Conferences and events that include a gifting budget are often faced with a conundrum – “What do we buy as gifts for our attendees?”.


To paint a scenario, if an organiser decides to buy bottles of wine for every conference delegate, they will find that not every person drinks wine.  And for those delegates that do, they may have a preference of red, white, bubbly, or something in-between.  So how can an organiser get around this problem and ensure that every person attending an event doesn’t leave empty-handed?

Enter sustainable gifting – a revolutionary concept that has proven to be phenomenally successful in the events space.  The concept is simple: let the attendees choose their own gift!  Better yet, if your focus is truly on sustainability, let the attendees choose gifts that are created with sustainability in mind.

At this point, I must mention a special thanks to the Event Greening Forum, who brought this concept to us.  The concept had worked well at a previous event, but needed to be scaled-up and operationalised at a flagship exhibition.

The vision was to have a Sustainability Village – a group of exhibition stands with locally-crafted goods for sale by micro enterprise vendors.  Visitors would be handed a gift card at registration, which they could use to choose their own gift from the village.  The problem?  Local traders of this nature do not have access to expensive transactional equipment such as credit card machine readers that could be used to process the gift cards.

To meet this need, we chose to harness the power of the technology that the vendors already had in their pockets – their cellphones.  We developed a voucher card and cashless trading platform; all vendors needed to do was use their cellphones to scan the voucher card to redeem the gift value.  To add to the sustainability element, we manufactured these gift cards from recycled plastics, and collected them again for recycling after the show.

The benefit to visitors was that they could choose to spend their entire gift voucher value at a single vendor, or purchase smaller items from multiple vendors.  And if the visitor wanted to, they could supplement the gift voucher amount with cash.  The micro enterprises that participated gained exposure and sales that they would not ordinarily have had an opportunity for.

There was also a hidden benefit to the organisers that we only discovered after the show – the total gifting budget was not spent; in fact, the voucher system paid for itself and there was an additional unexpected cost saving.  The concept has been applied to small conferences, as well as events with thousands of visitors, and the result is always a resounding win-win-win.  The system has worked so well that it has also been used in different formats, such as for the sale of food and beverages in conjunction with sustainability village initiatives.

We have also perfected the art – from exquisitely packaging and presenting the voucher cards to visitors; right the way through to tracking which visitor spent their gift card and at which vendors.  This enables us to provide valuable reports and statistics that organisers can use to plan for future iterations of their event.

The voucher system described in this article is patent property of Ultimate Data Sciences (Pty) Ltd


by Gavin Burgess | MD