For some, conferences are a great idea, an opportunity to get out of the office – a room jam-packed full of like-minded (and not so like-minded) people, coming together with a common goal to share ideas and get motivated. For others, it’s a schlepp – it means time away from home and for the most part it’s laborious and plain boring. For this reason, when it comes to planning a conference these days, one has to think out of the box, be original and look outside the norm - come up with enticing and engaging ideas to bring delegates an experience they won’t forget.
Venues have realized they can no longer just provide a space for an event or conference, and that they are integral in creating an overall personalised experience for the client - hosting meetings outside has seen growing popularity and companies are focusing harder on team and personal development as well as team building. With budgets continuing to tighten, corporates are relying less on professional conference organisers and more on the venue to help them bring their message and experience to life.
Beyond the traditional requirements or “what’s-on trend”, like green conferencing, healthy eating options, experientially-led events and innovative technology, this out-there thinking has brought about some outrageous requests. We spoke to key personnel at BON Hotels who came up with a few interesting, bizarre and fun tales.
Banqueting manager, Dumisane Zondo at BON Hotel Riviera on Vaal reveals the coolest although wildest request was for a beach to be created on the banks of the river over which the hotel looks! And many a guest has requested a ‘sea-facing’ – duh? room there too. She adds, “The most popular requests are for hangover stations the morning after an event, or regmaker remedies as we like to call them, and I don’t suppose I am allowed to mention the frequent request for inter-leading rooms from male and female colleagues so they can do some ‘work’ after hours.”
From lengths and lengths of extension cords for a conference of just 30 to a buffet lunch and U-shape seating for two people, a conference venue with no chairs or tables – who knows what went on in there? - to attempting to squash 300 delegates into a venue that can only accommodate 160 at the client’s request - there appears to be no limit to extraordinary demands.
Conni Lyners, General Manager at BON Hotel Swakopmund says that they have even had a request for dental kits in the room. “He did have a winning smile,” she adds. Or the honeymooners who requested two single beds in their room? Another incident involved a query as to whether the hotel was pet friendly, which it isn’t, to which the guest replied, “Oh, so then I cannot bring along Biscuit, my pet python?”
Odd food requests are also the order of the day at times says Chef Tarquin at BON Hotel Bloemfontein Central who has had to cater to all cultures, intolerances and allergies but not without weird and wonderful requests like offal, poached ostrich eggs, grilled chicken feet, goats milk and donkey meat.
Perhaps the most bizarre was at an international hotel where the guest speaker at a team-building conference decided he needed something special for his session: a horse. With just two hours' notice, the hotel's concierge found a suitable steed and delivered it to the meeting room on time.
Generally, hotels are up to doing anything, anywhere, anytime, as long as it’s not immoral, unethical or illegal. These dedicated professionals, the concierges, banqueting managers and GMs, aka magicians, detectives and jugglers, remain calm in the face of a challenge, discreet where necessary and are always energetic and resourceful whilst backed by a local network who can assist them in finding just about anything, keeping the balls in the air and creating the magic.
When asked if he had had any outrageous requests, Mike Jameson, General Manager at Destiny Hotel & Convention Centre by BON Hotels, said, “If we go the extra mile then no request is too outrageous!”