Case study: A five-day conference for 7 000 at JHB Expo Centre

Ensuring that a conference of huge national importance for more than 7 000 delegates over five days goes off without a hitch is enough to give most venue managers and meeting planners more than a few sleepless nights. Sue van Winsen spoke to Craig Newman, ceo of the Johannesburg Expo Centre, to find out more about what went into hosting the 54th National Conference for the ANC in December last year.

The briefing process

The first requirement that needed to be addressed was securing and equipping a venue large enough to be able to cater for the numbers anticipated to attend the conference. “We were briefed that we would be dealing with between 7 000 and 7 500 people a day, so we had a series of briefing meetings building up to the event to ensure that we had all the logistics in place with regard to the various venues they were going use and what equipment they would need,” said Newman.

Key focus areas

A rather unique element of the ANC National Conference was that Expo Centre needed to ensure there were at least 13 different breakaway rooms available for their sessions, each catering for at least 1 500 people at the same time. “We needed to pay special attention to this requirement and plan to ensure the necessary AV equipment, stages etc. were in place to cater for those people,” he said.

Catering logistics

Because everyone would be breaking at exactly the same time, the next biggest challenge was the feeding of over 7 000 people in one sitting. “This meant gearing up one of our halls to feed everyone in buffet-style,” said Newman. The Johannesburg Expo Centre had to have at least 10 buffet stations available daily for lunch and dinner so that attendees didn’t have to deal with long queues.

Special security requirements

With the presidents and deputy presidents of the ANC and country in attendance every day, security had to be extremely tight. “The entire security plan and programme was done by the Presidential Protection Unit and we just had to comply,” said Newman, adding that special measures included search areas for all attendees before entering the venue and regular security check-ups.

Unexpected issues

“The biggest challenge on a daily basis was that the programme didn’t stick to time,” said Newman. “If we were ready to feed people by 12h30 but they only got to halls to eat at 14h00, it was a massive logistical nightmare. There were certain foods that needed to be served straight away, but this was just something we had to deal with.”   

Major successes

Newman said getting the equipment logistics right was the biggest success of the event. “This was the result of working closely with and have great relationships with our service providers.” He said  getting the catering right was also a victory, as everything went smoothly and was incident-free.


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