Many meeting planners have an 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 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, audiovisual, 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.

  • Conference rooms are available to clients on a 24-hour basis for storage of materials.

  • 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.

  • On-site standard conference technology typically includes 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.

  • 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.

  • Conference center meeting rooms are not like those at typical properties. For starters, the rooms must have ergonomically designed chairs with arms and that swivel and tilt and allow height adjustment. In fact, IACC members must adhere to about 10 different specifications for their chairs alone, from width to design.

    The same is true 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.

  • The majority of conference setups use tables designed for meetings and have a nonreflective, hard writing surface. (Draped, skirted banquet tables are not acceptable.)

  • A designated conference planner is assigned to each conference group. If a center is ancillary to a convention hotel, it must have a separate, dedicated conference services department that does not serve the overall complex as well.

  • 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.

    Based on conferees' 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.

  • Guest 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 for maximum privacy and comfort.