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Interview

with Johan de Villiers, General Director, The Pavilion Conference Center

07.12.2011 / Energyboardroom

The oil & gas industry is becoming increasingly international, and increasingly networked. As Nils Flaatten of the Western Cape’s investment agency Wesgro was saying, South Africa is the springboard to conduct business in Africa. What role do you see for conferences venues such as the Pavilion in this context?
We would like to develop these businesses using the Pavilion Conference Centre as a base to showcase their African presence. We foresee an increase of trade together.
The Pavilion has vast expertise and acts as a real “one stop shop” to companies hosting conferences or exhibitions here.

When looking more into the political and economic environment, what incentives are made available to turn Cape Town into an African business destination?
We are supported by the government for our various events. We are a Black Economic Empowerment (BEE) registered company and benefit from governmental support when it comes to our people. From a business community and economic perspective, there is a real incentive in making Cape Town the next venue for conferences. The necessary infrastructure and logistical services are all in place to be successful.

The Pavilion Conference Centre has been chosen to host a series of events, such as the famous Africa Economic Forum with Africa Oil Week/Africa Upstream, the PetroAfricanus Dinner, and the Annual Scramble for Africa, to name but a few. Can you elaborate on the growth path and milestones in terms of successful events that the Pavilion has been able to attract over time?
In the past few years, we have been –to some extent- restricted by our size and capacity to host these events. In the last 2 years, we have been able to accommodate such restrictions by offering more lucrative options in our service portfolio. By doing so, we have positioned ourselves as one of the most iconic buildings in Cape Town’s renowned Waterfront area. We do not only offer conference facilities, but in terms of hotel capacities we remain linked to the various venues in the area. The Pavilion Conference Centre does not only organise the conference in itself, but additionally arranges the entire set up, right from the exhibitors’ needs to the actual visitors themselves. We provide security services for high profile clients, and we supply the venue with catering and accommodation services.
It is an “all-in-one package”, reducing the pressure for the organising committee. They, in turn, can focus on finding new clients. Today, we are identified as the world conference maker in the Western Cape.
We have now received exciting approval to expand our capacities to facilitate 1,000 delegates at a time. We are starting refurbishment in June 2012 and will be operational from the 1st of August with our new facilities.
When it comes to the international community and the oil and gas sector in particular, the interest in South Africa has increased significantly. Today, South Africa is being regarded as the ideal host for bringing every together due to our iconic strategic location. We create the opportunity for all the Sub-Saharan players to gather in one place.
We are opening a second Conference Centre inside the V&A Waterfront, which will give us access to over 4,000 m² of flexible conference space within walking distance of 1,500 hotel rooms, making it possible to host major local or international delegations without having to face any logistical concerns. The first phase will be completed by May, the second by August.
What we do offer our delegates is a reduced green footprint, which is very important in today’s market. In terms of our catering and venues, we do provide green certification that can be offset against the conference. This is a very positive spin-off for the environment. In the oil and gas sector, it is important for the clients to be able to have a carbon neutral footprint.

Africa Oil Week is the conference of the year for the entire continent. What were the key success factors to attract such prestigious event?
We were approached by the organising committee a few years ago to find a venue. They had viewed several venues and found the Pavilion Conference Centre due to its landmark building and location at the V&A Waterfront. By combining our own strengths with those of the organising committee, we have managed to come up with a very successful recipe. Next year, the event will be even bigger with future growth planned. It is going to be absolutely magical.
The busiest day this year saw more than 850 delegates walking through, a figure we expect go up to 1,000 or 1,400 people in 2012, subject to confirmations. This increased size of the group has also been a key reason to expand our facilities. We also make sure everything is managed under one roof by one management team. This way, the organizers do not have to deal with 10 different suppliers: we bring them together.

What makes The Pavilion the venue of choice in Cape Town to host Oil & Gas events and exhibitions?
We have a state-of-the-art building that is ideally positioned when it comes to logistics. When you are out of your comfort zone, you do not want too much hassle; you do not want to take 2 trains and 3 buses before arriving at your final destination, but a smooth flow. When you host 1,600 delegates, travel easily becomes a logistical nightmare. We position ourselves quite well with an attractive price.
We find that the conference environment knows a harsh, cut-throat business mentality, in which we have to position ourselves and align our suppliers. They complement the organization. Such cooperation is invaluable in order to create a sustainable business in the future.
Furthermore, by adding added value services, we have created what we call a “one-stop shop”. If a customer based abroad wants to organize a conference in South Africa, we offer the complete logistical process. We will source out the accommodation and transport to the venue, as well as any catering requirements. We take out the hassle of organizing a conference.

As you are now actively engaged in attracting such high profile events, it seems that The Pavilion Congress Centre is increasingly becoming the location of choice. What are your ambitions for deepening your involvement in this industry?
We want to be the preferred host in the Western Cape and an iconic part of Africa. We have developed advanced infrastructure to expand and bring more trade here.
We have the experience and expertise and differentiate ourselves as being affordable, making it beneficial for both parties concerned. We are a four star Conference Center and offer a full service, taking care of the customers from concept to completion. We strive to be the best in the business.

You partner with Global Pacific Partners. How important is this partnership and how does this allow you to better service the clients?
It has been a very fruitful partnership to date with the potential to grow over the long term. We have signed a contract for the next 3 years, for which we will be hosting all the events in Africa about “Doing business in Africa”, mostly in the Oil & Gas Sector. We have a conference on the oil and gas upstream market in March, as well as exhibitions in November.

How do you see the Pavilion Conference Centre in 10 years from now?
I would like to see it tripling in size whilst keeping our business philosophy and remaining able to provide an excellent service at a very reasonable price. My philosophy would be to go forward with what we have established, adding accommodation that works for us. We would like to look back in 5 years and say that we have achieved what we wanted, that we are consistent and that we have opened a lot of trade opportunities to better position ourselves.

Do you have a final message to our readers?
Look at us as a solution and a venue, a budget-oriented quality solution.

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