ! … When I brought this matter up, somewhat vehemently with our Operations Manager, who doubled as our General Manager, he had quite a time persuading me to take a different stance and to look at business from another angle …. This didn’t come easily to me at first because I guarded my successes in sales very closely and to suddenly find that my Operations Manager had given my bookings away to a PCO who was going to be earning 15% commission on these was indeed a bitter pill to swallow! I questioned whether it was jealousy or whether I was merely doing my job in support of my hotel, hanging onto every cent I could… After I ‘got it’, I understood though didn’t quite accept yet, that the value of the said PCO and for that matter any PCO was much greater than I had ever given credit for, for the client in question, a large Blue Chip company had become her ‘client’ and she was their ‘guru’. She actually had it in her power to sway her client anywhere she chose!! That’s quite something right? … She was good, she was successful and she served me, I had to concede.

Now …. I am a PCO and have enjoyed fair success over 15 years … and I now, at last can genuinely call out ‘eureka’ from the heavens for now, I understand just how valuable my Operations Manager’s words were at that time!

The Market Place …
Every PCO has a list, miles long of clients, either current or past and they are movers and shakers in finding future clients – they never rest … they are sales people, people! Believe it, they are! They are marketing minded people, or they wouldn’t be in this industry. A reputable PCO will not market or sell a venue he or she does not believe will suit their client … it isn’t anyway in his or her interest to do so … we only promote venues we have tried and tested, who have good reputations or have been highly recommended to us and who meet expected standards. We build relationships with our clients, who come back again and again if they have received good service. We are a one-stop shop for them, their personal nanny if you like, because we relieve them of a lot of donkey work, so why wouldn’t they return again and again? In return for their loyalty and support, we continue to offer them superb service, and I am sure I speak for most of us. It’s not an industry where one can make an easy or quick buck, take it from the horse’s mouth!! We have to work for our living!

Venue Support – Win-Win or Win-Lose?
Just as the PCO’s serves their clients, they serve the venue as well. How?, you might ask….. Because, to ensure the success of the event, to ensure the satisfaction of our clients, we fully coordinate every detail from enquiry stage, to departure from the venue, making sure that every t is crossed, that every i is dotted. The task of gathering facts, itineraries, rooming lists, conference materials and papers, money, ordering gifts and conference bags, making name badges, transport, exhibitions, entertainment, décor, buying and installing the latest on-line registration programmes for our computers for efficient and professional management of the event … the tasks are endless and can take a year or longer, depending on the size and content of the event…. Banqueting Coordinators in hotels and conference centres do not have time or experience in attending to all the requirements that are called for. That is not their job. They are experts at carrying out instructions from the client, they are highly qualified to make the event happen, either via the PCO or direct, depending on whether a PCO is involved or not. The hotel management can only do what they are asked to do. … This brings me to the question … why is it that there are still many venues out there who do not appreciate what the PCO does, who believe that the PCO is overpaid and frequently try to beat them down in commission and it does happen guys! Seriously it happens! Any PCO will vouch for that or we are made to feel that they, the venue are doing us a favour by offering some sort of reward other than hard cash!!

One day, we hope in the not too distant future, hotels and conference centres will appreciate the value of a PCO to them from marketing and selling their specific venue to their client, to carrying out the numerous duties expected of them by the client AND the venue and that they will gladly pay what is essentially a pittance comparatively speaking if we take the entire event into consideration. Why is there often so much reluctance to acknowledge a PCO’s worth? My old Ops Manager, being a marketing minded man could see their value a long time ago and he changed my impressions and my stuck ideas of what a PCO truly represents!

Any comments??? Feel welcome to respond! We look forward to hearing your views

CONFERENCE SPEAKERS and TEAM BUILDING – And how they synchronise

Team building activity

Team building activity (Photo credit: IITA Image Library)

Without a conference speaker or speakers / facilitators, there is no conference or team building and in conference planning, there is always a theme or a topic which needs to be discussed and valuable information and insights to be passed on to the delegates.

To find a conference speaker, team building company or other related conference supplier please complete the form at the bottom and we will assist you.

Frequently, conferences are linked to performance, team bonding, motivation, productivity, support systems, gaining valuable knowledge and input from personal experiences.  Often however, the key-note speaker might not have anything to do with any of the desired outcome of the conference but is invited to throw in something quite different to refresh and even sometimes to upturn stuck ideas!

There are many talented speakers, motivational or otherwise in South Africa to choose from. There are trainers who run three or four-day workshops working individually yet in a group dealing with self-development and relationship.

Relationship. An interesting word to ponder on for a while.  Have we all considered that we are in fact in relationship with everything on this planet? Whether it be in relationship with a spouse, a sibling, a parent, a pet, a peer, a boss, Mother Earth, wild life, the weather, money, lack of money, feelings, thoughts and well yes ….. absolutely everything in this life is in relationship with everything else.

In this vast field of study there are some awesome workshops available facilitated by some awesome trainers, who are willing to run their workshops from anywhere providing numbers in attendance make it viable for them to travel. Perfect for the corporate group of 20 or more staff members.

