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August 20, 2018

Sub-Saharan Africa: How To Win A Bid in 8 Ways

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Photo by Martin Barraud/OJO Images/Getty Images

Many PCOs prefer to avoid bidding and tap into existing networks. In part, this may be due to the hassle attached to putting together a full bid; a bid book should be over fifty pages long! It can be horribly intimidating to think through all of the elements required for such a document. While we have sought to unpack the process, unfortunately, there is no one-size-fits-all solution when it comes to constructing a bid book. Still, certain aspects should be thought of, well in advance of the bid book being sent in. Below, we outline some of these key sections.

Design & Layout

While this might seem entirely obvious to event organisers, first impressions matter – especially in the world of bid books. Ensure that your book’s design is clean and consistent. Source high-quality, high-resolution images to sell your services and your chosen destination. Ideally, you could include original imagery, but even high-quality stock photography can allow the organisers to envision your destination.

Furthermore, ensure that your layout makes logical sense. A table of contents should clearly delineate where organisers can expect to find the various components of your bid book, but you can go beyond that and think of ways to improve the reader experience. For instance, while application documents often demand the inclusion of a budget and/or request detailed programme outline, these can break up the flow of your narrative-driven bid book if placed directly after the applications. Instead, you can include them as Addenda, allowing the readers to flip towards them when it’s time.

Endorsement Letters

Starting a bid book off with endorsements from government and private alliances and organisations can greatly increase the credibility of your proposal. Demonstrating a willingness from government to support the event can influence organisers’ decisions. But it also pays to be bold; in 2013, the Cape Craft and Design Institute approached the Arterial Network directly for an endorsement letter to host the 3rd Creative Economy Conference and 4th Arterial Network Biennial Conference. Having secured this endorsement from the host organisation, and placed it strategically early in the bid book would naturally have given them a massive advantage over their competitors.

In terms of designing this section, don’t try and get too funky: the letters should be displayed on their original letterheads with signatures in place, to lend an air of gravitas.

Bid Application Document

Naturally, no organising committee will look at your bid book unless it includes the information they requested. But while filling out an application form can seem procedural and boring, great bid books go beyond the expected, and provide supplementary information to prospective clients. For instance, where an application document asks for details of past experiences, be daring and include written testimonials from past happy clients. State your career highlights and your experience across the MICE industry – anything that might impress a potential committee. For example, if you have published articles, chapters or books on the MICE sector, you can mention those. They might not be directly relevant, but clearly demonstrate that you are respected within your industry, and that you have the credibility to pull off an event of the scale required.

Answers to motivation and experience questions should be at least a page, but preferably a little longer. They should cover both the key facts – including the endorsements secured, as discussed above – and exciting opportunities for further developments. Don’t be afraid to mention the potential for investments or investors, and the ways this event can continue to resonate in the destination (and beyond) long after it has ended.

Still, while it is useful to go big (within reason), be as specific as possible in providing comprehensive answers. If an application document requests a list of possible venues, give a rundown of every possibility in that area, and provide descriptions for any major option. Feel free to give extra details, such as founding date, design and architectural characteristics of the space or interesting historical details. For instance, if you’re proposing the Cape Town City Hall as a plenary venue, you might like to mention the fact that it was the venue for Nelson Mandela’s first speech after his release from prison! All this information allows readers to visualise the way the conference will play out. If you’re asked to include a list of accommodation venues, mention the walking distances to and from the plenary venue or other key venues in the area.

Where an answer requires a comprehensive document, rather than merely text or images, feel free to move that to a separate Addendum.

Location Map

Including a map – which has been annotated or tagged to include key locations – can further assist visualisation. It might be wise to have several maps in the document: one for meeting venues, another for accommodations, and a final one for social and hospitality venues. It might be helpful to include images where possible as well, and feel free to give links to additional information about each place. After all, the idea is that a reader should be able to perfectly picture the conference after reading your bid book – and any visual cues to assist that process are going to be appreciated…

Programme Outline

Provide a detailed provisional programme outline for the conference. Do not include “To be Confirmed” sessions – rather make confident decisions regarding what each day will include. Include a proposed time of day for plenaries, breakaways, workshops and social events. The programme does not have to include specific times for each event throughout the day (dividing it into morning, afternoon and evening should suffice). Give potential times for registration; times for registration can be specific in order to ensure accessibility and venues work for the conference. In all, the programme should paint a clear picture, so that any reader can picture the events that will happen on any given day.

