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June 29, 2015

Sub-Saharan Africa: Government Conferences in South Africa

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By Kim Muller

The Good, the Bad and the Different

The government of any country has a robust, healthy event life. Not only are there international meetings where decisions are made that change the course of history, but many different kinds of events take place in both local and state government circles on a regular basis. It’s also worth noting that some of these events require special planning protocols depending on the rank of officials in attendance.

Most of South Africa’s largest convention and expo centres have hosted government conferences. The Sandton Convention Centre in Johannesburg considers government to be one of its big clients, contributing an average of 20 percent of business annually. “As a result, we have a dedicated sales manager who looks after this sector of our business,” Executive Director Mati Nyazema says. “We are already quite familiar with government and international organisation events and have hosted a wide variety of government-related functions, including the recent African Union Summit, several SADC summits and Commonwealth and United Nations meetings.” SCC has a good reputation with statesmen and receives repeat or word-of mouth business based on their track record.

Another way in which venues attract government events, says Nolan Eilerd of Mittah Seperepere Convention Centre, is by sharing information on their offerings online and through advertising and marketing, but although these form part of the reason authorities choose venues, it’s still not the main one. “We have established relationships with our clientele already, and our clients know our level of expertise and trust that we will deliver the high standard of work which they have become accustomed to,” Eilerd concludes.

Being a government institution facility of international standard, CSIR ICC is able to assist with government meetings in ways that many venues cannot thanks to the recently announced Treasury Instruction 01 of 2013/4. This, of course, means being absolutely knowledgeable about protocols. “A large majority of the CSIR ICC staff has had protocol training,” Refilwe Nchebisang, Marketing Coordinator at CSIR, says. “This is important as venue employees need to be able to advise clients on how meeting rooms should be set up for official meetings and conferences. Also important is how to fly national flags and how to arrange them.”

Of course, the basics of event planning remain the same despite a difference in the type of guests being hosted, says Jaco Du Plooy, Sales, Marketing and Revenue Manager at NH The Lord Charles Hotel. “There seems to be levels of protocol, depending on the level of government. The basics, however, remain fairly standard. When it comes to government ministers, heads of state, etc., security measures are normally the main factor.”

Liesel Da Costa of the Johannesburg Expo Centre, agrees with Du Plooy, saying that all clients are treated equally – heads of state or not. “The JEC has a passion for excellence and we believe in going the extra mile for clients,” she explains. “Our conferencing facilities are excellent and that is how we attract government officials to the JEC. We add a unique personal touch to ensure that we deliver service excellence. We take time to fully understand the needs of our clients and then we do whatever we can to meet them.”

Building relationships is key to growing a venue’s government client base. The CTICC builds relationships across all spheres of government – local, provincial and national – making it easier to engage with and work with officials. They say that although their brand and world-class standards alone bring in clients of this kind, security is a major difference between these kinds of events and any other conventions. A great example of this was the World Economic Forum Africa held in June. The process involved strict accreditation of all staff on the premises, police officers at all entrances and exits, and mandatory vehicle and personal searches – not to mention bomb sweeps and other similar measures.

Nyazema’s approach to government events is perhaps why we should sit up and take interest in them. “The fact is that government and government organisations play an extremely important role in the day to day lives of every person in this country. It’s not about politics; it’s about providing an efficient service to a client that impacts our futures, that represents our nation, enables us to put our products on the global map, and much more,” she concludes. “The publicity generated from hosting such events is good referral for future events.”

Tips for Hosting a Successful Government Event

Yes, some are no-brainers and apply to any event, like be flexible, or be patient, but here’s a list of tips for keeping officials happy when hosting a conference.

  • Ensure all staff understand the necessary government protocols, says Mati Nyazema of the SCC. “Prior to the AU Summit, the SCC arranged for a half-day of training on Protocol for all staff by an accredited national trainer. It was very interesting and highly informative and gave appropriate weight to the value of national symbols and the importance of respective nations’ heads of state.”

  • Don’t think about out-of-the-ordinary requests as something that only applies to government events, says CTICC. “We are a five-star, world class, multi-functional facility, so nothing is out of the ordinary. At the CTICC we say, if you can imagine it, we can host it.”

  • Flexibility is key, says Jaco Du Plooy of NH The Lord Charles Hotel. “Things can change quickly and we need to be able to adapt to that,” he explains. “Working with government can be exciting and quite interesting. Due to the last minute nature of the bookings, we often do not budget or forecast the revenues, so it can be a pleasant surprise.”

  • Treat everyone like VIPs, says Nolan Eilerd of MSCC. “It is very important to make sure that all staff delivers a high level of professionalism in dealing with high profile officials. What we teach our staff here at the Convention Centre however, is that each client is a VIP and should be treated as such.”

  • Be ready to take last minute requests, says Refilwe Nchebisang of CSIR ICC. “We have noticed increasing delays in getting approvals for crucial event logistics which causes late planning and organising,” she says, “However the CSIR ICC has experience to deal with last minute requests and changes.”

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