HOTEL BUSINESS REVIEW

SEPTEMBER FOCUS: Hotel Group Meetings

 

IACC Americas Connect: Case Study of a Multi-Location Conference

By Mark Cooper Chief Executive Officer, International Association of Conference Centers | September 12, 2021

As a non-profit association with members and certified conference venues in 25 countries around the globe, it is fair to say the core of IACC's member community has been rocked in the last 18 months. But from the ashes of the fire, rises the phoenix often rises!

In 2020 IACC, which is a 40-year old association was forced, despite every effort, to move its annual conference to a 100% virtual platform in July.  Even with record online attendance (up on 2019 attendance levels by 250%), the appetite to lead by example, in staging a live conference was critical to the design that followed.

The lifeblood of most associations and societies, are their annual conferences and for IACC, the Americas chapter is no exception. The last live conference took place in Toronto in April 2019, with 250 attendees from the US and Canada.

In the late summer of 2020, I met with the board of IACC and we considered the different approaches for the 2021 conference. What could we do to demonstrate this community's commitment to getting back to live events and showcase the value to industry partners.

The options presented, included to stage another online conference, a live conference or a hybrid conference. The strong online connections formed in 2020, demonstrated that at that time, IACC was able to deliver content and value, deeper into its membership community and as a result, offering virtual attendance, in any of the considered live approaches, was a must.

Summit Chicago Meeting Image

Influencing Factors

Throughout the fall and beyond, the likelihood of US states and Toronto being open to stage business events and the appetite of individuals to travel and meet in person, was unknown.  Every leader involved in IACC knew we had to potentially work against a number of unknown factors, throughout the planning process and in the lead up to the event. The solution had to be flexible and be able to stand up to as many scenarios as possible.

For associations, the business model for events relies on securing sponsors and exhibitors as well as delivering member value. In 2020, IACC's sponsors stood by the association, but for 2021, we needed to understand the size of the attendee audience and engagement opportunities to do business, we needed to be clear in presenting the opportunity.

IACC's Americas chapter members are located throughout the US and Canada, it is a diverse membership and ability to travel needs to be considered.

We also needed to be sensitive to the fact that the meetings industry and all IACC venues have been severely impacted in terms of business levels in the last 18 months. The cost to attend that first return to an industry live event was equally important.

In mid 2020, IACC identified an alternative to the much talked about single location hybrid meeting. In that some organizations, due to travel or capacity restrictions, it would not be possible to meet as a single live group but will instead gain value from staging a number of regional live business events, simultaneously, connected using technologies and meeting design methods to give a single event feel for attendees. This was named IACC MultiPOD Meetings and it was developed in partnership with Encore. IACC developed a set of principles which supported the framework for attendees at multiple live venues, to be immersed in a single event experience. These principles were born from approaching meeting design as it related to larger single location events and then adjust so as not to dilute the impact.

In the design, it was important to engage a virtual POD to the same level as a live POD and ensure the experience is equitable and considers time zone differences.

Venue Selection

IACC considered venues for each POD location, based on technical infrastructure competencies and geographical locations and transport links. Back in the fall, many cities were either in the middle of or heading towards high restriction levels, which deemed them too risky to be considered for a July 2021 live conference.

Venues must align their offer to the new needs of clients staging a digitally infused conference or meeting. IACC certified venues offer a rich tapestry of built in and on-site technology in conference and meeting rooms designed for the staging of today's meetings and not multi-purpose banquet/meeting spaces. Every detail plays a part, acoustics, lighting, to tables and chairs. They complete the environment conducive to learning and technology infused meetings.  IACC's Committed to Brilliance details the ideal small conference, meeting and training environments. 

Hilton DFW Lakes POD Conference Room

IACC's Chosen Path

In an effort to mitigate as many risks as possible, IACC chose to embrace its own newly developed MultiPOD concept and host 4 multiple live locations (Dallas, Toronto, Wilmington and Chicago), along with offering virtual attendance for membership not in a position to attend a live location, from the Americas and guests from EMEA and APAC.

