Making the most of conferencing events
When it comes to marketing your brand one of the key mechanisms for getting your business noticed is through the world of conferencing and events.
But just how do you go about organising a conference? Where do you hold it? And what truly makes a business conference a success?
Management at Africa’s leading and largest hotel group, Protea Hospitality certainly know the answers to these questions and many more.
With some 130 hotels located in 10 African countries, the group offers customers two brands, the first being the African Pride Hotels, which is a luxury brand comprising a five-star collection of hotels, lodges and country houses, and Protea Hotels which offers three and four star hotels.
The group is very active in the conferencing market with conferencing facilities of one type or another in every Protea Hotel.
Danny Bryer, Director of Sales, Marketing and Revenue, for the Protea Hospitality Group, said: “We host everything from executive board meetings to multi-national product launches and conventions.”
The group’s conferencing business is extremely good and benefiting from the economic vibrancy of the African economies where it has hotels.
He said: “Our hotels are sought after conferencing destinations because of our uniformly high service standards across the continent as well as first class facilities.”
The buoyancy within the market has prompted the group to make a number of capital investments including expanding conference facilities at the Arabella Hotel & Spa situated outside Cape Town.
Bryer said: “Expanding conferencing facilities will always be on the radar because it is such a critical component to the business.”
Advances in technology have played a significant part over the past decade in the way conferencing has changed. A move towards healthier living has also prompted new demands from potential clients.
“A change in lifestyle over the past decade has seen global communication devices becoming standard and technology infrastructure in many African countries is improving to the point that we can now offer services such as video conferencing and most importantly fast and complimentary Wi-Fi,” explained Bryer.
In our more health conscious society, delegates are also insisting on more nutritious menus to keep them well fuelled during conferences and the Group has ensured its meal offerings include a wellness option that provide the right balance of carbohydrates and sugar for sustained energy.
From an activities perspective, the Group has also seen an increase in Team building activities including CSI/CSR component whereby delegates have the opportunity to give of their time and energy to a community or cause.
Another change within the conferencing industry has been the drive towards making events ever more greener and Bryer confirmed that his Group has received an increasing number of requests for CSI or carbon offset add-ons, the latter especially from international event planners and tour groups.
He said: “African Pride Hotels is also currently launching a pilot project at one of our conference speciality hotels to offer additional green conferencing options, but more details about that will be released in due course.”
At the coalface of the conferencing business is Gary Koetser, General Manager of African Pride Crystal towers Hotel & Spa. With some 15 years in the hotel business he knows how important it is for clients looking for a conferencing venue to get value for their money.
“Selecting the right venue with a service orientated mind set is crucial,” he said. “A venue with well-trained meeting and event coordinators who can assist you with all the finer details and planning for your conference is essential.
“If you are working on a tight budget let the venue know what budget you are working with from the outset,” he advised.
Plan it well
Providing venue management with a detailed list of requirements can also work to your advantage. Koester advised being really specific here giving details of accommodation requirements, specific venue requirements, entertainment as well as off-site activities, breakaway requirements, meal requirements and entertainment.
He said: “An important question to ask is what other conferences are taking place at the venue over the same time period, so often when this is not done you may end up with your biggest competitor conferencing in the venue right next door!”
Of course the message from both Bryer and Koetser is that it is all about the planning.
“A successful business conference is entirely based on planning and being clear on the objectives and desired outcome of the conference,” said Bryer.
“The event planner has to start with a complete brief and work with the venue’s conferencing team to ensure every element is executed. If you plan before the event, the chance of an event not being successful is minimal,” he concluded.
SAS: Improving the British Army’s decision making with data
SAS’ long-standing relationship with the British Army is built on mutual respect and grounded by a reciprocal understanding of each others’ capabilities, strengths, and weaknesses. Roderick Crawford, VP and Country GM for SAS UKI, states that the company’s thorough grasp of the defence sector makes it an ideal partner for the Army as it undergoes its own digital transformation.
“Major General Jon Cole told us that he wanted to enable better, faster decision-making in order to improve operational efficiency,” he explains. Therefore, SAS’ task was to help the British Army realise the “significant potential” of data through the use of artificial intelligence (AI) to automate tasks and conduct complex analysis.
In 2020, the Army invested in the SAS ‘Viya platform’ as an overture to embarking on its new digital roadmap. The goal was to deliver a new way of working that enabled agility, flexibility, faster deployment, and reduced risk and cost: “SAS put a commercial framework in place to free the Army of limits in terms of their access to our tech capabilities.”
Doing so was important not just in terms of facilitating faster innovation but also, in Crawford’s words, to “connect the unconnected.” This means structuring data in a simultaneously secure and accessible manner for all skill levels, from analysts to data engineers and military commanders. The result is that analytics and decision-making that drives innovation and increases collaboration.
Crawford also highlights the importance of the SAS platform’s open nature, “General Cole was very clear that the Army wanted a way to work with other data and analytics tools such as Python. We allow them to do that, but with improved governance and faster delivery capabilities.”
SAS realises that collaboration is at the heart of a strong partnership and has been closely developing a long-term roadmap with the Army. “Although we're separate organisations, we come together to work effectively as one,” says Crawford. “Companies usually find it very easy to partner with SAS because we're a very open, honest, and people-based business by nature.”
With digital technology itself changing with great regularity, it’s safe to imagine that SAS’ own relationship with the Army will become even closer and more diverse. As SAS assists it in enhancing its operational readiness and providing its commanders with a secure view of key data points, Crawford is certain that the company will have a continually valuable role to play.
“As warfare moves into what we might call ‘the grey-zone’, the need to understand, decide, and act on complex information streams and diverse sources has never been more important. AI, computer vision and natural language processing are technologies that we hope to exploit over the next three to five years in conjunction with the Army.”
Fundamentally, data analytics is a tool for gaining valuable insights and expediting the delivery of outcomes. The goal of the two parties’ partnership, concludes Crawford, will be to reach the point where both access to data and decision-making can be performed qualitatively and in real-time.
“SAS is absolutely delighted to have this relationship with the British Army, and across the MOD. It’s a great privilege to be part of the armed forces covenant.”