Mr. Cooper

Group Meetings

Conference Centers: A Renewed Perspective

By Mark Cooper, Chief Executive Officer, International Association of Conference Centers

Gathering places for people to meet and hold events have been around since mankind began and there have been many fascinating meeting venues which have been built over the centuries where historically significant decisions have been made to shape the world we live in today!

Back in 1981, a group of hoteliers recognized the need to provide a serious concentration on the productive meeting environment and founded the International Association of Conference Centres. In the years since the term "conference centre" was coined, and for IACC, it represents a total commitment to the concept.

The last few years were very tough on the global meetings industry. But today, there is a renewed interest in an exceptional meeting experience provided by dedicated conference centre professionals.

In the past two years, IACC has grown its global membership to almost 400 member properties in 20 countries around the world and established new chapters in Europe and in Australia-Asia Pacific; all because of its unwavering commitment to the exceptional meeting experience. New members are literally all over the map: Kenya; England; US, Canada, Sweden, Australia, Japan and Denmark to name just a few where conference centers are thriving!

In early 2013, as the effects of the global economic recession seemed to be in recovery mode, IACC partnered with DCI (Development Counsellors International) to survey meeting planners of various generations - from Baby Boomers to Gen Xers to Millennials.

The survey reveals that the meetings industry was "in a state of flux" with matures (those aged 66 and older) retiring and Millennials entering the workplace. It is projected that employment in the North American meetings market will grow by a massive 44 percent through 2020. This rapid growth will usher in a new era of new expectations and demands for conference centers seeking to win a meetings planner's business.

The survey also explored whether there are generational preferences among meeting planners and if these preferences shape how meeting space is selected. For the purpose of this study, the generations were defined as mature (age 66 and older), baby boomer (Age 47-65), Generation X (Age 33-46) and Generation Y/millennial (Age 18-32). The largest group of respondents was Baby Boomers followed by Generation X.

On average, the planners that responded to the survey organize meetings for 11 organizations annually. A majority of respondents, 76 percent, were familiar with IACC. When asked the importance of holding events at an IACC facility, meeting planners responded that it was somewhat important.

Similarly, DCI and IACC recently revealed findings of a recent study of meeting planners living and working in Europe, entitled "Exploring the Generational Preferences of European Meeting Planners." Conducted in partnership with IMEX Group, the study explored the varying preferences of different generations of meeting planners and how these preferences shape how meeting and conference space is selected.

The study surveyed 101 European meeting planners of various generations who plan meetings in Europe. It evaluated the effectiveness of sales/marketing tactics, the importance of key criteria in meeting location selection and why a destination/venue is often not selected as a meeting location.

Some of the key findings include:

  • Overall, the generations are united in their prioritization of accessibility/location, appropriate meeting space and value as highly important selection criteria when planning a meeting.
  • Digital materials are king for selling to Baby Boomers, Generation X and Millennials, but Matures still prefer in-person selling during tradeshow appointments.
  • Baby Boomers and Matures ranked technology/connectivity via WiFi as the most important factor in selecting a venue. Technology was ranked as more important to these two generations than it was to Millennials who look at cost as their top consideration for selecting a meeting space.

55 per cent of respondents consider the age of conference attendees when selecting a venue. Off-site activity options and the "cool factor" of the venue and location are very important factors for programs with Generation X and Millennial attendees.

And IACC is responding. The recent IACC-Americas annual conference in Los Angeles in March, showed a dramatic uptick in attendance and a noticeable increase in first-time attendees, including the largest percentage of Millennials in the associations history.

Also at that conference, IACC introduced a new Global workshop - "Innovative Conference Center Design" and is being touted as one of the most successful ever.

