by Sarah J.F. Braley | May 01, 2004

Benchmark CEO Burt Cabanas

Benchmark CEO Burt Cabañas

Has the St. Louis-based International Association of  Conference Centers gone overboard in its standards for membership? Yes, says a major center chain, charging the guidelines are too rigid.
    At issue is a new effort by IACC to apply its Universal Criteria, comprising 27 strict requirements covering center specifications such as soundproofing between meeting rooms and the width of conference tables.
    On top of that, IACC has rescinded a grandfather clause that allowed certified centers to comply only with the criteria that were in place when they joined. The independent Fairfax, Va.-based Bare and Associates has been hired to reinspect all current members over the next four years.
    However, according to Burt Cabañas, chairman and CEO of The Woodlands, Texas-based Benchmark Hospitality, which owns and operates 20 conference centers, IACC’s enforcement of standards “has gotten to the point where it leaves out the flexibility planners give to a property when they evaluate it.”
    Benchmark’s Scottsdale (Ariz.) Resort and Conference Center has tables that do not meet IACC’s criterion that mandates undraped, nonreflective writing surfaces. The property is a provisional IACC member, pending the purchase of new tables, but Cabañas said this isn’t going to happen. “How can I possibly tell the owner we have to spend $400,000 to buy tables for the purpose of getting IACC approval?” he asked. “How does that add to our revenue base?”
    Andy Dolce, president and CEO of Montvale, N.J.-based center operator and owner Dolce International, agrees that a measure of flexibility would be welcome in the inspection process. “I think some judgment needs to be used,” he said. “If the issue is minor, the judge needs to use common sense.”
    “We might have missed the forest for the trees,” admitted Tom Bolman, IACC executive vice president, who added meeting planners should have been consulted when the quality initiative was devised. “Can you measure the total meeting experience by inches? We are going back to look at that. We have to be open to course correction.”
    For now, properties are being given time to rectify problems, per IACC’s Schedule of Remedies. For instance, centers have 18 months to buy new tables, with the possibility of a six-month extension.