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 How Venue Selection Impacts the Success
of Your Meeting or Training Session
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Quantifying the Role a Venue Has on the Success
Rate of Training or Meeting Sessions
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March 2006

With increased pressure to demonstrate ROI, Chief Learning Officers tend to focus primarily on the effectiveness of curricula and training methods. However, as this article demonstrates, mounting evidence shows that the choice of venue and the physical facilities for learning can play a critical role in maximizing the bottom line success of corporate learning programs and training objectives.  “Conference centers have long had the unique ability to provide productive learning environments, as well as specialized and unique lodging facilities,” says Jeff Weggeman, vice president of sales and marketing for ARAMARK Harrison Lodging, a leader in the conference and meeting center industries. “Recently there has been a more pronounced need for conference centers to develop a way to quantify the return they provide.”

Currently there are not any established methods for quantifying the role a venue has on the success rate of training or meeting sessions. ARAMARK Harrison Lodging is in the process of developing a system that will help substantiate and better establish the importance of venue selection in the education and meeting process.

Until then, the International Association of Conference Centers (IACC), a not-for-profit, facilities-based organization whose mission is to assist members in providing the most productive meeting facilities around the world, utilizes a certification program for member conference centers and mandates that its active members comply with the 30 stringent standards of the universal criteria.  Certainly, IACC recognizes the role venue plays in enhancing the learning process.  “IACC member facilities represent the highest-quality venues on a global basis,” says Tom Bolman, IACC Executive Vice President. “The whole objective of our 30 universal standards is to provide the most productive environments for adult learning.”

IACC-certified conference centers are required to include amenities such as ergonomically designed chairs, tables that are non-reflective and allow at least 30 inches of space per occupant, a controllable level of lighting, and a dedicated conference planner. IACC-certified conference centers are also required to have dedicated conference rooms that are separated from living and leisure areas and are available to clients on a 24-hour basis for storage of materials.

“If the environment is bad, then people will generally perceive the training to be bad, regardless of content,” notes Nick Howe, vice president, HDS Academy/Hitachi Data Systems.

In addition, the increase in new forms of training such as multi-sensory learning, e-learning, hands-on lab setting or blended learning have led leaders in the conference center industry to consider adjustments and enhancements beyond IACC’s certification standards.

“Forward thinking conference centers have the opportunity and responsibility to take the lead by partnering with their CLO clients to create innovative solutions, which are customized to their individual client’s needs,” said Weggeman. “Conference centers have the ability to provide a unique philosophical and conceptual approach to training that solely focuses on maximizing the learning process; the results are dramatic when you experience the difference.”

For example, Babson Executive Conference Center, a state-of-the-art executive conference facility in Boston,Mass., features a video-teleconferencing suite, Internet connectivity in all meeting rooms and simultaneous translation services, all designed to accommodate the changing profile of trainees. Additionally, unlike a traditional hotel model, Babson features free public computer stations with Internet access at convenient locations throughout the center.

Tom Clancy, vice president of education services for EMC Corporation, is a long-time client of Babson Executive Conference Center. He utilizes the venue for EMC’s new hire training and points out, “First impressions are important and our new hire training is an opportunity to make a good first impression with our new sales representatives.We’ve found that if classrooms are too small or chairs are not comfortable or if the food isn’t that great, it can directly and negatively affect the success rate of our sales teams.”
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Babson Executive Conference Center

The Villanova Conference Center
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“If a sales representative has a good, fast start, leaves our training with a positive first impression and has had a fabulous learning experience, they continue to carry that sense of EMC pride which usually translates into a long tenured and successful EMC employee,” Clancy adds.

Harrison Conference Center & Hotel–Princeton Forrestal Center in Princeton, New Jersey, offers CLOs the option of booking its 7,664-square-foot tiered auditorium and amphitheater, which seats up to 400 people for multimedia presentations. Included is a professional projection booth and keypad response system for instant polling that helps ensure that training sessions and/or presentations are both dynamic and interactive.

Other conference center facilities such as The Warren Conference Center & Inn in Ashland, Mass., offer dedicated meeting facilitators to assist corporate instructors or planners in the coordination of logistics and special requests, thus saving their time to focus on the trainings rather than solving equipment or facilities problems.  And at Batterymarch Conference Center at Northeastern University’s campus in downtown Boston, on-site computer labs offer the ideal option for extended e-learning and a balanced environment for instructor-led tutorials.

