Sustainability, technical support, and disability requirements are important for exhibition organisers and venues to take note of. Stephanie Nieuwoudt finds out how the industry is catering for these specific needs.
Technical support at any major event is, in this digital age, one of the most crucial aspects of conferencing. “There can be no bigger cause for disaster than systems failure, says Eugene Oelofse, marketing manager of the East London International Convention Centre (ELICC). “Equipment should be set up by an experienced team of technicians.”
The ELICC offers standard audiovisual equipment and services, sophisticated stage and room lighting, high ceilings and independent climate control. “Should a function require more elaborate equipment, we prefer to call in trusted audiovisual experts who will provide on-site technical support and state-of-the-art equipment.”
Most major convention centres in the country have teams of in-house technical assistants and a dedicated team of event coordinators assist with all aspects of organising. They’re also responsible for outsourcing extras such as decor, entertainment, hotel accommodation and shuttle services.
Oelofse adds: “The focus of on-site conference and event coordinators is to make recommendations for appropriate meeting rooms, setup, audiovisual, planning schedules, menu selection and entertainment needs. At the time of your meeting, your dedicated coordinator will be there to handle all your meeting needs.”
The Durban ICC boasts the largest area of column free, flat floor, multi-purpose space in Africa coupled with the newest and fastest technology. The ICC Arena has full technical capacity for live broadcasts as well as house lighting suitable for TV production filming. “The centre is fully Wi-Fi enabled, provided complimentary, and there are two on-site generators, which can fully power it in the event of an electricity outage,” says marketing and sales director David Fransen.
Beyond the technical facilities, the venue and the organiser both have certain expectations of each other. Karen Malherbe, reservations office manager of the CSIR ICC emphasises the importance of the exhibitor and organiser to adhere to the venue’s terms and conditions.
“This includes safety regulations, approval of floor plans prior to the exhibition, relevant certificates, which need to be in place, adherence to set-up and breakdown times and clear communication for the duration of the event.”
According to Malherbe, disregard of safety regulations by exhibition organisers is a great concern. “The blocking of fire escapes and fire fighting equipment used to be a regular occurrence resulting in us contracting an exhibition company to manage all exhibition set-ups and breakdowns.”
Many exhibitors and organisers might not know this but recent legislation requires venues, which have a capacity of 2 000 or more, to be inspected by the local authority with the objective of issuing a building safety certificate.
“A safety certificate allows a fully compliant and safe venue to be made available,” says Sandton Convention Centre’s sales and marketing manager. “The introduction of, for example, stands, stages, and suspended audiovisual equipment, as well as additional fire load in the form of flammable draping, and other paraphernalia impacts on the permanent safety facilities of the venue. This needs to be carefully managed to minimisehe risk of an incident.”
Chrissie Smith, marketing manager of Misty Hills Country Hotel, Conference Centre & Spa, explains: “The exhibitor is expected to adhere to set-up and strike times, familiarise themselves with the venue’s health and safety regulations, and always take other exhibitors into consideration. When it comes to the organiser, they’re expected to comply with all terms and conditions as laid out in the agreed contract regarding cut off dates and payment arrangements. They also need to ensure that their exhibitors are fully briefed on the regulations and be available to the operations team during the event.”
According to Megan Arendse, general manager: commercial and business development, Cape Town International Convention Centre (CTICC), it’s standard practice for an internationally benchmarked venue to expect timeous pre-planning and communication between all relevant stakeholders involved in the execution of any exhibition or event.
Robert Walker, business development manager at the exhibitions company Complete Exhibitions, believes the venue should be sensitive to its clients’ needs. “A definite problem is when a venue over promises on deliverables in order to secure events. This only leads to additional challenges on-site and miscommunication down the line and can jeopardise an entire event.”
Walker continues: “Venues should ensure that they don’t host overlapping events, which would potentially compete. It could negatively affect the organiser, delegates and the venue. The people at the coal face dealing with organisers, clients and visitors need to be properly trained and aware of what’s happening at the venue. There’s nothing more frustrating than being late for a conference and noone at the venue can help or assist in getting you where you need to be.”
