An Exploration of Conference and Meeting Space: Why isn't there enough?
By Eric Rahe Principal, BLT Architects | May 27, 2012
Fortunately, the industry is now beginning to refurbish and expand properties as business conditions and demands improve. The extended delay in the refresh cycle has now given way to what industry observers have been predicting for the last year – refurbishment of guest areas including lobbies, guestrooms, and food and beverage space, and it's no surprise that conference and meeting center renovation is part of this cycle.
What has been a surprise is the extent to which meeting and conference space is a major component of the expansions and renovations in which our firm is now involved. New ballrooms, conversion of office space and retail to meeting rooms, conversion of guestrooms to meeting rooms, sub-division of existing meeting space and repurposing of lobby and related common space into informal networking areas are examples of projects recently initiated by our clients. The typical attributes of a refurbishment cycle – the need to remain competitive, to take advantage of changing tastes and style and to incorporate new technology is a clear driver of this activity. But many of our projects involve substituting meeting space for other existing assets so something more than the refresh cycle must be underlying this trend.
The need for more meeting space seems counterintuitive. Our ability to meet and connect virtually, outside of a defined venue, grew exponentially while the supply of meeting space stagnated over the last three years. The social media heavyweight, Facebook, is on the cusp of becoming the largest domestic company by share value; the unprecedented sale of tablet computers and the popularity of affordable video-conferencing, such as GoToMeeting, all suggest our desire to meet is now driven by personal control, portability, low cost and extreme flexibility. It was not that long ago when politicians made headlines criticizing businesses' wasteful spending on conventions and all companies are driving profits by reducing costs. So why meet out of the office at a structured event with the associated cost and schedule commitment? Several factors are driving this trend:
Face-to-face still matters
The appeal of meeting with like-minded people is hard wired into us and does not seem to be lessened by an abundance of information technology. If anything, the explosion of information makes it harder to decipher what is of value to our professions, our businesses and our clients. Conferences hold out the appeal, either real or perceived, that content has been filtered and that attendance is a time and cost efficient way to connect with colleagues and customers. Equally compelling is the opportunity to learn new skills and best practices and complete required training or education with our peers. Recessions do have certain positive attributes like shaking complacency out of businesses and the resultant competitive need for businesses to continually train and upgrade their workforce reinforces the need to network and learn. And physical presence to establish your relevance stills holds an edge over blogging with the current generation of decision makers (this may or may not be true with future generations of conference attendees).