Being (as are many of my peers) a public speaker in addition to my ‘real job’ ;-) I’m occasionally off to odd locations for the purpose. Starting about two years ago, there’s been a marked acceleration in the trend for companies to do the ‘game lodge’ thing for conferences. And they’re generally an unmitigated disaster. With rare exceptions, the focus is largely on the ‘bush experience’ and very thin on conference amenities or competent management, trained to deliver on the marketing objectives of your event.
Last year I facilitated and talked at a game farm in the far North West. They tried their best, but the guests were scattered among 5 separate camps. The furthest – wait for this – was a full 45 minute bumpy ride in an open Landrover from the main conferencing venue. So getting the guests into the obligatory boma for the evening meal was a mission de luxe.
The game rangers from the morning game drive morphed into waiters for breakfast and into conference centre flunkies (for which they were horribly ill-equipped) during the day. They reincarnated as trackers and game-spotters in the evening again before multi-tasking yet again as barmen and table-clearers. I’d love to know what the Labour Department would have to say about their working hours. Because they were still on duty at 11 p.m. to drive the seriously sozzled back to their quarters.
The conference catering was plain bloody awful. The wooden deck patios outside the rooms weren’t swept in my two days there. There was a general air of chaos and things happening only when you squealed hard enough. A problem further exacerbated by the absence of that all important ringmaster – a banqueting or conferencing manager. Disastrous. I made a mental note to type ‘busy’ in my Outlook diary if any other client decided to use the benighted place.
Just when I thought it couldn’t get any worse, it did. I was very recently at another (albeit closer) game lodge/farm. This was seriously watered down in that the so-called game-watching was reduced to one rampant male Giraffe trying to break into a neighbouring encampment inhabited by an eyelash-batting female, some scrawny looking buck and one furtive-looking jackal. Oh, did I mention a few Zebra? The food in this place was positively toxic. I came back with a dose of Delhi-belly that withstood the best onslaughts of Interflora capsules for over a week. To get to the clearly bug-laden food, you had to re-embark in your personal vehicles and drive a half kilometre or more from the conference centre to the main complex. The conference centre itself had no landline connection to the main complex, there was no mobile signal in the area and all photocopying or other such (always very slow) services were delivered only from the main complex.
This benighted establishment even offered time-share ‘from R 2 500’. That alone speaks volumes and if you’d seen (and heard) some of the Neanderthals who had availed themselves of said timeshare - well, ‘nuff said. The piece de resistance of the experience was a thundering, wall-shaking party in an adjacent chalet cluster that went on until after one thirty in the morning. This despite the vain attempts of the security guards to enforce an after-10 p.m. silence request. And for us, it was a working day comin’ up.
The ultimate blow for me was the poor insect-ridden bathroom facilities in the chalets and the seriously in need of renovation and swabbing down, conference centre toilets. Come to that I did see some people wandering off toward adjacent Maroela trees.
If it wasn’t going to embarrass my clients, I’d give you the names of both of these establishments. Want a word of advice in the absence of the names? Don’t book your people into one of these opportunistic game establishments-cum-wannabe-conference venues until you’ve personally stayed overnight on a recce. If they’re serious about getting your booking, they’ll let you do that at their expense with pleasure. If they won’t, don’t risk it and go somewhere that will let you test-drive the place. You have been warned!