by Sarah J.F. Braley | March 01, 2005

Andy Dolce and Skamania Lodge
Andy Dolce of Dolce International,
whose company runs the Skamania Lodge in Stevenson, Wash. has redirected his sales force to offer more flexible pricing to new clients.

Since time immemorial (or the 1960s, at least), conference centers have been known for offering all-inclusive room rates. Called the complete meeting package, or CMP (not to be confused with the professional certification), the room rate typically includes all meeting space, three meals a day, continuous coffee breaks, basic A/V (including LCD projectors) and gratuities.
    All member properties of the St. Louis-based International Association of Conference Centers adhere to this practice (plus many other requirements that are part of the organization’s criteria for membership). And centers rarely unbundle the CMP for planner clients, unless the piece of business is crucial for the center and there are no other groups competing for those dates.
    Yet, one conference center operator, Montvale, N.J.-based Dolce International, recently decided to back away slightly from the CMP concept. Is this a harbinger of things to come?

The concept
According to Charles Williams, who served as IACC’s first president in 1981, conference centers already were offering the all-inclusive meeting package in 1969 when he entered the business. At the time, he says, it was called the Full American Plan.
    “It was the thing that set us apart from hotels that had meeting space,” recalls Williams, who now works in commercial real estate in Northern New Jersey. Williams helped found IACC while he was employed at the Sterling Forest Conference Center in Tuxedo, N.Y. “Breakfast, lunch and dinner were included in the rate, as well as meeting rooms, basic audiovisual and two coffee breaks,” he notes.
    The complete meeting package works well for conference centers, which are purpose-built for meetings of 10 to about 300 people, because it helps them control costs in a way hotels aren’t able to. When a center is sold out for a meeting, knowing all the attendees will be in house for three meals a day allows the facility to manage supplies and staffing, while passing the economic advantages on to the planner. (IACC’s 313 facilities must get a minimum of 60 percent of their revenue from group business to maintain their membership.) 
    “Conference centers run at lower occupancy because meetings take place during the week,” says Dave Arnold, conference center expert and CEO, East Coast, of PKF Consulting in Philadelphia. “They have to get the people to stay on property for F&B to compensate.”