Organising a Conference – Part 1

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Organising a conference can be a daunting and time consuming task. Most often the person responsible for organising the event is a PA or secretary and as such has a host of other responsibilities. Most often they are required to organise one or two events of this nature per year and while many of them do so quite efficiently, there are some who struggle with the task. This article will try to assist those who need some guidance to complete this task. It will cover a host of points to be considered from sourcing a conference venue to post conference feed-back. It will cover different areas in different articles and older articles can be found by browsing the archives or searching for the articles whose titles include “Organising a Conference”.

These articles have been written from a South African perspective, but are also relevant to other countries where the principles of organising a conference are the same.

In this week’s article we will cover budget when sourcing a conference venue.

Should readers want info or articles published on specific areas, please feel free to contact the writer and these will be considered.

SOURCING A CONFERENCE VENUE IN SOUTH AFRICA

WEEK 1

There are several points to consider when sourcing a conference venue in South Africa. This week we will cover budget.

1. Budget

What are the venues costs and do they fit the budget allocated to the conference? When calling for quotes from venues one should be careful that all hidden costs are taken into account. Some points to note when calling for quotes should be: –

a) Do the rates include or exclude VAT? Most conference venues in South Africa quote including VAT but there are a few who quote excluding VAT. You can trip the VAT portion out to meet your company’s budget amount as this amount is normally ex VAT.

b) Do they include equipment requirements or is this extra? Most venues include standard equipment in their rates. Ensure that you know what this standard equipment includes and call for rates for any additional equipment you may require. For larger conferences you may need specialised equipment which may need to be outsourced to an outside company.

c) In the event that delegates will require accommodation, enquire if all meals have been included or is the accommodation rate quoted simply on a bed and breakfast basis. Some hotels quote room only rates, or bed and breakfast rates. Ensure that you know what they are quoting you and what meals it includes.

d) Does the Day Conference rate include all refreshments, venue hire etc.? A Day Conference Package Rate or DCP normally includes all teas and coffees, lunch, use of the venue, use of standard equipment and VAT. It is better to be quoted a DCP rate which includes all of this than to be quoted per tea / coffee session, lunch, room hire etc. as the chance of unexpected hidden cost arising is less. Also a packaged rate is normally slightly less than the sum of the parts.

e) Will rates increase before your conference? Often a conference is organised months in advance of the date. Ensure that the venue quotes you rates applicable to the time of year your conference will take place and not current rates which may be subject to annual increases.

f) Do rates include Tourism Levy? Tourism levy is a government tax levied on accommodation. It is levied at 1% of the ACCOMMODATION portion of the rate.

g) When delegates are staying overnight and accommodation is required, it is better to get a Fully Inclusive Rate or a 24 hour packaged rate. This will normally include all meals, accommodation, conference room hire, standard equipment, VAT, tourism levy etc. Some venues will quote a dinner, bed and breakfast rate and a DCP separately. Others may quote a bed and breakfast rate and a DCP rate but may unintentionally exclude a dinner rate. Make sure that you have budgeted for dinner for resident delegates and know exactly what you are getting for your rate.

h) When organising a conference where delegates will pay for their own accommodation, but the organisers will arrange transport to and from the venue, one should always include at least three official hotels ranging from 5 star accommodation to 3 star accommodation so as to provide suitable accommodation to a wide range of delegates. One should also take into account the distance of these hotels from the conference centre so as to limit transport costs.

In next week’s article we will cover the location of your chosen conference venue. In the meantime please feel free to comment and ask questions which may not have been covered in this article.

WEEK 2

In this 2nd week’s article we will cover location and dates when sourcing a conference venue. Location and dates go hand in hand as most of the points to note depend on each other.

Should readers want info or articles published on specific areas, please feel free to contact the writer and these will be considered.

2. Location and dates

Some points to note when considering location of your conference venue are: –

a) How will delegates be commuting to the conference venue? If delegates will be driving, take into consideration driving time to avoid delegates arriving late. The programme or agenda should take this into account and be drafted accordingly.

b) If the host of the conference will be transporting delegates to and from the conference venue, call for quotes from transport companies or in house transfers to budget accordingly to get delegates to and from the venue timeously.

c) If delegates will be arriving and departing by air, take into account the frequency of flights on airlines to and from the destination. Some conference venues in South Africa have limited flights which may be more expensive than other destinations. They may also not run on, say for instance a Sunday, which will result in delegates staying an extra night or arriving a day early. Take this into account when setting your dates to ensure that you have a decent turnout at your conference.

d) Check what other conferences are taking place at the same venue or at the same destination as yours. Often delegates need to book their own accommodation and if many conferences are taking place simultaneously at the same destination (i.e. Sandton), hotel rooms may be in short supply and priced slightly higher than normal. Also commuting to the conference centre may be difficult if the conference overlaps with others at the same time in the same destination or venue.

e) It is always advisable to view the venue before confirming a reservation. Most hotels or conference venues in South Africa will gladly invite you on a site inspection to view their facilities and experience their service first hand. You should take up this offer in order to see, first-hand, what the food, the facilities and the service is like to ensure that your delegates will be comfortable and that the venue will work for your conference.

f) Take into account the time of year your conference will take place and the climate at that time, in that region, and advise delegates accordingly. You may be planning a lot of outdoor activities and it won’t help if it is the rainy season. Or you may be planning to do some white water rafting and it won’t help if it is cold.

g) Take into account school holidays. The venue may be a popular holiday destination and you may find that it is noisy and very busy with holiday makers. Rates may be higher too.

h) Some venues, in some areas, insist that you book for the whole weekend as they are primarily a leisure establishment. Try and change location or ensure that you are not setting dates over a weekend if this will cause a problem.

i) At the end of the day it is common sense, but I hope that this article will have at least given you one point to consider that you had not considered.

In next week’s article we will cover catering for your delegates. In the meantime please feel free to comment and ask questions which may not have been covered in this article.

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