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With video conferencing set to dominate the conferencing landscape, Douglas Allen shares with SA Conference what it takes to organise a conference in 2014.

First things first: communication is key. Mistakes generally happen if there is a communication deficit between the event planner and the venue, if the event planner has an incomplete brief or if the venue doesn’t have a professional conferencing team to perfectly execute the brief.

Cheaper is not better
Going for the cheapest quote can get planners into a world of trouble. Frequently the cheapest rate could mean that corners have been cut somewhere, which is generally experienced in the overall product offering and service experience falling short of expectations. At the end of the day, that old Afrikaans adage of goedkoop is duur koop (loosely translated to buying cheap will end up costing more) applies.

Ask for add-ons
All conference venues are competing for business and it would be rash in an economy emerging from a recession not to be flexible when it comes to conferencing packages. At our hotel’s conference centre we provide add value such as breakaway spaces for conferences at no extra change. It’s a tangible value add that MICE organisers appreciate and utilise.

Other important questions to ask are “what is included in the quote?” and “are you fully equipped to execute my brief?” These questions should cover the broad outline. After that, it’s just working out the details.

Trends
There is an increase in requests for Corporate Social Investment or carbon offset add-ons, the latter especially from international event planners and tour groups. Video conferencing facilities are also increasingly in demand. From a banqueting perspective, we’re also experienced increased demand for food offerings that have healthy alternatives for delegates who are focused on wellness.

High speed Wi-Fi is a non-negotiable to MICE planners. More and more multi-nationals are conferencing with their South African staff, then holding international presentations via video conferencing. It’s a win-win approach; the South African delegates get the input and information they need from their international colleagues, who in turn don’t need to lose days in travel time. Live video conferencing has been challenging in the past because of slow internet speeds, even on the broadest bandwidth available, but South Africa’s technology is slowly catching up and it’s allowing conference venues to offer this additional service to the MICE industry.

Meet the staff
Ideally, every event planner should be meeting with a venue’s conferencing team before every MICE event, especially if there are unusual requests such as driving a car into a venue or holding a post-conference party with live music. For repeat business, event planners will often send their brief to the hotel and then check back to make sure everything is in place, but in the case of a first-time client, a meeting is absolutely critical to ensuring the success of the event.

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