Conferencing in 2019 needs a different approach – and here’s why

Marc Wachsberger, md of The Capital Hotels and Apartments, shares insights from its seven South African conferencing venues.                                                                  

Even though budgets are under increasing pressure, the business benefits of conferencing are priceless: education and skills-sharing opportunities, networking, and an off-site environment for colleagues to learn more about themselves and one another by participating in fun activities. 

Tighter budgets and an increased expectation of value for money and return on investment have seen more and more South African companies looking for conference venues that offer everything they need in one venue, and at a reasonable price.

Across our 51 conference venues, we’ve noticed that multi-day events are less popular than before, while clients are choosing venues that are adaptable to allow for full audience plenaries or small group breakaways, all at one location.

The conferencing team at The Capital Hotels and Apartments has identified these seven trends that will shape the industry in 2019: 


1 – Healthy snacks

Companies are seeking maximum output from delegates at conferences, and a small bowl of chewy mints and a bottle of water to last between breakfast and lunch aren’t going to cut it if they’re to keep energy levels high. A range of healthy and nutritious snacks that are going to keep energy high and creativity on form is essential. 


2 – Diverse catering

Business professionals at all levels are placing greater emphasis on health, with menus needing to offer options that cater for various eating plans and religious needs. While many of these requirements can be met with a carefully planned buffet menu, venues that respect diverse dietary needs and integrate them as seamlessly as possible will be conference organisers’ first choice. A buffet or finger fork lunch is also a great way to manage high-pressure schedules and diverse dietary needs. 


3 – Additional spaces

Even though many conferences have a focus on digital with on-site free WiFi being as essential as comfortable seating, secretariat rooms are still in high demand. Offering the space for this at no charge is a great value-add, whether the conference organiser brings in their own copier and printing facilities or not. 


4 – Enable creativity

Most conferences still have a fun or team-building element in them, and the venues that offer a blank canvas that welcomes any kind of creative activity are the ones that will enjoy more bookings. Popular events include chocolate making, MasterChef-type competitions or even canvas painting, but there really should be no venue-imposed limit on what event organisers can do to inspire creativity among attendees. 


5 – Versatile venues

Venues that have spaces that can be dressed up or down or easily reformatted to accommodate the agenda will also be the most popular. Being willing to transform a daytime pool area into a night-time ballroom under a Bedouin tent, for example, will win an event organiser’s heart (and business). 


6 – Complimentary options

While overnight conferencing has been affected by budget constraints, venues that offer comfort and value for money will be first choice. Conference delegates don’t need night-time turn downs or toiletries that they’ll never use – but they do need free high-speed WiFi, and some may even need free laundry services. Free parking should be a non-negotiable, and free shuttle services within a 5km radius of the venue for overnight guests is a great value-add. 


7 – Customer service

Excellent customer service is top of mind for conference organisers, who want the comfort of working closely with an efficient and readily available expert banqueting team. This includes being available on call at any time to discuss event plans, while emails should only be a back-up to face-to-face meetings and telephonic updates. 

Conferencing is all about creating, curating and sharing conversations. Venues that offer or create the most appealing environments, where organisers’ outcomes are effectively achieved, are the ones that will welcome repeat business, even in the current tough economic climate.

Joburg-born Marc Wachsberger was a Chartered Financial Analyst working in mergers and acquisitions when he noticed a disconnect in the local property market: hotel rooms were overpriced and residential apartment leases were cheap. What’s more, hotels were wasting money on things that business travellers didn’t care about, but not offering the things that they really wanted. Inspired by these blatant market inefficiencies, Wachsberger started The Capital Hotels and Apartments in 2008 by leasing apartments, furnishing them to a high standard and sub-letting them on a per-night basis to compete with the hotel sector. He did everything himself at first, from negotiating leases to being the porter – giving him hands-on experience at every level – which still stands him in good stead. By introducing cost-effective frills-free apartment-style and regular hotel-format accommodation tailored to suit business and family travel needs, Wachsberger has offered the local market, and incoming travellers from abroad a refreshing alternative to the staid status quo.