August 01, 1999
Meetings & Conventions: Planner's Portfolio August 1999 Current Issue
August 1999 Back to BasicsPLANNER'S PORTFOLIO:

Back to Basics

By John Potterton, CMP


Nonresidential facilities may be just the answer to some planning dilemmas

Some call them day centers or learning centers. Others refer to them as nonresidential conference centers. Whatever they are called, these facilities have one thing in common: They are ideal for small to mid-size meetings. With no overnight accommodations, their service staffs focus all their attention on providing an outstanding meeting experience. Because the centers are designed solely as meeting environments, they are free of any distractions.

Nonresidential conference centers represent one of the fastest-growing segments in the conference center industry. According to the International Association of Conference Centers, they make up 25 percent of the membership in IACC North America. That's a significant increase from 10 percent 10 years ago.

When does it make sense to use a nonresidential conference center? "Many of these centers were built for and by companies frustrated by the lack of dedicated, distraction-free meeting venues in their communities," says Louise Silberman, managing director of Summit Executive Centre, a nonresidential conference center in Chicago. "[The centers] are best suited if the meeting is focused on training, or where privacy is a priority a management meeting or board of directors, for example."

Day centers also are perfect if the majority of attendees are local and there is no need for a lot of sleeping rooms. Such meetings are not a high priority for hotel sales departments, which typically try to put heads in beds. The No. 1 priority of a day center, on the other hand, is to put people in seats. Booking an event in a facility where the meeting gets top billing makes good sense.

By no means, however, should a day center automatically be ruled out for a meeting of out-of-towners. Most of the centers are near several hotels, and many have special arrangements with hotels for preferred rates, shuttle services and recreation.

By using both hotels and day centers, planners get the best of both worlds: attentive service in an ideal learning environment and a good variety of overnight accommodations. Moreover, planners receive two bills one for hotel charges and one for the day center expenses which is particularly convenient when attendees are paying for their hotel rooms and the organization is picking up the tab for the meeting.

Planners whose lead times seem to be getting shorter and shorter will find day centers often are available with little notice, as most of their bookings are made within two months of an event. This is good news when a destination has been sold out for months due to a citywide convention.

"But be prepared," warns Ron Naples, a conference center consultant and owner of Maple Mountain Hospitality Inc. in Manchester Center, Vt. "When negotiating the plans for a short-term meeting, it is important to come to the property with as much information as possible. There is simply not enough time for change after change, like there might be in a three- or four-month planning process."

Many day centers use off-premises caterers, so they might not be able to handle last-minute requests for special meals. Therefore it is important to ask attendees ahead of time if they have any dietary restrictions.

Also, be aware many day centers do not have a dedicated dining room. Instead, creativity abounds, as lounges, breakout rooms and spare conference rooms are enlisted for meal functions.

John Potterton, CMP, is director of business development for Conference Center Concepts LLC, a Chicago-based conference center management and consulting firm specializing in nonresidential facilities.

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