According to Walker most organisers expect a preliminary site inspection prior to the event to assist with decisions regarding room sizes and set-up times. “When working with large venues, organisers expect some sort of in-house service provision such as AV, decor, H&S consultant and catering. Organisers would want to meet these service providers to ensure quality of service.”
Adolf Venter, chief executive at Gallagher Convention Centre, emphasises the importance of a strong partnership between the venue and the organiser to optimise all opportunities offered by a conference or exhibition. “It’s in our mutual interest to maximise the number of exhibitors and visitors. The relationship is then based on a strong partnership orientation and support for the marketing initiatives and investments undertaken by the organiser to ensure the success of the event. Although, as a supplier of a venue we’re removed from the contractual arrangements between the exhibitor and the organiser, both entities enjoy all the advantages that Gallagher Convention Centre, as a five star venue, has to offer. These include extensive health and safety measures, upmarket infrastructure and a variety of food and beverage offerings.”
Facilities for the disabled and sustainability awareness are becoming increasingly important for event organisers and delegates. The larger conference centres have, for the most part, made provision to accommodate the needs of the disabled. At the CTICC buttons in lifts are placed at a height that’s easily accessible by people in wheelchairs, the inscription on the buttons are in brailleto accommodate the blind, and there are dedicated parking bays and ramps throughout the building.
Jacqui Reynolds, director of Scan On Show, the organisers of Meetings Africa, feels that in the business events industry the greening issue isn’t being driven by the exhibitors, but is rather being pushed by the organisers. “If a conscious effort is made by the organisers to promote greening awareness, then the exhibitors will attempt to align themselves with the greening objectives. For Meetings Africa 2012 we introduced a range of features and tools to help exhibitors, such as the Green Deposit for stand builders, water fountains to discourage use of plastic water bottles, and use of recyclable badges and bags.”
However, it seems as if some venues are on the right track. The CTICC is regarded as a leader in conference venue sustainability and has won numerous awards. The centre has retrofitted compact fluorescent (CFL) and light emitting diodes (LED), and waste is sorted on-site before it’s collected for recovery and recycling. Conference delegates are encouraged to use water in jugs rather than bottled water, notepads and pens made from recyclable materials and to order organic meals. They’ve also launched a campaign encouraging out-of-town delegates to offset their carbon footprint by buying saplings, which are then planted in disadvantaged communities.
The Gallagher Convention Centre is also committed to the principles of sustainability and has, in the past, worked with conference organisers to reduce electricity costs. In 2009 Oasys Innovations had a standby crew at Decorex Gallagher to ensure that no unnecessary electricity was used. They recently reported that they had seen a 35% reduction in their electricity bill compared to the previous year.
However, no matter how cutting edge the technical equipment or how accessible a venue is, if an exhibitor or conference organiser can’t deliver the goods, the event will be a failure. So, how do venues distinguish themselves?
Walker says: “You’ll stand out by including interesting speakers, topics and events to the programme. Hosts should always try and push the envelope a little to ensure their conference remains relevant. Visitors or delegates need to be prepared. Two days at a conference is not time off from work, and if properly utilised will be invaluable to any individual. Most importantly, have a defined goal you want to achieve.”
Preparation is key for Laetitia van Straten, operations manager at Specialised Exhibitions Montgomery. “Prepare well: Integrate your marketing campaign with those of the event organisers, and invite your current, past, and prospective clients. Brief your staff well and have both sales and technical staff on-site to assist with queries and facilitate interaction.”
The bottom line? According to Ricky da Costa, marketing and facilities manager at the Tshwane Events Centre: “Customers have become more demanding and they expect a bigger bang for their buck. An event organiser who provides the little, often forgotten details, creates an image of professionalism and will stand out from the crowd as a well run, well thought out event.”
East London International Convention Centre (ELICC)
Sandton Convention Centre
Misty Hills Country Hotel, Conference Centre & Spa
Cape Town International Convention Centre
Gallagher Convention Centre
Scan On Show
Specialised Exhibitions Montgomery
Tshwane Events Centre