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UNIT 8 CONVENTION MANAGEMENT — I

Structure

8.0 Objectives
8.1 Introduction
8.2 Significance of Convention and Meeting Business
8.3 Site Selection
8.4 Convention Centres
8.5 Convention Centre Location
8.6 Types of Centres
8.7 Centre’s Environment
8.8 Sponsors
8.9 Marketing and Promotion
8.10 Let Us Sum Up
8.11 Clues to Answers

8.0 OBJECTIVES
In this Unit attempt to answer the following questions:
• What are convention centres all about?
• How we choose a destination for a convention?
• What are the various marketing activities required for selling conventions? and
• What is the significance of conventions and meetings?

8.1 INTRODUCTION
Convention management requires a lot of hard work and labour. Unless and until everything runs
smoothly the whole time, effort, and money invested is going to go waste. In this scenario it is
important that every aspect from pre-planning to post-convention is taken care of in a very
organized manner. In this Unit we are going to understand the importance of product design for
holding a convention. We are also going to look at the importance of marketing in convention
management. To recognise and define the main functions of a host property and to understand the
various duties of the representatives of the host property is another aspect dealt with in the Unit.
Lastly, the Unit attempts to understand the different types of host properties while differentiating
one from other.

8.2 SIGNIFICANCE OF CONVENTION AND MEETING


BUSINESS
The meeting and convention segment of the hospitality industry is divided into two main sections:
corporate business and association business. According to Successful Meetings magazine in its
State of the Industry Report, corporations spent $37 billion sending their employees to meetings.

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The average company spent $60,500 on meetings. Meetings and Conventions magazine
reported that more than 7,06,000 corporate meetings are held annually in hotels and motels
throughout the country.
On the association side of the question, Meetings and Conventions magazine reported that more
than 197,000 association meetings were held annually. Associations are also responsible for
sponsoring numerous educational seminars. Estimates of the attendance for both meetings and
educational seminars are over 31 million people annually. Government, social/fraternal,
education, military, and entrepreneurial, while not as large as the association and corporate
segments, still makes up a significant portion of the meeting and convention business.

8.3 SITE SELECTION


Site selection is a very important process in conducting a convention. A poorly selected site
would mean that the entire efforts of the people involved would go waste. We would be using the
term host property to refer to any facility used to house a meeting, convention, or exposition.
The site selection process is an extremely important part of the sponsoring organization’s
activities. Regardless of the type of meeting, convention, or exposition, the site is a critical factor
in the success of or failure of the event. Convenience and cost are the two most important factors
in the site selection process. Based on surveys done by American Express, (U.S. Travel Data
Centre) one can conclude that, although exciting locations and popular pastimes such as golf,
tennis, and free time are important in the site selection process, they rank well behind cost and
convenience in the eyes of the meeting planner or exposition manager.
To begin the site selection process, the planner must first consider the goals and objectives that
have been established for the meeting, convention, or exposition. Based on these goals and
objectives, they develop a meeting plan or format. The next step is to develop a group prospectus
that will enable the meeting planner or exposition manager to determine the physic al
requirements for the meeting, convention, or exposition. We will be discussing the importance of
prospectus in the next unit.
The purpose of the prospectus is to provide a clear and concise document that outlines in detail
the history of the sponsoring group and attendees as well as a proposal of the specific
requirements for the meeting or convention. All site requirements are to be included, such as
preferred dates; number and type of guest room; number, size and usage of meeting rooms and
estimated times required; range of acceptable rates; dates and types of guest room; number, size
and usage of meeting rooms and estimated times required; range of acceptable rates; dates and
types of food and beverage events; exhibits and any other special events of activities; and any
related information such as complimentary requirements.
There are many types of facilities that host these types of events. These facilities fall into six
broad categories: convention centres, conference centres, cruise ships resorts, hotels, and
multipurpose facilities. Each of these types of facilities is designed to meet the specific needs of a
particular group. We will address the differences between these six categories as well as provide
insight into the overall role of the host property.
We have already talked about the significance of the convention and the meeting industry. The
numbers speak for themselves. Clearly a hotel, motel, or resort that has the physical facilities to
host meetings or conventions should review their marketing plan to ascertain the viability of
attracting these markets.

