IACC executive vice presidentTom Bolman tests anergonomic chair
todetermine if it meetsconference center criteria.
sounds like too simple a concept to be offered for something as
complicated as the meeting planning process. But that’s what the
member properties of the International Association of Conference
Centers strive to provide.
Unlike the other 30 organizations that
belong to the Convention Industry Council, the umbrella
organization that watches over the meetings industry, St.
Louis-based IACC was not founded to support a particular group of
people with their own raison d’etre. Instead, it was created to
support a facility concept: the purpose-built conference center,
designed to facilitate consistently top-notch meetings. Members are
mostly owners, general managers, on-site conference planners and
others who help run IACC properties.
Small but strong
Launched in 1981 with 22 member
centers, IACC currently has 319 active member facilities throughout
the world, 205 of which are in North America -- a very small
percentage of all the meetings properties available. But people who
embrace the concept of a “true” IACC-approved facility are
passionate about the service and space they provide.
“It’s a specialist organization,” says
executive vice president Tom Bolman, IACC’s top staff person since
1986. “Just like you go to a cardiologist for your heart, we think
you should go to a conference center for a meeting to get the best
result. We help our members provide the most productive environment
available anywhere for small meetings, averaging 25 to 75
Some -- like Dave Arnold, CEO, East
Coast, of PKF Consulting in Philadelphia and an expert on
conference centers -- argue the passion is being lost as ownership
profiles have changed from small companies to larger entities, such
as real- estate investment trusts. These owners demand more return
for their investments through weddings, leisure travelers and other
“If I was one of them, I’d probably do
the same thing,” says Arnold. “But over time, it compromises the
whole conference center concept.”
To shore up the ideals at the heart of
IACC, in 2004 the association partnered with Bare Associates
International, a Fairfax, Va.-based mystery-shopper organization,
to keep an eye on the continued quality of the member centers. The
first four-year period -- the honeymoon, according to Bolman --
just finished. “We’ve transitioned to what looks like a long-term
marriage,” he says.
What sets the IACC properties apart is
the association’s set of Universal Criteria (found here), a series of 34 strict quality standards
that facilities must continuously meet to belong. Bare’s inspectors
use the criteria to measure each facility’s compliance.
No center has been dropped as a direct
result of the audits. “Members that were determined to be less than
100 percent compliant are now on the Schedule of Remedies; they are
expected to become compliant with the criteria they missed within
the time allotted on the schedule,” Bolman explains. Four or five
centers chose not to renew their memberships before being audited,
as they realized they would not pass.
For instance, the 326-room Scottsdale
Resort & Conference Center, a Benchmark Hospitality property,
no longer is an IACC member, even though 14 other Benchmark
properties are and Burt Cabanas, the company’s chairman and CEO,
strongly continues to support the concept. One issue as the
inspections began was the fact that the facility used skirted
tables that did not comply with the Universal Criteria.
“We are not IACC-certified because we
do not have permanent meeting rooms set up,” says David Reed, the
resort’s director of sales and marketing. “We are probably one of a
handful of conference centers in the country that don’t fit IACC
criteria. It hasn’t hurt us much, having the wrong type of