If examining emergency procedures has suddenly become a much more critical part of your site-inspection process, a new document by the International Association of Conference Centers may be the help you need to suss out the safest spots.
After the September terrorist attacks, IACC formed the Emergency Procedures Task Force, chaired by board member Rodman Marymor, managing partner of Berkeley, Calif.-based Cardinal Communications, to canvass members around four critical areas: health emergencies, natural disasters, facility emergencies, and deliberate disruption/acts.
The task force's first goal “is to identify and benchmark [emergency procedure] standards that are shared by at least 80 percent of the conference centers,” says Marymor. Secondly, the task force is going to collect examples of best practices. “So at the end of this, if you figure a couple hundred conference centers each contribute one or two best practices in each of the four areas, we're going to have a really nice document that's going to have best practices dealing with swimming pool safety, dealing with tornadoes or floods, electrical outages, guest rape, armed robbery, computer backups. … We could wind up with a document unlike anything in the industry.”
The emergency procedures white paper was expected to be published before the end of 2001 at the IACC Web site (www.iacconline.org).
“If a planner is going into a property, I would say it's important for them to understand not just what the food is like, not just what the rooms are like, and what the AV is like, but also what emergency procedures are in place,” says Marymor. “We didn't think about it before September 11. We're thinking about it more now.”
Addressing its clients' travel restrictions and meeting budget cuts, 10 of the conference centers managed by Benchmark Hospitality (www.benchmarkhospitality.com) have added free videoconferencing for newly booked meetings taking place before the end of March.
The promotion, offered to groups using a minimum of 150 room nights, rolls videoconferencing into the Complete Meeting Package price, the all-inclusive pricing system used by convention centers, which typically covers accommodations, meals, meeting space, refreshments, and standard AV equipment.
Benchmark's videoconferencing offer is not unlimited, but it does, according to the company, represent a $4,000 savings. The package includes free point-to-point videoconferencing in the continental U.S. and Canada using a modular videoconferencing system, camera, microphones, LCD projector, and screen; 120 minutes of long-distance service; three ISDN lines; and one hour of service from an on-site technician.
The properties included in the promotion are The AT&T Learning Center, Basking Ridge, N.J.; Chaminade, Santa Cruz, Calif.; The Chattanoogan, Chattanooga, Tenn.; Cheyenne Mountain Resort, Colorado Springs, Colo.; Del Lago Resort, Houston; The Founders Inn, Virginia Beach, Va.; Kingbridge Centre, Toronto; Lansdowne Resort, Leesburg, Va.; Scottsdale Conference Resort, Scottsdale Conference Resort, Scottsdale, Ariz.; and The Northland Inn, Minneapolis, Minn.
Harrison Conference Center, the Tarrytown, N.Y.-based conference center division of Hilton Hotels Corp., opened Virginia Crossings Conference Resort in Glen Allen, Va., in August. Located on 20 acres just 10 miles from downtown Richmond, the 182-room conference resort features 23,000 square feet of meeting facilities. Videoconferencing equipment and high-speed Internet access will be available in all 24 meeting rooms. In other news at Harrison Conference Centers, the organization has relaunched its Web site at www.harrisonconference.com.
Dolce International, the Montvale, N.J.-based company that runs such conference centers as Hamilton park in Florham, N.J., has acquired Norton Manor Training and Conference Center in Hampshire, England. An expansion will bring the room count to 100 by early this year. This is Dolce's fourth European property.
Evergreen Marriott Conference Resort in Stone Mountain, Ga., opened an 87-room expansion in October. The added guest rooms give the Evergreen a total of 336, making it the largest conference resort in Georgia.
The Benchmark Hospitality — managed CIBC Leadership Centre in Toronto, Ontario, has been renamed The Kingbridge Centre.
In October, the Professional Convention Management Association opened its new PCMA Learning Center in Chicago's Hyatt Regency McCormick Conference Center. The 5,000-square-foot space is being billed as “the most technologically advanced adult learning center in the world.”
