Sustainable leadership – Creating our future now

The following post was written by Joseph Sebestyen. Joe can be reached at jsebestyen@cox.net.

Sustainable leadership – Creating our future now.

The International Association of Conference Centers met in Sweden to learn more about sustainability and how we could create our industry’s future now.

Sustainability is nothing new to our Scandinavian membership; for 10 years Denmark and Sweden have been continuously improving the sustainability of their conference centers. In many cases:
– In guest rooms a key must be inserted into a slot in the room that engages the power to all the electrical outlets and the climate control system. When the guest leaves the room and takes the room key out of the slot everything powers down.
– Windows open for fresh air and some climate control systems turn off when windows are open.
Sixty-three percent (63%) of occupied guest room operating costs are energy related. The cost can be accelerated when guests turn the thermostat to the maximum setting for their immediate comfort. Engineering practices and geothermal systems for heat and cooling to take advantage of ground temperature to reduce energy consumption can save money and provide a sustainable future. Several properties in Sweden have already converted.

In addition to energy-saving methods, each guest room has one container divided into 3 sections: one for recyclable items such as plastic, metal, another for paper, and the third for refuse. Soap and shampoo are offered in wall-mounted containers by the showers and sink. Individual amenity bottles are not commonly used and if they are…they are Eco friendly bottles. The toilets have a water-saving device for liquid and solid waste.

In the conference area water filtration systems have replaced the bottled water and offer still and sparking water. Glass panels mounted on the walls in the classrooms have replaced paper flip charts. In the dining services china and glass are the standard and disposable service ware needs to be requested. I did not see large quantities of ice being used on displays. If there were not chill plates (on timers) then smaller quantities of food were displayed and refreshed frequently. Smaller quantities of food on buffets provide a fresher product and reduce excess and waste. Some properties in Sweden are composting their food scraps and showing guests how the process works. Some guests even take home a bag of potting soil that is enriched from the properties composting efforts. This process along with recycling other materials has reduced the waste management cost for the property and provided a marketing advantage.

Coffee/tea is served in copper pots on hot plates and warm milk in thermal containers. Organic wines from South Africa are well received and the cost and transportation routes are efficient and increase carbon efficiency. Guests are pleased with these sustainability efforts as long as it does not cost them more or decrease their experience.

The Scandinavian properties continue to introduce new sustainable methods and practices in stages and communicate to their guests why their efforts are being made. They are considering charging more for options that cost more or waste more resources. The paradigm needs to change to help guests understand that sustainability is positive for the guest and their experience.

Sustainable practices leadership is building a learning culture and using our industry’s influence to shape policies, customer requests, and by setting the right example. As an industry, we can create sustainable practices that save money, promote good environmental stewardship, increase our standing in the communities in which our properties reside, and ensure a positive guest experience.

Resources to consider:

Here is the link from the Bergendal property explaining their compost plan:
http://www.bergendal.se/eng/visa_info.asp?e=e006&Avdelning=007&PostId=4&Sidrubrik=Environment friendly

IACC’s link to the Green Star program:
http://www.iacconline.org/education/index.cfm?fuseaction=environmental

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Group Business Poll

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UNIQUE ISSUES FOR UNIVERSITY CONFERENCE CENTERS

The following post was written by Thomas P. Cole, C.H.A., M.Ed., General Manager, The Arden Shisler Center for Education and Economic Development.  Tom can be reached at cole.355@osu.edu. Information about Arden Shsiler can be found at: www.shislercenter.com

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In the world of conference centers, those located on university campuses, or operated by a university, have some unique challenges that are not always faced by open-market or corporate centers. Among university centers, there are significant differences. Some are residential, others are day centers; some are on the campus, others are located off-campus; some are managed by the university, others hire a management company to run things; some are for-profit, others are subsidized as a service of the university; some restrict usage to certain groups, others welcome the community. But they all have one thing in common – they are one small part of a larger organization that can either be supportive or restrictive.

At a recent forum of university conference centers, four major topics were discussed.

1. Who is the customer? Because the facility is part of a university, the mission of the university will generally establish who the potential customer will be and may place some restrictions on how the facility is used. Some university centers focus exclusively on the education experience, and serve only the campus and business communities for “serious” meetings, while others reach out to the community at large and welcome weddings, reunions and other social events as well. When the economy tanked last year, many centers had to review where the business was actually coming from, and re-think their strategies.

