Conferencing is a vital component of the global workplace. A precision-planned, well-executed conference can strengthen your brand, build customer relationships, empower your staff, enrich your networking and foster new markets. So clever conference planning is crucial and the choice of venue is critical. Jane Barsby discovers why Kenya is truly the conference destination that has everything…
Making the right choice
The decision as to where to hold your conference also has a profound effect both on the psychology of the event and the energy of the participants. An overly imposing venue, for instance, can bear down heavily on the participants and inhibit their creativity. Similarly, a lightweight venue for a heavyweight topic can make the attendees feel undervalued.
Conference venue choice can also impact on corporate branding. A badly chosen venue can dent the brand; a well-chosen venue can polish it. Essentially, then, the venue choice must complement the brand rather than compete with it. And the eco-profile of the venue must resonate with the corporate social responsibility statement. No point championing the eradication of plastic bottles and then having lines of them marching down your conference tables.
Venue choice also impacts on the quality of attendee experience. Naturally, it’s imperative that the delegate-experience INSIDE the conference room is dynamic. But equally it’s important that their experience OUTSIDE the conference room is energizing. So the choices made with regard to cuisine, entertainment, cultural exposure and leisure activities are key. And this is where the degree of versatility of your venue choice becomes paramount. And when it comes to versatility, Kenya excels.
The Out of Africa factor
As the original safari destination, Kenya is a country that people have always wanted to visit. Wild, beautiful, climatically perfect, culturally fascinating and warmly welcoming, Kenya has exerted a magnetic appeal over the world’s travellers since the early days of its safari history. First came the royalty, the aristocracy, the millionaires and the world leaders. Then came the writers and the pleasure-seekers. But that was the trickle before the deluge. Because, in 1985, Sydney Pollack’s epic Out of Africa, hit the world’s screens with Meryl Streep and Robert Redford playing Karen Blixen and Denys Finch Hatton against a backdrop of spell-binding scenery and jaw-dropping wildlife. It was an instant blockbuster and Kenya’s touristic fortune was made. Suddenly everyone wanted to go on safari in Kenya.
Kenya responded fast. She capitalized on her stunning selection of game reserves and created an irresistible portfolio of ‘Out of Africa’ lodges, hotels and tented camps. She also trained an army of tourism professionals. And today that army is at the top of its game. But with an added bonus: all our conference crews are fluent in English and, typically, operationally competent in Italian, German and French.
Technologically too, Kenya has leapfrogged ahead of many so-called ‘first world’ venues so as to deliver a slick, well-priced and reliable level of internet connectivity, telecoms-reach and audio-visual proficiency. So in terms of infrastructure – Kenya has it all.
Kenya thinks BIG
As everyone knows, Kenya plays host to the ‘Big Five’ of the wildlife world: the lion, elephant, buffalo, leopard and rhino. But Kenya also knows how to host BIG events. Politically stable, geographically crucial, she has long featured as the preferred stage for Africa’s major events, be they regional, political, or academic. An early adopter of all things innovative, Kenya also plays frequent host to the world’s prime commercial and networking events; while our sleek city hotels attract an impressive array of globally significant exhibitions. When it comes to the smaller events, however, we also score highly because Kenya’s range of intimately rustic game lodges offers the perfect stage for small-scale meetings and workshops alike.
Kenya is a land of many faces: the snow-capped peaks of Mount Kenya give way to the silver-blue strand of the Indian Ocean. We have 56 national parks, numerous conservancies, a glittering string of Rift Valley lakes, six UNESCO World Heritage Sites and over 400 historic sites. And we have Nairobi, Africa’s highest, fastest-growing and most dynamic capital city. What’s more, thanks to the excellence of our travel-connections, our visitors can mix-and-match the strands of these fabulously varied backdrops into a conference tapestry of unrivalled colour and vivacity. Our internal flights can transport travel groups up-country or down to the coast with the verve of a hunting leopard, while our ultra-new Single Gauge Railway can whisk them from Nairobi to the Indian Ocean in the shake of a cheetah’s tail. And our ground operators have perfected the art of getting people from A to B with minimal hassle and maximum game viewing. We also have a super-efficient range of helicopter and private jet services. So there’s nothing to stop the enterprising organizer from staging the conference’s morning session in Nairobi and the early evening drinks in Mombasa. Or, from migrating to the Mara for a brainstorming session. The wildebeest do it all the time.
Kenya remains the undisputed Queen of the Wilderness, which is a distinction that plays well for our conference organisers. They’ve developed an appetite for taking their events out of the city boardroom and into the bush. It’s a novel concept. And one that delivers space, light and air. Moreover, when the conference sessions finish, the traffic jams don’t begin; and the downtime is wild.
A view with a room
When it comes to venue layout, we pride ourselves on being able to offer the degree of flexibility that promotes optimum session flow. But we also believe in giving your attendees the opportunity to escape. Our wildlife isn’t caged, so we see no reason why your delegates should be either. Besides, it’s a well-researched fact that the new generation of ‘millennials’, demand freedom. They insist upon having ‘pods’ where they can hold more intimate exchanges, and spaces for undiluted communication with the internet. Besides which, at the end of a hard session’s discussion, surely everyone benefits from a quiet space where they can process and digest? None of this is a problem: Kenya is a land of wide blue skies and vast open spaces; but we have another card up our conferencing sleeve. Thanks to our sublime tropical climate, the Kenyan conference schedule can feature outdoor events as well as indoor. And as for views, we can as easily deliver a snow-capped volcano on the equator as we can half a million wildebeest on the hoof.