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Role of Host Property

The role of the host property is to provide the facilities and services needed to assist in the
execution of meetings, conventions, and expositions. In the past, when people thought about the
role of the host facility, they thought of only rooms and food. Today the host property is much
more intricately involved with the overall planning and execution of the meeting. This
involvement may include helping to design and market the program, assisting in the planning of
hospitality programs, theme parties, and sporting events, and training new meeting planners. We
would be talking about the planning part of the conventions in the next unit.
Many of the major convention hotels actually go so far as to provide training seminars for the
meeting planner. Hilton Hotels has designed a Host (Hilton on-site Training) program to improve
communication between the host property and planner. This program gives the planner the
insights into the inner workings of the hotel, thus stripping away any lines of miscommunication
and ultimately increasing the efficiency from both sides (Tannenhaus 1986). Sheraton has a
similar program called Sheraton Showcase, which “teaches planners the ABCs and XYZs of
meeting planning” (Lieberman 1991, p.33). In India we do not have any of this insight probably
because the industry is not so well developed and also because there is less interest on the part of
both the private sector and the public sector in these activities.
Although the practices just discussed are good business, they are also just another sign of the
growing emphasis placed on service. Service is the buzzword of today. Increasing competition in
an overbuilt economy had forced the hospitality industry to reevaluate all its affected areas of the
industry, but none more than those hotels, motels and resorts that derive a large percentage of
their income from conferences and meetings. Because of the recession and the decrease of
discretionary income, associations and corporation who typically host conventions and meetings
are faced with decreasing revenues. Therefore, they are becoming very selective in the way they
spend their extra money. For the hospitality industry this means that they must work harder to
gain their portion of this discretionary income. In the past, this has meant offering newer rooms
and more amenities, but the industry is also facing their own revenue shortage, thus the quality of
service has become the point of distinction. Since today’s conference attendees are more selective
in the number of conferences they are attending, suppliers must focus on providing a level of
services that leads the guest to feel at home, well cared for, and anxious to return

All those associated with the host property must exude this hospitable service attitude. Everyone
from the general manager to the housekeeper must understand the importance of service in his or
her daily activities. For this to take place, commitment to a positive service attitude must start at
the top.

8.4 CONVENTION CENTRES


Convention centres have their own importance when compared to any other location for holding a
convention. Most of the prestigious companies like to hold their conventions at sites that are
equivalent to their status. Furthermore, convention centres are also more useful than ordinary
halls. At any one-time convention centres can usually house a larger number of people than can
the largest meeting room in most hotels. A convention centre meeting’s seating capacity can be
in the thousands. Because of the high costs involved in convention centre construction, these
centres generally must be financed by public funds with the justification that this expenditure of
public fund allows more conventioneers to be accommodated, thus extending the need for more
local employment. However, the need for full-time employees at a centre is somewhat limited,

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Some permanent management and maintenance personnel are needed, but most of the employees
are hired for a convention only on a part-time basis, nevertheless, in a country like ours even part-
time employment may also contribute to the overall development of that place.