July 20 2021 was chosen, and the event a one day conference, with 6 hours of content that would be interconnected over the POD's and 2 time zones, eastern and central.

It's worth highlighting that IACC's membership is made up of operators of small to mid-size conference venues, it is in the fortunate position of having a rich source of experienced venues to approach to host a conference. 

Chosen POD LOCATIONS & Venues

Toronto: Vantage Venues, Downtown Toronto

Chicago: Summit Conference Centre, Downtown Chicago

Mid-Atlantic: Chase Center on the Riverfront, Wilmington, Delaware

Dallas: Hilton DFW Lakes, Grapevine, Texas

Each of the IACC certified venues participating, were committed to working together across venues and supplier organizations.

Early-Stage Planning

IACC and Encore met several times with Meetings Architect Mike van der Vijver of Mindmeeting, to co-develop the conference format and a content plan was agreed upon, embracing different content deliveries, including simulive, virtual keynotes, POD sessions followed by cross POD plenary session and even the live Copper Skillet chefs cook-off competition streamed from one of the 4 locations.

Encore and IACC set the scene early on, in that Connect would be a demonstration of the capabilities of a multi-location business event, showcasing technology and meeting design. 

Both organisations wanted to immerse the attendees in the experience, which they are likely to be staging in their own venues in the future.

Furthermore, the staging of the event would demonstrate how such events can be executed in an efficient way. To achieve this, collaboration with the host venues tech team and inventory would be critical, leading to Encore 'filling in the gaps' and therefore managing costs carefully.

In the lead up the conference, we had to take the decision to reduce from 4 live locations to 3. Toronto was facing continued restrictions in meeting in person. This was one of our first signs that we had created resilient live event model in unpredictable times, as the Canadian members joined the virtual POD and engagement was maintained and the event dynamic remained unchanged.

Feed the City Community Project Undertaken

Attendance at the conference surpassed 2019 levels, with the majority of attendees coming to the 3 live locations, but with virtual attendance an important option without any doubt.

The attendee profiles showed that the regional footprint of the venues based on attendee home locations was an important driver for attendance. It also contributed to reducing travel time, costs and the environmental impact of attending meetings with no or low flight requirements.  A model that may well prove an important one for many organizations in the future.

The supplier and sponsor engagement was also up on a single event location too. It allowed more sponsors who were regional to choose central or east coast locations to fit their representative or operational needs. 

As an association we also experienced feedback that the engagement was much stronger for this conference, influenced by smaller per location numbers and deeper relationship building, but with a feeling of being a part of a larger event, a larger group of members coming together, working together and sharing ideas.  Sessions were better attended with more plenary and less breakout sessions.

Considering the Emcee was in Delaware, the keynote in Vancouver and the lead facilitator in Taiwan, the Encore production team professionally executed the technology solution, working hand in glove with the venue technicians to ensure a cost-effective solution.

IACC Americas demonstrated that there are important differences to delivering a multi-location conference or meeting and that the move from analogue to a digital meeting format is transformational, resilient and ensures accessibility for more people.

Virtual Facilitator Katie Davis Addressing the other Live PODs

Lessons Learned

Several important takeaways were uncovered during the planning and execution of the event the first of which is that technology costs will vary dramatically based on the desired experience.  Here's a starting point for planners.

Selecting venues that have appropriate, up to date, built-in technology will significantly manage additional production costs although bringing in some technology is almost inevitable.

In terms of session planning, keep it simple.  Every change to the agenda or meeting format can drive technology overages.  Think about who needs to see and hear who.  Rehearsals are also crucial to a successful show and the more transitions there are in the running order the more rehearsal time will be needed.

The importance of having a strong alliance between client, venue and production partner is not to be underplayed though and regular pre-planning calls leading up to the event bringing the venues, production and planner together were vital for success.  MultiPOD is a more involved event than a single live location or hybrid event, but one which carries so many benefits if executed well.

