The sad reality is that theft at South African exhibition and conference venues is endemic. Both stand builders and other contractors as well as exhibitors are constantly besieged.
As a stand building company we constantly have a steady trickle of theft onsite. Power Drills, small tools, ladders, wrapping material, furniture (how do you walk off with a 3 seater couch?)…even our lunch is thieved. Insuring for this type of site work is prohibitively expensive, reactive and so not a realistic tool in this war.
Exhibitors have to ensure all items are locked away daily and one certainly can’t leave a mobile phone or laptop unattended for a few minutes.
Both event organisers and venue’s wash their hands of any responsibility in their terms on conditions, which means neither would put in any real security effort. Far easier to let the lawyers absolve them of any responsibility.
This begs the questions. What are venues doing about theft.
Most venues in South Africa claim to have camera’s up and secure systems to ensure there is no theft. In the instances where we have had gear stolen the venue either does not have camera’s up in those area’s or the cameras are not of sufficient resolution to be able to make out enough detail of the crime occurring (so a complete waste of money) . In most cases venue’s are completely apathetic towards our plight and appear to sweep the incident under the carpet.
Venue’s refuse to let us see the footage from the security camera’s. They wont even confirm whether they can in fact see the crime occurring(whether in sufficient detail or not). I gather the reason they wont allow the footage to be viewed is a legal one. If they allow viewing of said footage, it opens them up to litigation.
One venue repeatedly has theft in their halls. When queried on camera footage the answer was that the cameras only provide an overview of the halls, but cannot be used for security in any detail as they are not of sufficient quality.
The sad reality is that most of the theft, in my opinion, occurs by 1 (or more) of 3 perpetrators.
1. Staff that work at the venue’s
2. Off the street crime
3. Contractors staff
Off the street crime must be minimal as most venues inhibit access during exhibitions and congresses. Only paying visitors and delegates can supposedly access during an event. This leaves in-house staff and contractors staff as being the main culprits.
It is a fact that staff at venues are the one of the biggest perpetrators at venues. Coupled with the fact that they know where camera’s and security are allows them to easily get away with theft.
I recently had a stand built where we had a tall glass vase full of lollipops (about 200 units). All, but one (nice of them to leave us 1) was taken overnight…no doubt by the cleaning staff. Every show we have this sort of petty theft. Bottles of water, sweets, giveaways and if you leave any item of value it will disappear.
Recently the staff of a well-known exhibition company in South Africa were caught on camera stealing a plasma screen. In that instance that particular venue (a hotel) had sufficient camera’s in place and so could catch them.
Buildup and Breakdown periods at exhibitions and conferences remain the times where the highest amount of theft appears to occur. Access during these times is ridiculously easy with most security guards easy to get past. Many companies use casual staff. Very few shows, conferences and events have comprehensive, enforced security from start to finish.
How can theft be minimised
1. All exhibitions/ conferences should have a list of staff from each contractor that will work there upfront so that each staff member can be accredited. Providing ID numbers and names is not that difficult.
2. Venue’s need to upgrade their security to high res HD camera’s covering all venue area’s. Again not difficult to do and the cost is well worth it to ensure that visitors have peace of mind. The negative perceptions from theft at venue’s reaches far beyond that particular show and we all know that bad news is spread to far more people than good news.
3. Organisers need to employ proper security guards. A uniform does not a guard make. Guards should have the ability to speak the language of the delegate. Not only English speaking delegates attend conferences especially here in Cape Town. A solid understanding of English would be a good start and surely a necessary requirement for any security guard.
As this problem seems endemic in the South African exhibition and event industries (and I’m told is also a worldwide problem), for now keep your gear safe and under lock and key.