2. Security issues: Ever since the tragedy at Virginia Tech, colleges and universities have been implementing comprehensive security and emergency plans. While all conference centers should have a plan for emergencies, being part of the university plan usually means that the university center is one of the focal points of emergency planning for the entire campus. Because the conference center often becomes the headquarters for communications and information, all employees must be well versed in these plans as they help to coordinate all campus activity during an emergency.

Those centers located on campus may also have additional security considerations than off-campus facilities or private sector operations, by having to coordinate local police and fire response with the campus police in the case of an emergency.

3. Internal vs external clientele pricing: Some centers charge the same price for all external clients. Others use some sort of sliding scale to determine pricing, giving certain discounts to .edu. .org and .gov groups, which would also cover most non-profit organizations.

Pricing for internal groups can sometimes be an issue, since many tenured faculty members frequently view the conference space as an entitlement to be used by them at little or no charge. Some policy should be established by university administration so that the conference center management doesn’t have to get in the middle of pricing disputes with faculty and university staff.

4. University restrictions on negotiating / marketing / budgeting: Depending on the university policies, some restrictions may apply. Some university centers have fixed pricing that cannot be altered without permission from administration. Others are free to negotiate prices and features provided in order to make the sale. The speed of reaction to a customer issue and the flexibility in operations so common to the private sector center may be impaired by the glacier-like speed of university decision making.

Some centers can market openly and advertise aggressively. With others, the marketing plan seems to be to tell one person at a time, and swear them to secrecy – there are no dollars allocated for marketing beyond a website and (maybe) a pre-opening brochure.

In fact, the entire budgeting process can be strange. In some schools, the conference center budget falls under the Administrative Offices of the university. In others it is under the School of Business, Student Activities and even the Athletic Department. For universities without a Hospitality Program, the placement of the conference center on the budget can be entirely serendipitous. Assuming that there are profits from the operation, do they go back to the conference center, or do they end up in the general funds? When equipment is required, is the purchasing procedure straight forward, or convoluted, depending on approval from university officials who clearly do not understand how a conference center operates?

While open-market and corporate centers are generally overseen by people who have a basic understanding of the hospitality business, the oversight for a university center is usually an academic, albeit in an administration position, whose main concerns are research and keeping up with the latest developments in their field of specialty.

To them, the conference center is a nice amenity to the campus, but clearly not high on the list of priorities so long as it operates efficiently and doesn’t take up to much of their time.

University conference centers play a key role in the meetings industry. In fact, almost one-third of the members of the International Association of Conference Centers – the standard bearer for the industry – are university centers. While their primary focus is meetings and conferences, their ultimate goals – financial as well as utilization – may be quite different from open-market or corporate centers.

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Meetings in the Age of Distraction

The following article was posted on the CMI Meeting-net site by Mitchell Beer on May 17th and theorizes, among other things, that technology, for all its virtues, can interfere “in the way meeting professionals organize their time, plan their on-site programs, and instill value in the face-to-face experience”.

The article begins as follows:

When President Barack Obama delivered the commencement address at Virginia’s Hampton University May 9, he raised questions about technology, communication, and thoughtful deliberation that could have profound implications for your next meeting.

Obama’s remarks on the distractions of an always-on media world set off howls of protest from the IT and social-media communities. But in his observations on the decline of clear thought, he may have inadvertently pointed to a fatal flaw in many meetings.

“You’re coming of age in a 24/7 media environment that bombards us with all kinds of content and exposes us to all kinds of arguments, some of which don’t always rank that high on the truth meter,” he told Hampton’s graduating class. “And with iPods and iPads, and Xboxes, and PlayStations … information becomes a distraction, a diversion, a form of entertainment, rather than a tool of empowerment.

For the balance of this piece read through The Age of Distraction.

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FF&E Strategies – Are you in control?

Project delays resulting in the postponed opening of a conference centers can have many adverse consequences. In order to ease the financial pressure of the typical start up, the sales and marketing team will begin to book association and group business 12 to 18 months prior to opening. The importance of establishing an opening date and completing the conference center on schedule is critical to avoid the cost of relocating group bookings and the associated negative publicity. The same can be said for the various publications and directories catering to the businesses or meeting planners.  If group 
business cannot be layered in and publications and promotional material do not accurately reflect a properties opening, the actual opening is likely to produce poor financial results.

