Unlocking business tourism and the opportunities it brings has been on the KwaZulu-Natal agenda for some time, with Durban firmly establishing itself as one of the hottest MICE destinations in the country. While few can doubt the city’s ability to attract and host world-class events, Liesl Venter, spoke to PCO Catherine Larkin about conferencing on the outskirts of the city.
CVLC was approached to organise a conference for 50 delegates outside the immediate Durban area.
The brief, says Larkin, was very specific – to organise a conference that attracted industry leaders, that focused on excellent content and that allowed high-level delegates to freely interact with sponsors.
The decision was taken to hold the conference at the Mount Edgecombe Conference Centre, a popular venue of choice for corporates outside Durban.
At the same time, the event was not far from the international airport or the city itself, obviating the need for long drives to and from the airport. As it was a day conference the ideal was to not have too many delegates stay overnight.
According to Larkin, two big challenges were experienced with this event.
“The first being people locating the event,” she explains. “Delegates got confused between the ‘Mount Edgecombe Country Club’ and ‘Mount Edgecombe Conference Centre’ – resulting in several delegates going to the country club.”
The second big challenge, she says, was more service-orientated. “As the venue does not offer accommodation, it was not accessible 24 hours a day – meaning they are not as flexible as a hotel or the larger conference venues.”
This is particularly important to remember when one is organising from another city, as was the case here.
The ability to deal with last-minute requests was also slightly challenging, Larkin says.
When heading out of the major cities for conferencing, it is important to remember that even a request for bottled water for delegates can be problematic if not arranged with the venue prior to the event, as they would not necessarily stock any items in large quantities.
“One has to keep in mind that, unlike a larger conference venue in the city, they are not necessarily able to deliver on last-minute requests, therefore one has to make sure that all the Ts are crossed and Is dotted before the event even starts.”
“We managed to solve most of the challenges we faced by addressing them head on,” says Larkin. “We realised there was venue confusion and then set about working with the ‘wrong venue’ to ensure they were redirecting any delegates arriving on their doorstep to the correct venue.”
Larkin says they also set up a communication system with all delegates, sending them messages on their mobile phones to make sure they knew which venue the conference was taking place in and directing them to the right venue.
“We had to source last-minute items ourselves as the venue was not able to assist us,” she explains. “They did not have a co-ordinator allocated to us. And the facilities were closed outside normal office hours, which meant that we had to make quick plans to get items we needed.”
She believes that being able to communicate with delegates made a major difference, not to mention the quality of speakers. “The feedback from delegates was that, despite the initial hiccups, they were extremely satisfied. The quality of the speakers was superb and so delegates really benefited in terms of the content and learning experience,” says Larkin.
Also, the high level of delegates represented made for an excellent networking opportunity for sponsors to interact with decision-makers.
Overall, Larkin believes that there are major benefits to networking in the KZN large cities or even its countryside. “Most of the venues can accommodate a variety of experiences for delegates,” she says.
“The all-year-round good weather makes for great eventing. It really does allow one to plan events at times when other provinces are not necessarily all that great to visit because of bad weather.”