Finding a hotel without a conference venue is like finding the proverbial needle in a hay stack. Not to mention the host of inhouse corporate facilities available. In the booming MICE environment, convention centres in particular are under pressure to develop drawcards and deliver additional services. Liesl Venter finds out more.

 

Purpose-built and designed for people to connect and engage in productive and meaningful ways, one will be hard-pressed to find a reason not to host a conference at one of the country’s world-class convention centres.

The Sandton Convention Centre (SCC), for instance, is a venue where just about anything is possible, says Adriaan Liebetrau, sales and marketing manager for the Tsogo Sun Sandton Mile that includes the SCC.

“The rooms are all multi-use and can be set up or styled in almost any way the users’ require. This allows for a lot more flexibility and creative thinking in conducting meetings which a typical corporate boardroom does not accommodate,” he says.

Liebetrau believes convention centres play a critical role in showcasing South Africa’s MICE ability. “As a very young competitor on the global playing field, South African convention centres showcase the very best of what this country has to offer. They are all industry leaders globally, built to the best international standards offering exceptional value for money.”

Scott Langley, corporate affairs and marketing manager at the Durban International Convention Centre (ICC), says it is important to recognise the mandate that most convention centres have is not necessarily to operate for their own benefit exclusively.  “The Durban ICC, for example, was built to be a catalyst for bringing positive economic impact into the city and region. Our success is measured by the contribution made to South Africa’s economy and the number of jobs created as a result of our activities.”

The same is true for the SCC and the Cape Town International Convention Centre (CTICC).

There is no denying, says Langley, the significant value these centres have for their clients - especially when hosting international events due to the ability to offer a range of services one would not necessarily be able to access at a smaller-scale venue. “This can range from the issuing of public relations and media releases about the event, to the promotion of the conference or event to the centre’s own network of business associates. Social media support throughout the event is now also included in our offering,” he says.

“The importance of this kind of support is that it speaks to the heart of the issue, which is delivering a successful event, that is well attended and generates a profit for the client,” Langley adds.

According to Liebetrau, convention centres are also, by their very nature, ideally located within cities giving a competitive advantage. “The convention centres’ locations alone are already great value-add as they are in close proximity to transport networks. In the case of the SCC, for instance, the Gautrain station is just around the corner, meaning out-of-town guests do not need to hire a car and locals can avoid traffic.”

Convention centres are also in close proximity of world class hotels, offering a range of accommodation to delegates. In Johannesburg and Cape Town, the centres are directly linked to a hotel which allows organisers to have a further array of spaces to choose from depending on their needs.

 

Innovative thinking

While innovation can often be misunderstood or interpreted, it is ultimately an action of change, alteration, renovation and transformation, says Liebetrau, emphasising the importance of innovation to convention centres.

“This can be something as small as replacing your table mints with a popcorn machine at a conference. A key driver going forward will be using different meeting formats and bring in technology that can enhance a delegate experience,” he predicts.

For Langley, innovation is only relevant as a tool to make delegates’ lives easier. “The number one need of the modern conference delegate is free Wi-Fi. The Durban ICC has the largest and fastest free Wi-Fi network at any convention centre in the country, which is good but it isn’t really ‘innovation’,” he says, emphasising the importance of these centres having to stay ahead of the trend.

“The second need is then surely the ability to keep your multiple devices charged throughout your conference day. This is why we introduced these complimentary charging stations into our tables in our lounges and coffee shop,” Langley adds.

According to Kim Weber, business optimisation manager and Zandri Swartz, sales ambassador at the Century City Conference Centre & Hotel, the MICE sector has grown to such an extent that there are high expectations that need to be met, not just the basic needs anymore.

“Facilities can not only be aesthetically designed, but have to offer unparalleled functionality and advanced technology which surpasses any other venue in the country.”

That means thinking about every minute detail at length and coming up with the best possible solution. Attention to detail cannot be emphasised enough.

 

The future and beyond

The demand for Convention Centres has never been stronger than at present, says Langley.

“Existing convention centres are expanding, new centres have entered the market in recent years and there are a number of new centres currently in development. So the outlook seems to be positive.”

Adds Liebetrau: “And our offering is world class. We can compete at the highest level offering service, faciliites and value-add that are right there with the best in the world.”