Bell Harbor International Conference Center in Seattle added 17,000 square feet of function space last year. A new 5,000-square-foot Grand Concourse combines with a 12,000-square-foot Elliott Hall for activities such as receptions, exhibits, and theme events. Weather permitting, large rolling doors in the Elliott Hall can be opened to reveal sweeping views of Seattle's Elliott Bay and the Olympic Mountains.
Like the famous definition of pornography, “I know it when I see it,” many meeting planners have a similarly intuitive definition of conference centers. There are, however, clear criteria that define the conference center concept.
In fact, the International Association of Conference Centers has a 30-point definition that separates its 330 member centers from the world of meeting facilities. Below are some key points of IACC's definition. For a complete list, visit www.iacconline.com and click on “membership criteria.” The IACC Web site also allows planners to search for conference centers and send requests for proposals.
A minimum of 60 percent (based on net area) of meeting space in the conference center is dedicated, single-purpose conference space.
A minimum of 60 percent of total revenue from guest rooms, meeting space, food and beverage, AV, and conference services is conference-related. (If the conference center is nonresidential or ancillary to a resort or convention hotel, 70 percent of total sales of the conference center is generated from conferences).
Continuous refreshment service is set up outside meeting rooms unless requested otherwise.
Average group size: 75 people or fewer.
The conference center offers and promotes a package plan (CMP) that includes conference rooms, guest rooms (when applicable), three meals, continuous refreshment service, conference services and basic AV equipment (typically: overhead projectors, flip charts, 35mm slide projectors, microphones, and video playback equipment).
Conference rooms are available to clients on a 24-hour basis for storage of materials.
The conference center has sufficient inventory so that 60 percent of dedicated meeting rooms can be set up using ergonomically designed chairs, which have upholstery and, ideally, are designed to swivel and tilt for attendees' comfort.
The majority of conference setups use tables that are designed for meetings and have a nonreflective, hard writing surface. (Draped, skirted banquet tables are not acceptable.)
Conference rooms have wall surfaces suitable for tacking or other mounting of flip-chart-type sheets.
Amplified sound is available for all conference rooms with more than 1,000 square feet.
A designated conference planner is assigned to each conference group.
Guest rooms include work stations, adequate lighting for reading or working, and comfortable seating.
Need to put together a meeting in a hurry? Dolce International, a Montvale, N.J.-based conference center management company, launched a new program in October that promises a response to meeting planners' inquiries within 30 minutes and a proposal within one business day.
The program, called Dolce Conference Solutions, is a one-stop shop for space at one of the company's 14 conference centers as well as air travel, rental cars, and ground transportation. Dolce is partnering with American Airlines, Avis, and Empire International, and the quick-turnaround proposal includes estimated costs from all the partners.
Dolce's deal with American includes 70 percent off published coach and business class fares, a waiver of the Saturday night stay requirement, and special site-inspection fares, among other benefits. The program gives discounts for five or more Avis rentals, including discounts on promotional rates, and seven free rental days for every 20 rentals booked during a calendar year.
Electronic request for proposals are submitted from the Dolce Web site (www.dolce.com/conferencesolutions), where you can also get information on the 14 Dolce properties in the United States, Canada, and Europe.
THE INTERNATIONAL Association of Conference Centers is reaching out to help one of its own. Before September 11, The World Trade Institute, a nonresidential conference center owned by Pace University and managed by Benchmark Hospitality, spanned the 55th floor of New York's One World Trade Center. While none of the facility's 14 employees was harmed when the towers came down, many are facing difficult circumstances as they look for new jobs. To do its part, IACC has pledged $5,000 to establish a relief fund for WTI employees and is asking others in the industry to help the fund grow. At press time more than $1,000 had come in. Donations can be sent to: IACC/WTI Employee Assistance Fund, c/o Merrill Lynch, 65 East State St., 26th Floor, Columbus, OH 43215.