Q&A: Sandton Convention Centre – Embracing innovation

The South African conference and exhibition industry is facing challenges, and only those that innovate will survive and prosper. So says Shaun Bird, General Manager at Sandton Convention Centre.

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

A: Exhibitions continue to be accepted as smart marketing, with exhibitors recognising the broad-based opportunities for face-to-face interaction with a captive buying audience, while at the same time, more attention is being placed on cost management and more efficiencies are being built into the whole process. Conferences likewise are ‘smarter’ – with innovative elements to attract delegates and retain their attention and attendance throughout.

Q: How is SCC keeping up with the trend of offering ‘something different’ that everyone seems to want these days?

A: We are continuing with strategies adopted last year that are delivering encouraging results. We have improved engagement with government and city authorities, such as tourism associations, roads departments, SAPS, and others, and are finding ways to be more proactive in the interests of innovative solutions for our clients. We don’t have the luxury of open spaces that other venues have, so we need to be creative in how we use ours – and working closely with the relevant authorities is paying dividends. Constant focus is also given to environmental practices and finding better ways to save water and electricity, to recycle, and to protect the environment. Staff, clients and visitors are kept informed about our efforts to encourage greater buy-in. The streamlining of our processes and systems to ensure an improved customer-centric approach for all our events is an ongoing priority in operations.

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

A: Innovation in entertainment, edutainment, and interaction with visitors to exhibitions and delegates at conferences is growing exponentially, as is the use of technology – in connecting with people and in how events, exhibits, and presentations are delivered. These are areas that we follow very closely.

Q: Do you struggle with the perception that SCC only caters to large-scale conferences and exhibitions, or are you happy with this positioning?

A: In fact we find that perception tends to be broader than just large-scale events – our volume of business continues to exceed expectations with events that range from small to massive and include consumer, trade, music, sports, whisky and wine, government, conferences, exhibitions, meetings, weddings and celebrations, banquets, and more.

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

A: We have invested heavily in new state-of-the-art audio visual equipment to ensure excellence in every event, from large-scale music concerts to intimate business meetings. We’re also staying ahead of the game in the use of apps and smart phones to keep delegates involved and fully engaged in the events.

Q: Have you made any changes to the SCC offering recently?

A: We are constantly looking at ways to improve our offering for the benefit of our clients, delegates, and visitors. Our culinary offering has been updated under the brilliant management of our Executive Chef James Khoza, who is also President of the SA Chefs Association. A wide range of creative menu options has been developed to guide customers in their choices, while also offering flexibility. Our culinary offering is designed to impress our local and international clientele and reflect their preferences. The food and beverage focus is increasingly on sustainability, keeping the food fresh and on point with health considerations, which includes mindful eating.

Q: What big events do you have in the pipeline for the rest of the year?

A: The Standard Bank Joy of Jazz was once again a huge hit at the end of September, then in early October it’s ICE Africa, the continent’s only B2B gaming confex; also in October is EduTECH, which this year focuses on the impact of technology on teaching; the Property Show is back on 19 and 20 October; then PASCAR, SA Heart and AfricaPCR are joining forces for their congress in early November; followed by another Whisky Live Festival, which this year is the Whisky, Gin and Spirits Festival; DISCOP Joburg is back to inspire and support the AV market in November; and at the end of November is a Cannabis trade and consumer expo.

Q: Where would you like to see SCC in five years’ time?

A: Continuing as the leading convention centre in SA with an increased international clientele; staying ahead of the game and consistently delivering innovation and memorable experiences; employing the latest technology; being increasingly responsive to customer needs and expectations; and collaborating more extensively with local businesses and retail malls, local authorities, government and tourism to ensure nuanced events and more holistic travel experiences for clients, exhibitors, delegates and visitors – and their families.