Conferencing on the rise despite corporate cost-cutting

While corporates are continuing to cut costs wherever possible, conferencing is still high on the priority list. Fiona Davids reports.

Although budgets for conferencing in major corporations have decreased, conferencing is still in demand, experts say.

Maryke Boonzaier, groups and events co-ordinator at Lagoon Beach Hotel, says business is going well for conferencing this year. “We seem to have more bookings for the winter months, more so than in 2016,” she says.

International business has also picked up tremendously, with many more international corporates travelling to Cape Town and staying and hosting conferences at the Lagoon Beach Hotel, Boonzaier adds.

Thompsons Incentives & Events, has also seen demand for meetings and conferences increase in the first quarter of 2017. “We’ve noticed corporates are hosting multiple smaller conferences and meetings, rather than one big conference as was previously the norm,” she says, project manager, Bernice Hawkins Hudson.

Tania Augustyn, general manager of Tourvest Incentives Meetings and Events’ coastal office in Cape Town, agrees. “So far this year we’ve had clients book smaller conferences that are handled in-house by the clients themselves.”

As part of their cost-cutting initiatives, larger corporates are increasingly adding their own event, meeting and conference facilities to cut down on venue hiring.

“Corporates that have their own conference facilities are a lot more cost conscious and aim to show cost savings when dealing with MICE,” Augustyn explains.

Corporates are much stricter about their conferencing budgets this year as well, according to Hudson and Boonzaier. Pascale Prinsloo, marketing and social media creative co-ordinator at Tourvest Incentives Meetings and Events agrees: “Most corporates have tighter budgets this year,” she says.

“What they’ve started to do is mix their incentives with conferences. Some visit other parts of South Africa, while others go abroad. This enables them to get a few days of conferencing and a bit of a spoil mixed into the conference getaway,” says Prinsloo.

International vs domestic conferencing

Some corporations have found conferencing abroad too expensive, and instead opt to meet in cities in South Africa.

Tourvest’s Augustyn says Cape Town, George, Pretoria and Durban are popular for conferencing with her clients, as international conferencing has decreased. “Our incentives used to include some form of conferencing, from a tax benefit perspective, but now because the tax benefit is no longer available, there is less conferencing abroad, because it is too expensive” she says.

Hudson agrees: “We are still seeing a lot of basic meeting room requirements, but for the larger events, corporates are still attracted to Cape Town and Sun City, which offer work with a touch of leisure. We haven’t seen much conferencing abroad, although we had interest shown in Africa but not internationally because international trips are mainly for incentives.”

On the other hand, Prinsloo’s clients from Johannesburg continue to conference abroad, albeit closer to home. “We have been quoting a lot on Mauritius, Zanzibar, Mozambique and Namibia,” she explains.

Johannesburg and Cape Town still lead the way for conferencing and, because the venues are generally fully stocked and do not need suppliers brought in, it saves costs, adds Prinsloo.

More for less

At the same time, however, corporates are looking for something different.

“They are venturing away from the generic stock standard venues and are looking at something more unique – for example hosting a conference or meeting in an art gallery,” Prinsloo adds.

According to Augustyn, the expectation of value for money is far greater from an outcome perspective with a smaller budget. Corporates that have a smaller budget still want superior services for less,” she says.

Bryony Schultz, convention sales manager at The Westin Cape Town, says corporates using hotels and conference venues expect to see a return on the money they spend on the conference. “The hotel has received a lot of requests for price concessions or value-adds because companies are under pressure to show value for the prices they pay.”

Requests for ‘bleisure’ add-ons have also provided opportunities for organisers and suppliers alike, adds Boonzaier. “Quite a few of our corporate groups have requested their conference rate to be extended to allow delegates the opportunity to stay at the hotel longer, often with their families,” she says.

Schultz agrees: “There has been an increase in pre- and post-conference stays, to allow delegates to have some leisure while visiting Cape Town. This has contributed to the increase of families and spouses joining the conference in order to extend the trip.”

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