Lions know best
Our lions know a thing or two about relaxing, but they also know how to be team players when it comes to going in for the kill. So if your attendees want to chill out with a good round of golf, our venues deliver some of the most scenic, yet state-of-the-art courses in the world. We also offer tennis, mountain biking, horse riding, walking, climbing, watersports and spas, to name but a few of the myriad leisure pursuits on offer in magical Kenya.
But when it comes to the main event of EATING, we agree with our lions: the food’s got to be good, hot off the hoof and fit for a king. However, as a result of the many cultural influences that have been brought to bear upon our past, our cuisine is magnificently diverse. On the coast it’s principally Swahili (think fresh fish, coconuts, and lime), with plenty of Indian, Chinese, Thai and good old fashion British or American on the side. While ‘up-country’ we’re addicted to our ranch-style BBQs, while fielding an equally impressive range of global flavours.
The great Kenyan take-away
Everyone likes to take home a souvenir, and few can resist a colourful display of ethnic crafts, especially when they’re hand-made and the proceeds go towards such worthy causes as sinking wells, educating children, or protecting the wildlife. But, such is the pace of modern life, that we also expect our retail therapy to deliver the hottest and best of technology, fashion and lifestyle. No problem: Nairobi boasts some of the largest, newest and most innovative super-malls in the world. But they also feature their own cultural craft markets. So our visitors can shop ultra or ethnic. They can also marvel at the sheer ingenuity of our recycling ideas: Kenya must be the only country in the world to recycle its buses into bottle openers, its bottle tops into handbags and its elephant dung into notepads.
We don’t do TAME teambuilding
Big ideas require oxygen and when it comes to our team-building palette, TAME is taboo. Want your team energized? Take them white-water rafting down the Tana River. Want to pep up your marketeers? Send them down a forest zip-line. Want to get your sales team targeted? Go for a bull’s eye with some archery. Want to demonstrate the need to pull together? Have a tug of war with a team of Maasai warriors.
Making the LEAP
The successful conference is not merely about the message the attendees take away with them, but the way they feel when they leave. Have they been inspired and rejuvenated? Or bored and demotivated? In Kenya we can guarantee that it won’t be the latter. Our tool-kit is bursting with high-octane mind-openers, scene-changers and thought-provokers. Choices include: balloon safaris, wreck diving, rock-climbing, camel treks, sky dives, dhow trips and lion tracking. And we can just as easily lay on an ascent up Mount Kenya as a descent into the lava caves of Tsavo National Park. And that’s just the tip of the adventure iceberg, for more ideas visit our WILD ACTION page 44.
The party started in Kenya
It’s an accepted fact that life began in East Africa, so we’ve had plenty of time to perfect the art of the party. Consequently, whether it’s in Nairobi or Mombasa, the Aberdares or Samburu, you can rely on us to deliver some ferociously good post-session events. They can take many forms: a poolside BBQ, or a beachfront bonfire: a sundowner cocktail with long views across the savannah, or a surprise bush dinner overlooking the hippo pool. The backdrop might be pink with flamingoes or monochrome with zebras. There might be an eye-popping acrobatic display, or it might just be that a Maasai dance display puts a whole new spin on hitting the high spots.
Keeping it Grrrrrrrreen
Conservation is key to the preservation of our wilderness for generations to come – so here in Kenya we think green. Working with the Eco Tourism Society of Kenya (www.ecotourismkenya.org), we can deliver a conference that is almost as green as our rainforests. We believe in recycling, low plastic use, alternative energy use, minimized carbon footprint, and innovative waste-management. We can also come up with some very engaging ideas when it comes to eco-friendly signage, badges and stationery. And the good news is that all of these innovative ideas come from our dynamic new generation of local community groups. Ideas include pencils made out of recycled plastic bags, Maasai beaded notepads, and gorgeous recycled glass bottles for your mineral water. We’ll also be very keen to showcase such green initiatives as our turtle rehabilitation projects, our raptor initiatives, our butterfly protection and our work in fighting the threat of extinction to such fragile creatures as our wild dogs and Grevy’s zebra.
But don’t just take our word for it…
…much better to hear the voices of the professionals on the ground. And to this end, we offer some quotes from a few Kenyan event gurus.
“Here on the shores of Lake Naivasha we’re experiencing a BOOM in inbound conference and incentive trade largely thanks to the newly completed Southern Bypass, which allows guests to touch down at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport and be on the shores of beautiful Lake Naivasha in 90 minutes. Once here – we’ve got it all: boating on Lake Naivasha, the flamingoes of Lake Nakuru, high-action sports in Hell’s Gate National Park and the famous Maasai Mara just a short plane-hop away.
Wanjeri Mahiti , Sales and Marketing Director, Enashipai Resort and Spa
‘We find that incoming ‘millennials’ love our décor, redolent as it is of the great days of the 1940s. They also love the many ‘props’ such as the old train carriage and the original safari balloons – and the links to the Hollywood blockbusters on display in our bar. We also like to stage surprise dances such as the one we did for the 2016 Sixth Tokyo International Conference on African Development when we had a welcoming flash mob dance as our delegates checked in.’
Eric Mbugua, Marketing Executive, Hilton Nairobi
‘Easily our most proactive conference was Glaxo Smith Kline. They staged a virtual disco in our mango forest followed by dinner. In all my years of conferencing I’d never been involved in anything like it – we had to take everything into the forest, including the power, but it looked fabulous: quite eerie, and it was an overwhelming success’.
Mike Round-Turner, General Manager, Vipingo Ridge