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Booking Conference Centers vs. Booking Large Hotels

My wife is a professional athlete. She has always maintained that she absolutely hates to know what the competition is going to try to do. She really only wants to focus on her strengths and executing her game plan. She could care less what the competition is up to. However, she will always concede that she must pay attention to the trends in the game. No competitor wants to find themselves using outdated techniques or strategies. The same is true for event booking. This was the first thing I thought of when I first saw the latest ICCA research piece that took a close look at booking conference centers vs. booking hotels. When an event is in its inception, there are countless points to consider: the proximity to airports and public transportation, lodging and food places, the meetings spaces, AV capabilities, and other essential features and offerings of the venue. There's also all those other more creative elements that make up the look and feel of your particular show. We've talked about this previously when discussing all the considerations SXSW took into account. However, I’m sure you’re familiar with the planning process. You are then also aware of the fact that hotels have been gradually increasing in popularity over conference centers for many events; over the past 10 years In 2005, hotels officially began their reign as the most popular congress venue to host meetings and events. To this day they maintain that same position; according to the ICCA Statistics report, they hold 45.4% of the market share. Conference and exhibition centers come in second with 23.6%, and universities coming in a close third with 22.5%. So which one provides the best value proposition to conference and meeting planners? See the chart below for all the stats...

Booking Conference Centers vs booking hotels

Why Book a HOTEL vs Booking a conference center?

ICCA attributes the increase of meetings at hotels from the overall decrease of attendees at events and overall length of the shows. There is an industry push for a more intimate experience with fewer attendees, but technology advances also allow a broader market to be served through live streaming and social media. All these things work together to create a strong value-proposition for hotels. Hotels are also seen as the convenient solution when looking for spaces. The lodging is in the same building and transportation is minimal, meals are inclusive and the events spaces are newly renovated or built. These are industry trends. Meeting and conference professionals are often looking for fits, and hotels provide a better traditional fit in many of these cases; however, it doesn't always make them the best choice for your event. So is this why less people are booking conference centers?

HOW Do Conference Centers COMPETE?

Take a general look at the benefits hotel events spaces have and consider the direct alternative. Hotels are built to appease a mass audience. Their sole function is not events. Hotels cannot compete with conference centers and exhibition spaces when it comes to hosting larger events. Over half of the market share still rests with the average number of participants being over 500 attendees, but what about those events that are in between. Should planners be booking conference centers or hotel spaces? It is true that hosting an event at a hotel poses the benefit of being “all-inclusive”, but this can also be perceived as a negative for event professionals. While it is convenient to have all the hotel amenities located inside the same building as your event, it can also distract from the experience of your attendees and sponsors. We’ve discussed how to create memorable events before but it can be summarized with one phrase, immersive experience. What separates your event from the others is the experience people have when they attend. Part of this is transporting your attendees from their regular world into "conference world". A place where they are fully engaged in your show and experiencing the richness of all the content and material you've provided. Inevitably, this atmosphere is compromised when your event is at a hotel. In many cases, the reason you attended in the first place (ambiance, more personal feel) is actually worse at a hotel. A hotel offers an escape for attendees. They can easily head back up to their room between breaks, grab a bite to eat along at the hotel bar, or return to their room for a coffee break. What if there is a statewide marching band meet in the next space over? How does that affect the ambiance? Getting your attendees out of the hotel, out on the town and away from their “comfort zone” is part of the ever-important immersive experience that many want to create.

Booking Conference Centers or Hotels: The Strongest Value Proposition

This is a value proposition that hotels cannot compete with. However, conference centers must deliver on this promise; as it is their strongest proposition (outside of capacity). If an event venue is outdated and can't supply many of the modern luxuries that hotels provide, the competition will only grow steeper. It's imperative that conference centers continue to double-down on their ability to create immersive experiences if they want to stop the growing trend of hotel bookings for large events. Ultimately, event professionals responsible for booking conference centers or large hotels must ask themselves a question. Which of my options will help me create the best experience for my event stakeholders (sponsors, attendees, etc.) The data shows that when faced with this choice that many are selecting hotels. Is this because planners see it as the better fit, or because the conference centers that they are evaluating simply don't provide the same level of experience?

THE Wrap Up

If you're an event booking professional, build your strategy based on how you can create the best experience for attendees. It's best to evaluate booking conference centers and hotels in your events area. Both offer strong benefits. If you're a venue, build your value-proposition based on facts - if you’re losing out on events, find out why. Evaluate those trends and adjust the solutions to address that. Don’t undervalue the potential for reoccurring events. If you’re looking to visualize the growth opportunities across all departments, consider the software and systems that you currently have in place. When utilizing a complete software system, you’ll find those opportunities and shortcomings more quickly. If you'd like to learn more, I recommend checking out a few more of our recent blogs, and checking out the recent ICCA study. Questions, thoughts? Leave them in the comments section below.