Mr. Fears

Group Meetings

The Changing Role of CMPs

By Bruce Fears, President, ARAMARK Harrison Lodging

Planning and executing a valuable meeting while adhering to a reasonable budget is the goal of every meeting planner. To accomplish this, many turn to Complete Meeting Packages (CMP), the conference center's niche total pricing structure which allows clients to budget an event with confidence, while offering options ranging from budget to upscale. Simply put, the CMP simplifies the planning process and lets organizers know exactly what the meeting and total package will cost at the conference center.

However, today's meeting planners are savvier and striving to find unique venues or add-ins, such as an out-of-the-box team-building activity, when planning their upcoming events. In order to remain relevant and to address client's growing needs, hotels and conference centers have been creating customized packages to meet the demands of this growing trend that CMPs traditionally do not address. Which lends to the question: Is the CMP obsolete?

CMPs aren't out of style yet

The majority of meeting planners are trying to be more strategic and effective with limited funds. Additionally, meeting planners are finding the best deals through emerging Web sites and third party online booking companies. These third party entities don't allow for CMP pricing, adding another challenge to the piece of the CMP puzzle for conference centers.

Additionally, CMPs are used exclusively by conference centers and for the most part are a foreign entity for hotels, which can make it a challenge for the novice meeting planner or executive trying to book a meeting as well as for the conference center.

Generally, meeting planners will select a desirable location that offers agreeable meals and activities, but not go over the top. Therefore, the long emphasized "location, location, location" still rings true, as planners will usually determine an attractive locale first and then find the best CMP that fits the group.

Let's face it, covering the gamut from A to Z, CMPs offer no surprises. They simplify budgeting, save time, and perhaps more importantly allow the client to focus solely on planning the agenda, the sessions, the speakers and the schedule.

The traditional CMPs combine all of the tools to facilitate a successful meeting and create one easy-to-budget package; providing the company with both value and convenience. Often included in these total packages are the unlimited use of the business center and a dedicated conference service manager to assist in the total process - from planning through execution, including meetings, social events, transient rooms, and the like.

Customization of CMPs is the new trend

Planners are beginning to find fault with CMP pricing that doesn't leave any room for meeting creativity or negotiation. Today, conference centers are looking to build specific, customized packages for different customers' needs because they want a unique structure that includes unique team-building activities, as well as off-site dining and entertainment options. Hotels are finding that they too can build more profits by tapping into the trend of customizing meetings and packages for clients as well.

Conference centers are also redefining the CMP and working to soften its pricing structure. If a customer is against packaged pricing, an effective sales manager can work to customize the package to meet the customer's needs. For example, a Day Meeting Package added to an overnight room rate with any other amenities as a la carte can be a creative way to customize and meet a client's needs-providing them with individualized customer service.

We provide a productive meeting environment with value proposition. If customers want a modified meeting package, or a la carte pricing, we should be able to provide it. We're in the service industry, and the best client service means getting into the world of our customers, listening to their specific and underlying needs and meeting them.

Additionally, as the meeting planner or executive is doing due diligence in the early booking stages and gathering information and proposals, a CMP from a conference center can easily perplex the planner or executive. One thing for conference centers to keep in mind when designing CMPs or customizing: It's important to speak the same language as hotels so that planners can compare apples to apples on pricing and structure.

"The cookie-cutter mold is gone," said Lesa Melvin, director of sales and marketing at the R. David Thomas Executive Conference Center, an ARAMARK Harrison Lodging (AHL) facility located on the campus of Duke University in North Carolina.

"In fact," Melvin adds, "We customize almost every sale to meet clients' needs. We've priced and structured everything from a 'hillbillies crochet' event to an Arabian Nights theme with belly dancing based on client requests."

Philadelphia's Villanova Conference Center, another AHL managed property, finds its most unique amenity is the locale itself. Specifically the center's Montrose Mansion, located on 32 acres of a beautifully wooded estate on Philadelphia's famous "Main Line." Along with its scenic location, the property also features a game room with a pool table, shuffle board, and poker table - a perfect option for customized team building tournaments.

CMPs: The bottom line

CMPs offer a nice launch pad for pricing structures that help to identify what the customer is looking to accomplish in their meeting within their budget restrictions. However, customization is now the key. No two companies are alike in terms of style, structure, and meeting goals. The bottom line is that CMPs can be a great tool to get conversation with the planner started, but keep in mind that price point isn't their only interest.

AHL recently merged its Parks and Resorts and Conference Center businesses to provide customers premium service, superior learning and training environments, enhanced accommodations, and unique destinations throughout the U.S. With the recent integration, AHL now offers even more opportunities for customizing stimulating and productive learning centers. Several options include unique national park meeting destinations.

Below are two great examples of inspiring and unique national park destinations for a meeting/conference, as well as specialty packages designed specifically for meeting planners. These destinations not only cater to specific needs and customize special requests; they also offer Complete Meeting Packages as appropriate.

Lake Powell Resorts & Marinas (www.lakepowell.com), known as America's favorite houseboating destination, is a popular location for small meeting retreats and incentive groups. Here, meeting participants can get down to business on luxurious houseboats equipped with every amenity. Planners also have the option of using the more traditional meeting space at the Lake Powell Resort; featuring awe-inspiring views of towering red rock canyons.

Lake Powell Resorts & Marinas also offers numerous outdoor activities to enhance the meeting experience and provide interactive team-building opportunities. After a day of work, guests can relax on the beach, wakeboard, hike, fish, swim, or enjoy entertainment and award-winning cuisine under a blanket of stars.

CMP packages and customized meeting packages are available. Call 1-888-486-4665 to book a day meeting or to inquire about customizing a package with houseboating and lodging options.

Shenandoah National Park (www.visitshenandoah.com) is located just 90 minutes from downtown Washington, D.C., and Dulles International Airport. This ideal destination provides a perfect environment for meetings and teambuilding. Shenandoah's skilled mountain guides offer customized programs for groups wanting to develop better work relationships and enhance cooperative efforts. In addition, there are guided interpretative walks and hikes, wine tasting, horseback riding, spa experiences, golfing, tubing down the Shenandoah River, and other outdoor activities for guests to enjoy in their downtime.

The Conference Hall at Shenandoah's Skyland Resort features warm chestnut paneling, towering stone chimneys, four fireplaces, restored oak floors, and meeting rooms that accommodate groups of 20 to 80.

Additionally, two breakout rooms offer places to work in privacy. Facilities include audio-visual equipment, presentation tools and many more business amenities. Lodging, catering and banquet services are also available - providing virtually everything needed to plan an event.

Shenandoah offers a CMP of $159 per person, Sunday through Thursday in April, May, June, September and November. Prices increase to $179 per person in July and August. The package includes one night's lodging, one breakfast, lunch and dinner; one morning and one afternoon break, meeting room use, and basic AV equipment. If interested, please call 800-778-2871.

As President, ARAMARK Harrison Lodging, Bruce Fears is responsible for operations at over 50 conference centers, corporate training centers and specialty hotels in educational environments, as well as 14 state parks and other resort operations. He assumed his current position following the integration of ARAMARK’s conference center, corporate training business with its parks and resorts business. Mr. Fears received a BA from Bridgewater College and participated in programs at University of London’s School of Economics and University of Florida’s School of Management. Mr. Fears can be contacted at 425-957-9708 or fears-bruce@aramark.com Extended Bio...

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