IN THE PAST 10 YEARS, hundreds of hotels and resorts have added the words “conference center” to their names. But a true conference center — one that's a member of the International Association of Conference Centers — is noticeably different and of a much higher quality, both in the facility and the service, than the wannabes.

To show how all these facilities are not the same, here's some straight talk on the most common conference center misconceptions.

They're used for more than just meetings — Actually, a minimum of 60 percent (based on net area) of meeting space in IACC conference centers must be dedicated, single-purpose conference space. Meeting rooms must be separated from living and leisure areas and made available to clients on a 24-hour basis.

They're more or less like hotels when it comes to pricing — IACC conference centers work on a package plan, known as the CMP, that includes conference rooms, guest rooms, three meals a day, continuous refreshment service, conference services, and basic conference technology. Nonresidential conference center packages include conference rooms, lunch, continuous refreshment service, conference services, and basic conference technology.

They're for small meetings only — The average group size at most centers is 75 people.

Their meeting rooms are similar to those in any other group property — Not really. For starters, they must have ergonomically designed chairs with arms and that swivel and tilt synchronously and that allow height adjustment. In fact, IACC members must adhere to about 10 different specifications for their chairs alone, from width to design. The same with tables — IACC members must follow specs for everything, right down to the veneer. Rooms must also be climate-controlled, with those built after 1993 having their own individual climate controls; have wall surfaces suitable for tacking or other mounting of flip chart-type sheets; and offer unobstructed views.

Staffing structure is similar to that of meeting hotels — At an IACC center, a designated conference planner is assigned to each group. If a center is ancillary to a convention hotel, it must have a separate, dedicated conference services department that does not also serve the overall complex.

They're not known for their food — This has changed! Also, center dining facilities are designed to accommodate groups on a flexible meeting schedule, at least for breakfast, lunch, and continuous refreshment service outside the meeting rooms.

Technology support is extra — On-site standard conference technology is included as part of the conference package, typically: overhead projectors, LCD projectors, flip charts, 35mm slide projectors, microphones, and computer and video image display equipment. Centers also have on-site technicians proficient in providing creative program consultation; equipment setup, operation, and instruction; and immediate response to service needs. IACC members are encouraged to provide Internet connections in all conference rooms as well as public areas and guest rooms. All of this is included in the CMP price.

Guest rooms are bare bones — Rooms include adequate workstation(s) for the occupant(s), reading/work lighting, and comfortable seating. The rooms are also separated from conference and leisure areas of the centers to allow maximum privacy and comfort.

Business center hours and services are limited — Based on conferee needs, business services operate at least from one-half hour before the first meeting of the day until one-half hour after the final meeting adjourns. During times when the business services location is closed, the guests are directed to other conference center staff for their business services needs.

About IACC

The International Association of Conference Centers, is a facilities-based association whose members include commercial conference centers, corporate training centers, and college and university conference centers. Formed in 1981 with just a handful of active members, IACC has grown to include more than 300 conference centers around the globe, in Australia, Europe, Japan, and North America.

For more information, visit www.iacconline.org.

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