Staging a multi-location conference or meeting, sends a powerful message to stakeholders as well as to attendees. It demonstrates an ability to transform the established past analogue approach to meetings and paves the way to stage more affordable business events in the future, with less environmental impact and greater return on investment.

Mr. Cooper Chief executive officer Mark Cooper brings to IACC 25 years of experience in the global meetings industry working for both U.S.- and U.K.-based organizations, in a number of leadership roles requiring a sales and marketing specialism. With an extensive background, he has held senior posts with respected conference center operators and global third party agencies, including Dolce Hotels & Resorts, Sundial Group, ConferenceDirect and Warwick Conferences. Extended Biography & Contact Information

HotelExecutive retains the copyright to the articles published in the Hotel Business Review. Articles cannot be republished without prior written consent by HotelExecutive.

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13. PRIVACY POLICY

The following is the Privacy Policy for HotelExecutive

We can be reached via telephone, email, or online at our contact page. When you visit our site we do not log any information regarding your domain or email address. Information Sharing: We do not share user information with any third parties other than via press release distribution as described below.

Hotel Newswire is a newswire service that distributes press releases on behalf of our users. If you decide to submit a press release for distribution through our system we will transmit your entire press release including any personal information therein contained to our media contacts and online distribution points including search engines. This is the only redistribution of your information that we engage in. Your submission of press releases through our system indicates consent with this policy. The information we collect during your registration process is used to notify users about updates to our service and inform users of any special events hosted by Hotel Newswire. This information is not shared with other organizations for commercial or non-commercial purposes.

Cookies: Our system requires the use of cookies to enable the user to log back into our website to access information from the newswire, without having to log in each time using the required username and password.

If you do not want to receive email from us in the future, please let us know by following instructions included in our communication with you. Users who supply us with telephone numbers online may receive telephone contact from us regarding their account, or informing them of new products and services available on the HotelExecutive website. If you do not wish to receive such telephone calls, please edit your account and remove your phone number from your account profile. This can be done from your user account menu.

Ad Servers: We do not partner with or have any relationship with any ad server companies. From time to time, we may use customer information for new uses not previously disclosed in our privacy notice. If our information practices change at any time, we will post the policy changes to our website to notify you of these changes and provide you with the ability to opt out of these new uses. If you are concerned about how your information is used, you should check back at our website periodically.

Upon request we provide site visitors with access to all information (including proprietary information) that we maintain about them. Users can access this information by logging in to their account.

Security: We always use industry-standard encryption technologies while transferring and receiving user data exchanged with our site. We have appropriate security measures in place in our physical facilities to protect against the loss, misuse, or alteration of information that we have collected from you on our site. We do not store credit card information in our systems.

If you feel that this site is not following its stated information policy, you may contact us.

Emily Brannen
Stefan  Read
Florian Kittler
Scott  Lee
Michael Sturman, Ph.D.
Bonnie Knutson
Mary Tabacchi
Linchi Kwok Ph.D.
Rohit Verma
Jamie Sterling
Cynthia Mejia
Robert  O'Halloran
Robert  O'Halloran
Richard Takach, Jr.
Coming up in October 2021...

Revenue Management: Monetizing All Offerings


Of all the departments within hotel operations, Revenue Management may have been the hardest hit, due to the pandemic. The logic goes - no revenue, no need for revenue managers - so many industry professionals were furloughed. If business rebounds in 2021, as expected, then hotel management will have to determine when prevailing occupancy levels justify bringing back their revenue management team. Also, the pandemic seems to have exposed some weaknesses in the traditional RevPAR models. There is a growing understanding that it is no longer sufficient to use a "revenue per available room" model; instead, hotels are adopting a TRevPAR model (total revenue per available room). This model recognizes that revenue streams from other departments are just as important as the revenue gained from rooms. As a result, hotels are looking at ways to monetize any and all hotel offerings - from dining outlets and spas to outdoor function spaces and local partnerships. The October issue of the Hotel Business Review will examine these developments and report on how some leading hotels are executing their revenue management strategies.