It is natural to expect changes as the programme is slowly filled out with keynote speakers, various other guests, and as the venues come together. Therefore, some of your proposed events could, effectively, still be in the “To Be Confirmed” stage of planning. If you mention hosting a Gala Dinner on the last night, but end up moving it to an earlier day after the planning gets going and venue can no longer accommodate that, nobody will cancel your contract! Having a programme filled with “To Be Confirmed” events, however, is likely to cause the committee not to take your bid seriously. It is vital to allow your readers to have a holistic understanding of what every day of your conference needs to include – to demonstrate that it fits their vision and needs.


Your preliminary budget should be as detailed as possible. As with the programme, the budget is not set in stone at this stage of the process, but demonstrating a functional understanding of how the finances of the conference will work is going to work in your favour. Include both proposed income sources (such as donations and registration fees – and again be specific, give your proposed registration fee break down) and estimated expenses.

For a three-day conference, you should have around four pages of expenses! When it comes to detailing expenses, ensure that you have every day broken down into its various components. This ensures that a reader can see that you’ve linked your motivations and programme to the budget; it demonstrates to the reader that you are confident and competent. Try and give as many details and specifics as possible, so that the committee can see that you have thought this through. It might seem silly to include the cost of flipchart paper or the costs involved in stocking water coolers. But it is those minor details that can secure your bid! The motto for building you provisional budget should be that no expense is too small, and no source of proposed income is too big.

Lay the budget out into a standard financial table; do not try and format this section of your bid book in a narrative way (and this is one time when images are utterly irrelevant). Your budget should simply communicate all the aspects you’ve thought about when it came to picturing this conference – and inspire trust and confidence in the reader.

Location Motivation

When it comes to motivating your location choice, there are plenty of things to consider. It is wise to include relevant quantitative rankings. These could be taken from the ICCA Ranking or the BestCities Partners Ranking. You could also look at the number of meetings and conferences hosted in the destination, and provide this information. This can demonstrate to the reader that the city knows how to handle itself when it comes to hosting MICE events.

If you are bidding to host your event in a destination that isn’t widely acclaimed, gloss over the quantitative rankings, and focus on the pros in a narrative form. You can always find a couple of rankings that your destination did well in, and including these can show that you’ve done your research and that there are requisite facilities for hosting the event.

Include widely spoken languages in this section. South Africa is appealing to international conferences due to how widely spoken English is; if your proposed venues can provide staff who speak other major languages, this is worth mentioning. You can also talk about climate, which greatly affects destination choice.

Accessibility to the destination can be mentioned here: does the destination have an international airport? If yes, provide a map that shows the destinations that fly direct to that part of the world. You can also add a table that shows all the flights and airlines servicing it. If no, what are the alternative arrangements that could be put in place? Give details and sell your location.

Provide visa information for international tourists. On that same note, it is useful to include exchange rates to major currencies, and helpful to provide a basic table which includes the estimated costs of common consumables. Provide any other helpful, if basic, information. For instance, many international committees might have concerns around communicable and tropical diseases in Africa – put their minds at ease and provide hard facts. Internationals might also be concerned around safety in Africa. Again, provide facts that counter their perceptions and ensure they feel comfortable coming here.

Finally, this is the section of your bid book where you can sell all the other appealing aspects of your proposed destination. What is it known for? What are the possible incentive trips and excursions that can happen in the area? What are some of the must-see tourist hotspots? You can provide maps of the region (not just of conference-related locations, as was discussed above) and additional images to ensure that your reader is utterly convinced that you are offering them the idyllic space for their event.

This should be a lengthy section of your book; expect to fill fifteen or so pages with information about and images of your proposed location.

Professional Destination Support

South Africa, in particular, is a leader in conferencing. Include information about the convention bureaus and other support organisations. You can provide further information about alliances and the quality of venues and service providers in the destination.

In conclusion, building a bid book is not an easy task. Break it down into small chunks, and tackle each one-by-one. At the end of the day, putting together a winning bid book can ensure a massive career opportunity!

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