Q&A: Birchwood – Ever evolving

Birchwood Hotel & OR Tambo Conference Centre is one of South Africa’s most comprehensive conference venues, but it has had to move with the times and adapt its offering, as the market and its needs have changed. Here, Birchwood Director Kevin Clarence talks through some of those changes with Business Traveller Africa.

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Q: What are your thoughts on the current state of the SA conference industry?

A: It’s incredible to watch our conference industry evolve. We’re continuing to see the standard conferencing paradigm be challenged and changed as demands and requests become more unique. The modern conference group wants something different – an experience rather than ‘just another day at the office’.

Q: How is Birchwood keeping up with the trend of offering ‘something different’?

A: We’ve expanded our product offering to enhance a multi-day stay or conference. This year we launched our Food Truck. This incredible installation sees our chefs live in action serving some favourite classic meals with a Birchwood twist around our pool and decking area. In the last year, we’ve completely revamped and renovated two of our most utilised conference centres. Continuing with the ‘something different’ theme, we’ve created two dedicated holding rooms, with luxurious furniture, and packages for groups with VIPs in their parties.

Q: What’s the most unusual request you’ve received from a customer in the past year or so?

A: Hospice East Rand recently held a Polar Plunge event where brave individuals dived into our pool in the middle of winter. While our pool area has just been relaunched, we didn’t expect it to be utilised in July.

Q: Have you picked up on any global conference trends that you feel are worth mentioning?

A: It’s rare to find a conference requirement that doesn’t require heavy bandwidth for their event. With streaming services, cloud-based file sharing and event mobile apps becoming a standard, venues are having to ensure that their connectivity infrastructure is ready to handle this. We’ve managed to create a service offering where we can tailor-make a network for your group with customisable bandwidth, privacy, speed and even a personalised SSID. You will feel that the wi-fi was created, just for you.

Q: Birchwood was previously heavily reliant on the publicsector for business, but have you managed to broaden your client base, and if so, how?

A: We are incredibly appreciative of public sector patronage and continue to have them as a part of our clientele. Birchwood however, is a product offering that should spark the interest of any individual traveller, conference group or travel agent/PCO. The way that we’ve created this is by creating distinct and dedicated package offerings that are tailor-made for the market in mind. The business traveller is welcome to use our complimentary Airport Waiting Lounge. Larger conference groups are able to make use of the accommodation rooms near the bigger venues.

Q: Have you been successful in changing the perception that Birchwood only caters to largescale conferences?

A: Absolutely. We took the feedback from our clients to heart and developed our service and product offering to create what we have available today. Birchwood is a hospitality hub which has something for everyone. This has been validated by not only the incredibly positive feedback we’ve received from our guests, but by the numerous awards that we’ve received – most of which are based on public opinion and votes.

Q: How have you positioned Birchwood as a serious player in the standard corporate travel, as opposed to conference, space?

A: The development of our award-winning Silverbirch product offering as well as the creation of ample and distinct dining options means that we are not just a conference venue. While conferencing is at our core, you will not find a venue that can offer you what Birchwood can in terms of meeting facilities and accommodation offering. The additional options such as the Mangwanani Boutique Spa, our newly launched pool area, as wellas our free high-speed wi-fi, onsite restaurants, business centre and the in-house expertise of our various teams, means that we are a one-stop-shop in a location that is incredibly convenient.

Q: How are you employing technology to enhance the delegate/guest experience?

A: Our digital signage facility welcomes you with your company logo and event name on a high definition digital screen outside the venue. We invite clients to be as creative as they’d like for these devices, or alternatively, our marketing team can put something together. Our wi-fi infrastructure received a large investment to offer an unrivalled network facility whether for basic browsing, heavy-streaming, video-conferencing or cloud-based file sharing.

Q: Where would you like to see Birchwood in 10 years’ time?

A: We want to continue to be an ever-growing and versatile venue that is the premier conference and accommodation offering in Southern Africa. If I had to look 10 years in the future, I’d like to have Birchwood positioned as a property and offering that has been moulded using client feedback and business trends as a foundation and platform to build and improve.