The aim of this new workshop was to find a way to present and highlight some of the incredible innovations introduced by IACC members worldwide and to share these ideas, services, and new products with fellow members. The innovation workshop consisted of a series of five-minute case studies, where members spoke of the issue or the opportunity they identified, explained the solution they found and the impact it had on customers or staff. Contributions were submitted from IACC members who attended the conference from Japan, US, Canada, UK, Denmark and France with topics that included:

Innovating the welcome experience
Innovating the audio-visual experience
Innovating the food and beverage experience
Innovating operations efficiencies
Innovating the learning experience
Innovating the meeting room environment
Innovating the conference center experience
Innovating the concierge experience
Innovating the meeting experience

The workshop demonstrated the many advantages of being a part of an active global association: no sales, no product placement, just a mutual sharing of proven ideas with a common goal to help colleagues innovate in their own businesses globally.

Things are Looking Good for Conference Centers

The 2013 Edition of "Trends® in the Conference Center Industry" produced by IACC and PKF, signs are clear that IACC Conference Centres experiencing a recovery and "outperforming the broader hotel sector in relation to occupancies and profitability."

Demand for Conference Centers grew along with average rates, with Executive style Conference Centers performing better than average with an ADR increase of 5% over the previous year. This led to a higher-than-average rise in rates compared with the hotel industry average in 2012, indicating conference centers are in vogue and the choice of Meeting Planners.

The report, compiled by PKF Hospitality Research on behalf of IACC, showed that Executive Conference Centers enjoyed the greatest gain in occupancy during 2012, growing on average 7.3%. Dave Arnold, Co-President and Chief Executive Officer-East with PKF Consulting USA, LLC commented "Our results this year indicate that a long- awaited recovery is taking place for those centers positioned to do so. Corporate meetings have proven to be the last segment of the market to claw back to some semblance of former glory".

Keeping Up

With improving margins and greater stability on the marketplace, we expect to see IACC members investing further in their conference environment for their clients. It will be our aim to provide our members with knowledge, trends and research to help them make the very best choices as they further development their services and facilities. As our membership continues to grow, we see a renewed commitment to the total meeting experience.

The latest IACC study about generational preferences of European Meeting Planners when selecting their meeting venue indicates that the different generations have very different preferences. For example, younger generations put greater emphasis on technology capabilities, while mature Meeting Planners place a high emphasis on business-friendly guest rooms being on-site.

Today, it has become more important - and common across generations - that the meeting room is equipped properly, that it provides and inspirational learning environment and that it provides a motivating atmosphere for the delegates. We need to be aware that delegates want - and expect - to feel privileged to be invited to a meeting at the venue. These are all new priorities and self evident in meeting venue design today.

Staying current with conference technology is always a challenge. IACC's Guide to Great Technology is a fluid document that helps IACC members to better understand and respond to demand for the best available in acoustics, lighting, audio-visual facilities and connectivity. And yet, our recent study indicates the difference among generations and how they prioritize.

It may not be totally accurate to say that technology is the most important deliverable when choosing a venue. Different generations evaluate venues differently. Undoubtedly the next generations expect the available onsite technology to be of a very high standard. They expect it to be working and working appropriately, because they grew up with free Wi-Fi in coffee shops and shopping centers, etc., so they just expect that to be working seamlessly at venues.

The newer generations have taught us all that content is king, and the MTV Generation proved that attentions spans continue to shrink. While content is still king, we all need to be mindful that content must be entertaining, diverse, and quick.

For IACC, it continues to be all about providing what our customers expect. The "exceptional meeting environment". While that may mean something different in different cultures and difference countries, the commitment to providing what it takes is what drives IACC to continue to stay ahead of the curve.

Chief executive officer Mark Cooper brings to IACC 25 years of experience in the global meetings industry working for both U.S.- and U.K.-based organizations, in a number of leadership roles requiring a sales and marketing specialism. With an extensive background, he has held senior posts with respected conference center operators and global third party agencies, including Dolce Hotels & Resorts, Sundial Group, ConferenceDirect and Warwick Conferences. Mr. Cooper can be contacted at 44-0-7824-640624 or mcooper@iacconline.org Extended Bio...

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