Why do we automatically think “hotel” when we choose a site for a meeting? For a low-key training or staff meeting, why not consider a college or university, retreat center, or camp? “Think outside the box,” urges Charles Salem, vice president of www.uniquevenues.com) in Johnstown, Pa. “Using a nonprofit venue is an opportunity to give your meeting attendees a different experience from what they get year after year.”and business development for Unique Venues (
When choosing nontraditional venues, you can go two ways. Camps and retreat centers are usually secluded and free from distractions, making them perfect foror training meetings. Colleges and universities, on the other hand, can serve as a direct replacement for a hotel and work well for routine off-site meetings.
The common misconception regarding camp accommodations is that attendees think that they'll be staying in cabins and will need to bring sleeping bags. “They think it's going to smell like a fireplace,” Salem says. “The truth is, many are built like that, but many camps and retreat centers have lodges, dormitories, or hotel-style accommodations. Some, like the YMCA of the Rockies in Estes Park, Colo., have all styles.” And the food isn't just barbecues. You can get everything from family style meals to upscale dining, Salem says.
“If your attendees are looking for a place where you can get away for a great afternoon shopping trip, then this probably isn't right for your group,” he adds. “These are the types of places where you can go into the woods on your breaks.”
Many colleges and universities offer the location benefits of a downtown hotel but are significantly more affordable. For example, Trinity University in San Antonio, Texas, is just a short walk from the city's famed River Walk.
Many colleges operate their own's bureaus, with members on the roster. They also have music groups, drama groups, artists, and athletes on campus. Typical university amenities include interactive television and state-of-the-art audiovisual, access to e-mail in the residence halls, and networkable computer labs. And most campuses have health facilities that are far superior to anything available in the private sector. After hours, groups can use the student union, many of which are lavish, multimillion-dollar buildings with movie theaters, coffee houses, dining areas, and game rooms.
As far as the food, cafeterias on college campuses are nothing like what you remember from when you went to school. Some offer dozens of choices, with wood-fire ovens and chefs who prepare entrees to order. Campuses often have food courts that are open late for evening snacks.
Your choice of a nontraditional venue may raise a few eyebrows. Be prepared to answer all kinds of questions from your attendees as well as upper management: “Why are we doing this?” “What will the food be like?” “Where will I sleep?” “How will I get there?” Remember, it's a new experience for them, too.
Is it one-stop shopping, or will I deal separately with catering, housing, AV, etc.?
What are the booking requirements and timelines?
What are the space guarantees?
Is an insurance policy required, or is it built into the rates?
Is security required? Do I need to hire the venue's security staff? Can I bring in my own?
Are deposits required? Is master billing accepted? Are credit cards accepted?
Is AV included in charges?
How flexible is the meeting space?
Are rates negotiable?
Is the parking free and ample?
Are rates commissionable to meeting planners?
Is catering handled internally or with an outside vendor?
Are complimentary rooms available for speakers and VIPs?
Is staff available 24/7?
What level of service and professionalism can I expect?
This article reprinted with permission of www.religiousconference.com.magazine,