- Do you think the per-person fee is more expensive than just ordering ala carte? Is the menu negotiable?
The CMP--“complete meeting package”--includes, at a residential (that is, with guest rooms) conference center, the guest room, three meals/day, continuous breaks, meeting space and AV. Each conference center operates a bit differently and may structure their package in a way that makes sense for their clients.
In my experience, the package price, especially for food, is far cheaper than ala carte and has the added advantage of having choices for the participants--and quantities for what and how they want to eat. As someone who hates dealing with planning menus, I love this--and love it for participants because it allows flexibility for them. If, say, on one night I want to eat just salad, I can. The best way to determine the value for you/your group is to price out the items.
Remember when doing so that the meals are not plated so you might be able to use a buffet price for breakfast, lunch and dinner--including the price for “action stations” since so many centers have omelet bars, carving stations and more choices. For breaks, remember, too, that you are, at a conference center, not pricing by the gallon or even person and that there will be more than beverages.
As a “raving fan” of conference centers, I know my view is sometimes a bit (positively) skewed. It comes from experience planning and attending meetings at conference centers and seeing how easy it can be.
- Our community is looking to build a conference center with an open kitchen. Meaning all meals would be catered in from local restaurants. What are your thoughts on this? Could this be successful or backfire?
I’m not a great one to respond to a question about conference center operations. I am glad, if you e-mail me directly, to provide some names of those who might be able to guide you.
From a customer’s perspective, I’d have some concerns about consistent quality, although I also see this as a possibly fun venture for a participant--a chance to sample local fare. I could go back and forth on this for some time. Best for you to get professional advice, including legal advice about liabilities, etc.
- Please suggest some soft costs to negotiate with conference centers. What items may conference centers be willing to comp?
Like each facility with which a group negotiates, there will be different areas that can be negotiated and comped based on the value of the meeting, the facility’s profit and cost centers, time of year/days of the week, and so many other factors. I am always hesitant to suggest specific items because I don’t know the facts.
It’s always best to know your priorities and what will help your bottom line, and request that in your RFP (request for proposal) to a conference center or other facility. I’ve found over the 30 years I’ve been using conference centers for clients that the centers have become much more willing to negotiate in some areas
Sorry if this sounds evasive-- it really does, as my dear friend and industry colleague, Barbara Dunn, Esq., says, depend!
- What about when you have a speaker with a PowerPoint. What other set-ups are available for that, other than school room and theater?
Oooh, I love this question!
First, it depends on the comfort of the speaker and whether they are a ‘stand-in-back-of-a-lectern’ type or comfortable wandering the room with a remote to change slides. Then it depends on the audience size and the session objectives of how and what you want to do.
For example, I can see using two spaces--one where people see the slides and hear someone talk about content and then the whole group divides into smaller groups to discuss what they learned. For this, and many other sessions, I’d use crescents at a hotel or “pod-style” at a conference center. It allows a writing space and is a more inclusive feel. For the breakouts, people, at a conference center, could go into the common areas including outside, to talk.
You could also, again depending on numbers and style of presenter, use an open U. Or a mixed set up of pods, theater, even high-boys.
At the 2010 PCMA Annual Meeting, they did many sessions, including general sessions, in the round with screens around the room. It was tremendously effective and the presentations could be easily seen.
I highly recommend Paul Radde’s book, Seating Matters (www.thrival.com) and Ib Ravn’s book, Learning Meetings and Conferences in Practice (which is available through MPI at www.mpiweb.org)
- On average, how do you feel conference centers compare to hotels regarding costs in AV, F&B and meeting space fees?
It will of course depend on the market in which the meeting is held and if the conference center is a true center and prices on CMP (complete meeting package.) My experience is generally that the cost of using a conference center is less and with greater value.
- As a seasoned meeting professional, has there been a feature at a conference center you have experienced that has been a particularly unique surprise?
When I first started booking and executing clients’ meetings at conference centers, the entire experience was a complete surprise! For many planners, even those with years of experience who have never used conference centers, I think the best surprise is the continuous breaks--it certainly is for trainers!
One of the meetings I’ve been part of at Chaminade (in Santa Cruz, Calif.) has always had good surprises: The staff gets fully involved in creating an atmosphere that is conducive to that year’s discussion. For example, one year, the participants discussed their place and role in their industry. The property created a mural, on navy felt, that showed outlines of people as if they were constellations to show their “place in the universe.” It added to the discussion and the collective history of the group.
- Can you talk a little bit about why you prefer a conference center over a convention center?
They are totally different types of facilities and there may be times I prefer convention centers over conference centers. I certainly would for trade shows! Conference centers and meetings held at them tend to be more intimate, more educational and look for minimizing distractions. Convention center meetings tend to be (much) larger and often incorporate trade shows. If you are not certain of the differences, go to the Convention Industry Council’s APEX (Accepted Practices Exchange) report and specifically read the definitions in the glossary (www.conventionindustry.org/glossary).
- Are there differences in how you negotiate a contract with centers vs. hotels?
Again, to quote Barbara Dunn, it depends. What I negotiate will be different based on the client’s needs, the meeting and the property. Certainly for a conference center one must look at the overnight and day guests because pricing for the package (Complete or Day.) It all begins of course with knowing how the property operates and what is included in the RFP, which should be customized for a conference center’s response if they are included.
- What's the best way to work with a conference center if they work with conference packages and you are using to ala cart pricing?
Ah…learn the difference and look at the ala carte pricing in a way that reflects a true comparison. For example, you don’t want to compare the cost of a few gallons of coffee, tea and sodas on consumption to a continuous break. If you need a conference center to “break out” the cost of the guest room, ask them to do so in a way that makes sense for your group.
- Do conference centers with sleeping rooms typically contract like hotels or do they contract the sleeping and meeting rooms separately?
If I understand this correctly, conference centers with guest rooms (“residential” conference centers) at which you are holding a meeting and at which you are doing all meals and breaks, will price and contract based on the CMP--Complete Meeting Package. They can break out the cost of the guest room if individuals are paying for those on their own.
Conference centers that do not have guest rooms (The Summit in Chicago is one example) will price for a meeting package that includes meeting space, AV, food and beverage for usually two meals a day (breakfast and lunch), and will help you secure guest rooms at a nearby hotel. (The group is responsible for negotiating the price of the guest rooms.)
Like with all facilities and negotiations, the contract aspects around space and pricing depend on the situation and on what is negotiated. (If I didn’t answer this well, e-mail me and ask again!)
They are very flexible about space. However, many use off-site caterers and this can pose a problem for adding last-minute attendees. I try to arrange for box lunches to be brought in if necessary. Any other suggestions Joan???
My experience with conference centers is that they, like hotels, assign (and the group should contract) specific meeting space. They may be flexible in how it is used; they do have to ensure that the space is correct.
My experience, again, is that conference centers have in-house food and beverage departments, full kitchens and are able, like many hotels, to better meet the needs of last-minute guests. “Conference dining” is almost always buffet (unless otherwise requested), and thus it would be easier to add to that--even if the items were not the same. You might, in your RFPs, want to ask the centers you use more about their food service and how they handle last-minute participants.