Out of Africa

With partners flying out from different parts of the world to attend its bi-annual business networking forum, logistics specialist BDP Global Network Services (GNS) puts a lot of thought into picking the right venue for the event. One prerequisite was that the destination would able to offer something exotic.

South Africa fits the bill with its expansive savannahs – the African safari remains, fortunately, an adventure experience that has escaped mass commercialisation. The company also had a pragmatic reason for choosing the country over other contenders.

“It has one of the largest economies in the African continent. This is a logical base from which to promote and direct new business opportunities – at least in sub-Saharan Africa,” says Tim Frear, director of BDP Global Network Services based in Singapore. “With the added strength of our partner, Turners Shipping, we saw a great opportunity to showcase not only a great country, but one which represents significant future opportunity for the region.”

Appropriately named “Brave New World”, the 2011 BDP Global Network Forum drew more than 90 company partners from 50 countries. Groundwork for the event started in November 2010 but actual preparation began in May 2011 – six months before the event – with four people comprising the planning team: one each from the US, Indonesia, Singapore and South Africa.

“Bringing the four of us together in one location to brainstorm was a big challenge. We had to find a country that was midway for all of us,” says Anna Neo, the company’s regional manager of marketing and events for Asia.

With South Africa being quite a distance from most participants’ point of origin, logistics was a major hurdle, as was finding the right facilities and dining venues that could hold the size of the group. “We also racked our brains as to how to inject the wow factors and local culture in every part of the two-day conference and theme dinners, to give the delegates a unique and fresh experience that they had never experienced before in previous BDP Global Network forums,” recalls Neo.

Getting the substance right

As the forum was primarily a business meeting, a good and well-thought-out conference agenda was essential. Breaking away from the norm, the company’s logistics partners built their own personalised programmes of focused breakout sessions and one-on-one meetings with BDP country leaders on the trade lanes that really mattered for each individual.

“The obvious interest in the Africa market certainly was a factor. Key speakers ensured that vital information was delivered about this brave new world of Africa,” Frear says. Arnie Bornstein, company executive director for marketing and corporate communications, adds: “We understood the risk of locating the forum in an emerging market such as South Africa. But the volume and quality of the attendance among our partners confirmed that we delivered the right forum.”

Memorable networking nights

The forum spanned two conference days and three networking nights. The Spier Hotel, located 50km east of Cape Town in the Stellenbosch region and housing a conference centre and wine estate, served as the base for the group. Situated amidst rolling lawns along the Eerste River, the hotel exuded a rustic country feel that one did not expect to experience in South Africa. But it also had an animal sanctuary allowing the group to have a taste of the wildlife right on their doorstep.

The Spier’s poolside was the site for the welcome cocktails. BDP GNS strove to capture the feel of a safari in the evening event, using carefully constructed models of Africa’s “big five” animals lit from within. “For staging, we used a daring approach by not using a single colour. We only played with lighting and a black curtain to enhance the images of the big five, and an African dance was added to enhance the sense of place,” Neo says.

The second night's dinner took place at The Castle of Good Hope, the oldest surviving colonial building in South Africa, built between 1666 and 1679 by the Dutch East India Company as a maritime replenishment station. “It did not happen without a challenge,” says Neo. “For the privilege of having our event there, we had to bring in everything to set up the function venue, from display and catering to entertainment.”

Meanwhile, Moyo Stellenbosch, one of the many dining venues on the Spier Wine Estate, served as the location for the final networking night. “We might have been within the Spier property, but it felt like a totally different place as the venues are all located far apart from each other,” Neo says.

Delegates got yet another taste of African culture and cuisine during the evening. Some highlights were the African face-painting and hand-washing ceremony, as well as an interactive drumming session.

Overall, BDP GNS executives were happy about the success of their latest forum. “We hit the mark demographically, and by striking a balance of substantive, meaningful programming, esprit décor and local colour,” Bornstein concludes. “This was no boondoggle. Leaders from every corner of the globe were engaged and working hard to lay the groundwork to better help our customers grow in emerging markets.”

“Key speakers ensured that vital information was delivered about this brave new world of Africa"

Event Brave New World, The 2011 BDP Global Network Forum

Company BDP Global Network Services

Venue The Spier, Cape Town, South Africa

Date November 6–9, 2011

Number of participants 90

Event Organiser BDP Global Network Services



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