Links you might find useful in sourcing the perfect speaker, trainer or coach are: •

  • Life Dynamics (Steven Gullen)
  • True Point (Stephen Norval)
  • Insight Training (Dr. Baruch Banai)
  • Speakers Inc.
  • Guest Speakers
  • Peter Cheales
  • Motivational Speakers South Africa
  • Speakers of Note
  • Patricia Glyn (Eco Adventurer)
  • Marie Grey Speakers
  • The other Michael
  • Conference Speakers International

How are speakers, conferences and Team Building synchronised? Where time permits, an afternoon spent in Team Building is incredibly valuable to organise and get into the appropriate perception, ideas which might still be floating or flying all over the place … those gleaned from a speaker and his or her presentation, those learned from the conference content and those insights delegates have got from their peers, while networking or simply having a social chat while attending a conference. Perhaps many of these people would otherwise never have met.  All this adds value to the conference delegates’ experience.

Team Building is designed to meet many needs and the experts in this field will purpose build an itinerary for an afternoon or morning or evening where your own specifics will be addressed, played out, in a light-hearted manner on the stage of ‘fun’ and activity.  It might be about team support, working as one, it might be about building self belief, or self-respect or being ‘forced’ out of your gold-fish bowl to expand yourself and experience what else is out there.  Or it might be about sharing, about playing as equals on the games field.  And these dedicated team builders, speakers, trainers, facilitators are trained and experienced enough to understand your company’s specific needs. They are good people to know and keep in your address book!

Some I know of: –

  • Beach and Bush Adventures
  • Movers and Shakers
  • Beyond Team Building
  • The Team Building Company
  • The Drum Cafe
  • Life Dynamics
  • True Point
  • Quantum Adventures
  • Downhill Adventures

If any readers have some valid, interesting points to discuss, please make this your platform by leaving a comment below. We welcome your input, your experience, your ideas and creativity and besides, networking is a fantastic means of connection!

Impression written by Rosalie Howard – Venue Pages

Hotel with Conference Centres and Meeting Room Facilities – Venue for Hire

hotel with conference centres and meeting room facilities

Meeting room (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Throughout South Africa one can find a hotel with conference centres and meeting room facilities. There are many and many web-based portals or databases that one can use to search for these hotels with conference centres and meeting room facilities.

However one always needs to be careful that the chosen one will be able to deliver what is required for your conference, function or event. Brochures and PR publications do not always tell the whole truth and care must be taken to try to see through the marketing jargon and sales talk that is of course designed to sell the venue for hire.

A site inspection is the best way to decide if a venue for hire will be suitable for your conference in South Africa. By being on site and seeing for oneself the conference rooms and meeting facilities that are available as well as the accommodation rooms one can decide whether the venue for hire is suitable or not. Often these conference centres will offer the prospective client a meal and one can then see first-hand if the catering is of a standard that will suit the conference.

Often however it is not possible to conduct a site inspection for all possible conference centres due to the distance that often needs to be travelled to view the venues. If it is not possible to conduct a site inspection, then care must be taken and research conducted in order to make an informed decision. Reviews should be searched for online and opinions from as many different independent sources obtained so that an impartial decision can be made.

The services of an independent conference organiser or venue finder can also be used, but again care should be taken that the choices that that company put forward are not skewed in favour of the conference organiser due to greater financial benefits to them.

A list of venues should first be made by the client and then rates and recommendations requested from the organiser so as to avoid the organiser omitting various venues that they do not actively promote.

Find out from the organiser if they charge a fee for their services or if they rely solely on commission from the venue. An organiser who relies solely on commission may be tempted to put forward and recommend venues that compensate them with higher commissions. Be willing to pay a fee for the services of a conference organiser or venue finder because often they can secure better rates than the client due to the volume so of work they send these venues which results in the final price being the same as you may have secured yourself direct. The benefit of course is that you receive an unbiased service from the organiser so that you can make an informed decision of which venue to select.

Conference centres Kwa Zulu Natal | Accommodation rooms

Conference centres Kwa Zulu Natal

Drakensberg (Photo credit: Craig Strachan)

For a full list of conference centres in Kwa Zulu Natal please click here.

A little history and geography on Kwa Zulu Natal

Kwa Zulu Natal, ‘The Garden Province’ is the lush, green, subtropical region, plum centre in South Africa, often referred to as ‘THE’ holiday destination where many international tourists visit, where many international conferences are hosted in light of the fact that KZN has the largest 5-star conference centre in Africa, namely the International Convention Centre in Durban, as well as several large and accommodating hotel venues with accommodation rooms, in the city and along the South and North Coast, in the Midlands and in the Drakensberg.

From Pongola in the North to Port Edward in the South, a direct route by road is +- 512 km and likewise from Port Edward to van Reenen, west of Durban beyond the Northern Drakensberg. The whole of KZN covers an area of 94,361 square km and shares approximately 7.7% of South Africa.

