Event Planning and the Convention Center

Convention centers are a big part of the meetings and events industry. Pretty much every city has one. A convention center is primarily utilized by, but not limited to, associations and trade shows. The centers usually consist of one or more large open spaces with several smaller or “breakout rooms”.

The groups that will utilize a convention center tend to be larger in size. That’s where the smaller rooms, or breakout rooms are attractive to the event planners. You see, quite often with larger groups the event planner is tasked with providing smaller meeting rooms as well as a meal function. And if the facility does not have a variety of rooms to accommodate that, then the room turnover (switching a room from a meeting set up to a food and beverage function for example) would chew up valuable meeting time. And the smaller break out rooms are ideal as quite often there are many meetings for the group occurring simultaneously.

The Convention Center is about Location, Location, Location

A convention center is, most often, a standalone complex. They are also in close proximity to the city’s major hotels. So close that, in some cases, they are attached by underground tunnels or overhead walkways. Today, most convention centers are designed to be a focal point for the city that they are in. Not only visibly appealing, convention centers are also designed to handle large volumes.

Today’s convention centers, while attracting large conferences, are also structured to accommodate smaller groups without them feeling lost in a large sea. That’s where the architecture and design features come into play.  Event planners have often expressed concerns about using a convention center for a small group. Their concerns are that the attention that their group will be given will be overshadowed by any larger conferences occurring at the same time. Most of the newer convention centers, or ones that have been upgraded in the last decade or so, have addressed concerns that the smaller groups have expressed.

Event planning for large conferences usually involves coordinating shuttle transportation. Basically a planner has to coordinate moving the conference delegates from their hotels to the convention center. And, because of the group’s size, it’s quite common that they’ll be occupying more than one hotel. Convention centers are designed to accommodate multiple buses, arriving and departing, that are required to shuttle large groups.

Event Planning Tip – you can save a bundle off of your transportation budget by not providing shuttle transportation to any of the hotels that are in the immediate area of the convention center (say a two or three block radius).

A Convention Center is up to Date on Technology, Sustainability and Service Providers

Typical departments in a convention center include; technology (i.e. AV suppliers), security, guest services, housekeeping, catering and food and beverage, sales, convention and exhibitor services, and sustainability.

For many of the larger conferences, or trade shows, it’s vital that the service providers are able to accommodate their needs. Most convention centers will house the major suppliers in-house so that there is always an on-site person to deal with any needs that arise.

Green meetings are also becoming quite commonplace. Today a lot of event planning involves sustainability. In other words, meeting and event planners are becoming more and more aware of what can be done to improve their meeting’s sustainability requirements. And many convention centers are now receiving LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification. Sales and conference services departments are equipped to help meetings go green with easy to implement sustainable solutions.

Convention Centers and CVB’s (Convention and Visitors Bureaus) Go Hand-In-Hand

Most convention centers are associated with the cities’ CVB. Many are as busy as major airports, having a few million delegates a year move through them. When the city’s tourism arm (the CVB) goes out on sales missions, they are quite often accompanied with convention center sales staff. This is usually a win-win for meeting planners. This relationship gives the convention center additional marketing capabilities as they are quite often in a position to provide incentives to lure highly sought-after groups to their cities. Additionally, many will have in-house marketing assistance that they can offer as a value added service.

At industry networking events you may have heard the term tier 1 or tier 2 convention cities. And unless you’re responsible for the event planning of a large group you probably don’t have a clear understanding of what those terms mean. Some groups are so big that their selection of cities is limited by the size of the convention centers. That’s why the industry has categorized convention centers in this manner. A tier 1 convention center has meeting space greater than 250,000 ft.² . A tier 2 convention center will have meeting space between 100,000 to 250,000 ft.². A tier 3 convention center has meeting space under 100,000 ft.².

For an Event Planner One-Stop Shopping Is Attractive

Of course event planners want their conferences to go off without a hitch. Event planning is like a director’s job. There are many components that need to be successfully executed in order for the one main conference to be a success. And that can be a logistical nightmare at times. So when an event planner has an opportunity to put their conference under one roof (except for the hotel portion of the planning) that can be a huge bonus. Especially given the fact that the centers have crucial suppliers (i.e. AV, caterer) housed in-house.

Convention centers also happen to be located in the best areas of their cities. This is an ideal situation for a meeting and event planner. If there are any down times, their delegates are able to walk out the door and find a multitude of restaurants and attractions at their feet.

It is always recommended that, as an event planner, you walk the space in the convention center that you are considering. Because of convention centers sizes, a planner will want to make sure that their delegates can find the meeting rooms without hassle. Most often meeting signage will be required to help direct delegates.

If you’re considering a convention center for your conference, it’s recommended that you book space as soon as possible. Many convention centers will hold space for up to 10 years in advance. But you had better be serious about your booking because there will be a deposit schedule presented.

Final Thoughts

A convention center has become a focal point, or hub, for their city. Convention centers tend to be a showcase for the city, quite often because of their award-winning designs. They are centrally located next to most major hotels, attractions and restaurants. Event planners love convention centers as they are able to coordinate a multitude of suppliers that are housed in-house. As most convention centers are associated with the CVB, they are able to package themselves with nearby hotels and restaurants. It makes an event planners job all that much easier if they are able to house most of the conference activities in one location – the convention center.

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