Critical path planning and adherence to development schedules are imperative to a project’s financial success. Managing the development schedule and assuring compliance requires that all interaction between the owner/developer, the operator and the design and construction team be managed.

Management of the development schedule requires an intimate understanding of the owner’s decision-making processes, the creation of interim milestone dates with the necessary tracking process, and the necessary expertise to provide real time solutions to remedy construction delays.

To ensure that a property opens on time, many construction contracts will include performance clauses such as bonus incentives for early completion or liquidated damages as a penalty for late completion. Other steps that can be implemented to ensure timely openings include staged occupancy of critical components of the property. Typically kitchens, training facilities, computer rooms, and laundry and operating supply areas are brought online three to four months before opening, while conference rooms, front office and reception are turned over four to six weeks ahead of 
opening.

The strict management of the development schedule, including establishing and tracking critical milestones, managing an “Action Item List” throughout design and construction and identifying and tracking long-lead items will result in a smooth ending of a long and demanding develop

Posted on behalf of Peter Stockmann, pjstockmann@me.com

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Business Models: Conference Centers vs. Hotels

When choosing a venue for an event one typically includes in the decision making process the purpose and expertise of the facility and provider.  One would not normally hire a bookstore owner to cater a wedding, or rent a tugboat for an executive committee retreat. Part of the decision process takes into account the desired outcome and what venue will provide the best possibility for success. It is interesting then to  talk with meeting planners and find that most, by default, look at hotels to hold their small to medium sized meetings, the meetings which are often an organizations most important in terms of strategy setting and training.

Hotels are wonderful and flexible places but the bottom line is and always will be selling sleeping rooms.  Sleeping rooms are the product and the business model supports their sale.  Conference center sales and operations, by comparison, support a different product: Meetings. Meetings are the number one focus.  Providing an exceptional meeting experience is what conference centers pride themselves on, and it is what they make their living on.

Meeting planners should do everything in their power to reduce risk and using an expert in providing a service, any service, is one way to do so.  In future posts we will demonstrate that dedication to a single product does not mean greater expense.

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Nashville and Las Vegas: Partners in the Struggle

One is wrecked by a flood, the other is wrecked because the flood dried up.

The scenes from Nashville are simply heartbreaking. To see the Gaylord Opryland with water pooling on the floors of its magnificent atriums, and the Grand Old Opry with a three-foot tide drifting through its hallowed main hall, makes me almost speechless, except for “Wow.” Dozens of meetings in Nashville have been canceled or relocated, and other cities have been magnanimous in accommodating meetings on very short notice. Also, it should not go unnoticed that the Gaylord donated all its perishable food to other entities in town rather than letting it go bad and simply throwing it out with whatever else needed to be discarded. That its employees and executives were thinking of others at their own time of crisis speaks very well of them.

Then there is Sin City. The country has not been in the mood for sin, or even for a weekend bout of monetary folly, for two solid years now. Doubly bad is the fact that many meetings and conferences whose objectives could surely be met in the serious meeting facilities of Las Vegas–and who could also choose from the plethora of entertainment options to help their attendees bond through fun experiences–are staying away from the desert oasis. Present Obama started it with his “boondoggle” bashing in late 2008 (how shortsighted was that, for a guy who seems so concerned about using the power of government to create jobs?). This made it necessary for corporate and association decision-makers to choose someplace–anyplace–else that had a less-suspicious profile for business events.

But if the tide of sentiment about the economy, and of Vegas as a conference host, does not improve soon, the wreckage of stalled and scrapped hospitality-business plans will become a vicious cycle, as properties and experiences get older over time but don’t get the facelifts they’ll need to stay attractive.

I am not a pessimist, I promise. And I don’t mean to bring people down. In fact, I do believe the worst is over and that people will start traveling quite a bit pretty soon. The hundred-billion-dollar question is, where will they be going?

In large part, the answer is up to you. So get crackin’ with creative ideas and experiences you can document in your facility or destination, and then show them off to planners so that they say, “Hey, that’s good. And different too!”

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