An interesting fact is that in the west, on the border of KZN and the Free State, the majestic and dramatic Drakensberg mountain range, with many peaks, up to 3000 metres high has been awarded a World Heritage status for its natural beauty and the wealth of San Bushman rock art found in caves, apparently the richest concentration of these in Africa.

KZN has summer rainfall and temperatures in this season that range from close to 40 degrees some days along the coast and in the mountains and plummeting to below zero in the mountains in winter. The Midlands, ‘though drier, can frequently be colder than the Northern Drakensberg.

Durban, one of the fastest-growing urban areas in the world with the busiest harbour in South Africa receives 30-million odd tons of cargo each year. The other harbour in the province, at the top most end of the KZN North Coast is at Richards Bay, largely a coal-export harbour. Richards Bay, over the years has also become one of Kwa Zulu Natal’s busiest and richest industrial towns. A pretty town which has been deliberately designed to preserve the beauty of the coastline and the picturesque setting of the harbour adds a refreshing feel to the what- was-once a little bay-side/ seaside resort.


The fertility of the soil and good rainfall ensure that agriculture remains healthy and productive. Along the coast, the sugar-cane plantations are the mainstay of the province’s agriculture, together with the large production of subtropical fruit in the north and south and dairy and vegetables in the west.


With the Durban International Convention Centre heading up the list of large, professionally managed, purpose designed conference centres in Kwa Zulu Natal, this little province offers a host of conference hotels, North, South and West of Durban, many non-hotel Conference Centres, Guest houses and Boutique hotels – Conference groups are literally ‘Spoilt For Choice’ with the selection of conference venues, exhibition venues, accommodation establishments and leisure activities available.

In Durban, uShaka Marine World, the largest aquarium in Africa and one of the most magnificent in the world (and where the recent ‘Pop-Idols’ auditions was hosted) not only offers visitors to Durban an awesome leisure day-outing, packed with activities but also offers unusual and beautifully appointed conference and event facilities.

In the north there are the Game Reserves, all of which offer conference facilities while in the south along the coast and inland are many resort hotels offering equally good conference venues together with ample accommodation rooms.

Some right on the beach, some at the foothills of the majestic Drakensberg mountains while others still more charming are those along the Midlands Meander between Pietermaritzburg and the Drakensberg.

Venues one might consider in the province are (amongst many more): –

Alpine Health Resort near Bergville
Cathedral Peak Hotel situated between Bergville and Winterton in the Central Berg
Champagne Sports Resort which nestles in the heart of the Champagne Valley in the Central Berg
And in the Southern Drakensberg, near Underberg, Drakensberg Gardens Hotel.
On the South Coast :

On the North Coast:

In the Midlands

and in Pietermaritzburg itself, several excellent city hotels and conference centres, sports clubs and budget venues.

Author: Rosalie Howard

Conference venues Durban – featuring ICC Durban

Conference venues Durban

For a full list of conference venues in Durban please click here.


Durban, the sea-side capital of KwaZulu Natal must surely be one of the most sought after destinations for business conference venues and as a tourist attraction. Why? Because Durban is central in South Africa, easily accessible by air or car and because Durban boasts one of the world’s top Convention Centres and many outstanding hotels and B & B’s apart from the many tourist attractions in the city, on the perimeter and it is a gateway to Game Reserves, Cultural Villages, the Mountains etc.


There are many conference venues in Durban and surrounds and it is pertinent to point out the largest, not only in Durban, not only in South Africa but in Africa!

International Convention Centre Durban

A focal point of Durban’s business district, the International Convention Centre Durban is a multi-faceted and functional space in an aesthetic environment. Centrally located and just a quarter of an hour from the airport, ICC Durban is minutes from hotels and beaches.

The International Convention Centre Durban (ICC) is one of the most advanced conference facilities in the world. Flexibility and versatility are key factors in the design of this state-of-the-art technology-driven Conference Venue in Durban.

Voted Africa’s Leading Conference Centre for six consecutive years by World Travel Awards and in 2004 the ICC Durban was also ranked as one of the top ten conference centres in the world by AIPC.

Durban’s ICC is a purpose-built, fully air-conditioned Business Conference Centre with three convention halls that are interlinked but separate. Moveable walls allow for a number of different conference venue configurations. Alternatively the halls can be opened up to form one large venue with seating for 5000 delegates or 7000 m² of column free floor space.

Together with its sister venue, Durban Exhibition Centre, the ICC Durban can double its capacity to accommodate 10 000 conference delegates.


Closer than breathing, neighbour to the Durban ICC is the HILTON INTERNATIONAL HOTEL offering 5-star, luxury accommodation. The ideal solution to the international traveller.

Many other 3 and 4-star hotels surround Durban, alongside the beach-front, in the city, in Durban North and in the luxury suburb, adjacent to the city, Umhlanga which is the hub of business today while also remaining one of the most popular holiday resorts in South Africa. There is a ‘home-from-home’ to suit every conference delegate’s pocket.

Contributed by Rosalie Howard – The Venue Pages