by Sarah J.F. Braley | March 01, 2014
Where Are the New Centers?
Hotel development in general saw an uptick in 2013, but the pipeline for new IACC conference centers has been relatively empty. Some conversations are ongoing in the area of university centers and private facilities for corporations, both with built-in demand, but the market for larger conference resorts or urban facilities has been less active.

"There needs to be a demonstrable growth in corporate meetings," says Dave Arnold, CEO East for PKF Consulting USA. "Once existing centers show 65 percent occupancies, rates will rise and new development will begin." He says conference centers now average about 55 percent occupancy.

Alex Cabañas, president and CEO of Benchmark Hospitality, is more bullish on development. "Within the next 12 to 24 months, we could easily have three or four hotel conference centers under construction, two in university locations, one in a secondary market like the Midwest, possibly two more," he says. However, he adds, limited-service products are blurring the lines of what full-service means, and they're much easier to get financed.

Benchmark does have a 250-room center at Texas A&M in the works, with 25,000 square feet of meeting space, and is in talks with UCLA for a facility there. The company will break ground later this year on a 180-room Personal Luxury Hotel in Nagoya, Japan, with a  20,000-square-foot conference center.

In addition, Neil Pompan, president and CEO of Pompan Hospitality Global and former global president for the IACC, has been hired to help develop a new facility in Clarksburg, W.Va.
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Meeting planners could find it a jolting experience the first time they encounter the room rate at a property that is a member of the International Association of Conference Centres. But after learning all about the complete meeting package (or CMP, not to be confused with the certified meeting professional designation) offered by IACC facilities, rates hovering around $275 per night fall into better focus, because planners get much more than a sleeping room for that price.

Offering packaged pricing for meetings is the hallmark of IACC centers, which are ideal for groups of up to 200 people and particularly for corporate meetings, where the host organization pays all the expenses and receives a predictable master bill that has been simplified by the CMP.

To remain members of IACC, properties must adhere to a set of official Quality Standards (find the standards at Aside from requiring ergonomic chairs and airwalls of a certain thickness, number three on the list mandates that members offer a pricing plan that includes "conference rooms, guest rooms, three meals, continuous refreshment service, conference services and conference technology. For nonresidential centers (without guest rooms), the package includes conference rooms, lunch, continuous refreshment service, conference services and conference technology. In other words: one-stop shopping for planners.

"The CMP offering has continued to be the staple by which 90 percent of our meetings are booked," says Derek Grimaldi, general manager of the Ivey Spencer Leadership Centre in London, Ontario. "The ease of booking and no-surprise approach gives planners the knowledge and confidence to book their meetings and not worry about a constant stream of add-ons."
 Technological breakthroughs
The CMP was codified for IACC facilities in 1981, when the organization was founded, and the Quality Standards were called the Universal Criteria. The essence of the package has hardly changed.

"There is a backbone to the CMP, and that premise still holds," says Mark Cooper, CEO of IACC. "The standard technology, though, has been the biggest moving part."

It took years for LCD projectors, for example, to become a regular inclusion in the CMP list; now, with meetings requiring robust Internet bandwidth, multipoint microphones and a sturdy technological infrastructure, that standard is in flux.

"The packages don't vary so much in terms of the overall items," says Deborah K. Gaffney, director of conference planning at Washington, D.C.'s Tax Executives Institute, who uses IACC centers for five-day training meetings. "It's more about how extensive each item is, and A/V can really vary."

"We're seeing a lot of our members going from a five-year cycle of upgrading their technology offerings to a three-year cycle," notes Cooper, and it follows that the amount of Internet access, type of microphones and other tools will change accordingly.

Wi-Fi is another important gray area. At the Boston area's Babson Executive Conference Center, a 211-room university facility that also serves area corporations with its 22,500 square feet of meeting space, "Wi-Fi is completely free in the building," says regional director of sales and marketing Nancy Lindemer. "We don't even have a splash screen or a login. That's throughout the building, including the guest rooms. It's pretty much plug and play."

The basic technology package at the 18 conference-center properties in the Benchmark Hospitality group usually includes a podium, a microphone, a screen, an LCD projector, flip charts and Wi-Fi, says Hal Powell, regional vice president of sales and marketing, who nevertheless notes that meeting professionals will see different elements depending on the facility. Of course, planners can make sure their meeting rooms at any IACC facility are equipped to fit their needs; upgrades will be an add-on to the package price.

Dolce Hotels and Resorts has addressed some modern meeting needs in its CMP 3.0, a standard list of package components across its portfolio. Broken into "traditional" and "select," standard offerings (found at include the ability for all guests to connect up to three devices at no extra charge -- a big bonus for attendees.