Additionally, well-known companies such as Boeing and Verizon have played a major influence on the conference center industry. A number of Fortune 200 companies own their own corporate conference center facilities and have designed the centers explicitly to enhance the learning process.

“A number of corporate and college/university-owned conference centers feature enhanced learning design functions,” says Weggeman. “It’s partly due to state-ofthe-art corporate centers such as The Conference Center at Marlborough, a Verizon property, and The Villanova Conference Center, owned by Villanova University, that we now have many other public conference centers that have incorporated enhanced learning design functions to help aid in the education and learning process.”

Evaluating conference centers’ success rates

While anecdotal evidence of the benefits of these types of facilities, amenities and features abound, hard numbers on the actual ROI for effective conference and training venues are also on the way.

“Industry-wide, we are seeing a movement toward finding ways to evaluate success rates and return on investment,” says Weggeman. “We’re also finding that the importance of measuring success rates is beginning to cross over into the venue selection process.”

A recent survey conducted by IDC, a premier global provider of market intelligence, and CLO Magazine’s Business Intelligence Board found “that nearly one in five respondents felt that the topic of measurement deserved more of the industry’s attention in 2006.”

While we all can agree that measuring performance is critical, how does the selection of a meeting venue factor in?

Currently, IACC employs a certification program for member conference centers, inspecting each facility once every four years to insure compliance.

“IACC member facilities represent the highest-quality venues available to meeting professionals on a global basis,” explains Weggeman, committee chair of IACC’s marketing committee, and the 30 universal standards of IACC are a great jumping off point for Chief Learning Officers regarding minimal criteria needed to book a venue for a meeting or training session.”

Nigel Paine, head of people development at BBC Training & Development, is currently measuring productivity benefits as they relate to venue selection. He uses an individual questionnaire assessing the costs of the venue and services compared to similar venues. He then tabulates what he calls “the hassle factor,” i.e., the relative ease of working with the staff on-site, including level of preparation and venue flexibility.

Deborah Finn, corporate meeting planner at PricewaterhouseCoopers, believes that conference centers are more geared toward the training process: “The [conference center] environment is more classroom style and best fits our needs, plus there’s less distraction at a conference center than a hotel.”

Karin Milliman, also of PricewaterhouseCoopers in the meeting planning department, tends to hold her continuing education classes at conference centers because they are designed for learning and therefore more conducive to the purpose and content of the session.

“CLOs want less distractions and more focus on the learning process,” says Weggeman. “And as the industry continues to focus on measurement, we predict that there will be an increased demand to provide methodologies for conducting studies on how venue selection can impact a meeting/training success rate.”

Currently, ARAMARK Harrison Lodging is in the process of conducting a survey with PFK Consulting and will later be devising a system for companies to successfully measure venue ROI. Until then, informal surveys such as the one that BBC’s Nigel Paine is conducting are great ways to make sure that you’re maximizing your ROI by choosing a meeting venue that supports a productive learning or training process.

ARAMARK Harrison Lodging, a division of ARAMARK Corporation, provides a wide range of managed services, including meeting and recreational support services to conference and corporate training centers, specialty hotels, national and state parks, resorts and other tourist destinations throughout the United States. ARAMARK Harrison Lodging is a single source provider for educational environments, event and meeting planning, premium dining needs and catering, on-site restaurants, retail merchandise sales and facilities management.
 

Resources: 
Links to Topics in this Article
ARAMARK Harrison Lodging
http://www.aramarkharrisonlodging.com

ARAMARK Parks & Resorts
http://www.aramarkparks.com

International Association of Conference Centers
http://www.iacconline.com

Meeting Professionals International
http://www.mpiweb.org

Chief Learning Officer Magazine
http://www.clomedia.com

PKF Consulting
http://www.pkfc.com

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Contact:

 ARAMARK Harrison Lodging
http://www.aramarkharrisonlodging.com

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Also See: Significant Growth Forecast for North American Conference Center Industry; PKF Consulting's Conference Center Trends Report Sees Turnaround / May 2004
Conference Centers in the U.S. Saw Financial Fortunes Turn Around in 2004 after Three Consecutive Years of Declining Revenues; Estimating 9% Increase in Conference Attendance in 2005 / PKF / May 2005
The 2004 UK Conference Market Survey; Among Items Revealed: Most Popular Venue: City Centre Hotels, Major Factor Causing Dissatisfaction at Venues: Food / June 2004
Conference Centers Adapt to Changing Environment / David Arnold / PKF / Sept 2001


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