8.5 CONVENTION CENTRE LOCATION


Convention management and holding starts with the location of the convention centre. It is the
first thing that a potential client is going to see. The convention centre’s location is probably the
most important factor in the success of a centre, particularly if it is built for the international
business. It should be located with ready access to international airlines connecting potential
delegate generating areas throughout the world. After an international flight, particularly one of
several hours’ duration, arriving delegates are unwilling to have to wait at an airport for a
domestic’s flight to continue the journey to the convention location.
Murphy (1985, p.106) suggests the following five site considerations when locating a convention
centre:
1) Site size is critical since space varying from half-to a full city block is needed to house the
main building plus possible support buildings along with delivery and service areas, parking,
and entrances (which is why airport locations are often favored because the land is available
at a reasonable price).
2) The site should be central and accessible to quality accommodation and major inter-city
transportation terminals for domestic delegates.
3) The site should be close to major shopping and entertainment districts (which is why
downtown convention centres are not uncommon) or regional shopping centres.
4) Plenty of parking is necessary within the centre, or close by, again because many domestic
delegates will drive there, and international delegates, as well as domestic air arrivals, will
often rent cars at the airport.
5) Proximity to recreation facilities and attractive surroundings is important.
Apart from the aspects stated by Murphy there are a number of other considerations also while
choosing a convention location. Noteworthy are the government policies with regard to things
like taxes etc. A government whose tax policies are supportive whether it is the generating
country or the receiving country will greatly benefit from the convention business. Similarly, the
international convention travel business can be affected by a country’s tax regulations. For
example, the convention travel business of Canada and Mexico traditionally generated much of
their convention business from the United States. But this business was seriously hurt in January
1977 when the U. S. government allowed an U. S. corporation to hold only two tax-deductible
meetings a year outside the United States. This restrictive measure was a blow to convention
organizers and very unpopular with delegates who looked forward to the possibility of
international travel. Fortunately, the U. S. government relaxed the restrictions in January 1981.
Now U.S. corporations and/or residents are permitted to deduct all legitimate expenses for any
convention or meeting taking place in what is defined as the North American zone, which
includes the United States, Canada, and Mexico.
Murphy (1985, p. 104) states that in North America “despite the economic upheaval and
recessions of the 1970s, convention business boomed because face-to-face contact and up-to-date
information became more important in a rapidly changing world. “ As a result, many cities began

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building special convention centres to add to the hotels’ inventory of meeting-room space. Our
country has not been able to take advantage of the convention boom still because it has not
realized the importance of centre location and does not have a very supportive and enthusiastic
government.

8.6 TYPES OF CENTRES


A number of different types of convention centres have emerged. One of these is the Executive
Centre designed to handle the specialized requirements of top corporate management. Such
facilities feature sophisticated audio-visual equipment and similar convention aids run by highly
professional convention coordinators. Perhaps a relevant example of this kind would be the
erstwhile Vigyan Bhavan hall, a centre used primarily for exclusive conferences and conventions.
Another type is the Corporate Convention Centre used primarily for a company’s in-house use,
although sometimes this type of centre will be rented out to others. An example of this type of
centre can be the FICCI auditorium in New Delhi.
A third type is the non-profit centre, usually part of a university campus where the emphasis is on
adult (not necessarily corporate) continuing education. This type of centre may offer dormitory
accommodations only to attendees. All conference and convention centres of the universities fall
under this category.
The final category is the resort conference centre at which there is more emphasis on recreation
than is typical of the other three types. Resort centres, during the off peak time for conventions,
will often try to draw transient guests. These centres would have apart from the requirements of
the business traveller some sort of recreational aspects also. Recreational facilities generally
would include tennis courts, a swimming pool, and maybe an indoor games room.

8.7 CENTRE’S ENVIRONMENT


Convention centres need to create the right environment for their market, that is, an environment
for learning and seriousness. Apart from any recreational facilities they may have, they will need
to avoid any distractions that nightlife and nearby shopping and other attractions might create.
They are thus often located in remote, rustic places far enough away from the corporation’s
offices that attendees are not readily inclined to go back to the office to catch up on work. Their
remote locations thus require good efficient transportation routes and possibly transportation
facilities (limousine pickup) to nearby airports.
Because these centres have a captive market, usually for two or three days , that cannot usually
dine elsewhere, both the foods facilities and the quality of the food must be first class. These
food and beverage operations also must be based on the convention schedule and not the centre’s
schedule. S Buffet food service is often found at these centres.
Although many convention centres have been created from existing hotels and resorts, the
conversion of bedrooms and meeting rooms does not always fit what is required. Today,
therefore, many new convention centres are being specially designed and built for educational
and/or business conventions. The conventions can range from less than fifty to as many as three
hundreds attendees. If a group is larger than this, the size of hotel required will begin to detract
from the needs of the typical convention group.

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There are many groups that are considered consumers of meetings and conventions. These groups
vary from corporations to associations to religious groups. They sponsor meetings for numerous
reasons dealing with the specific purpose of their organization. In this unit we will also look at the
groups sponsoring meetings, conventions and expositions, their reasons and purposes in doing so
and the specific types of meetings, conventions and expositions sponsored.

8.8 SPONSORS
Sponsors of conventions, meetings and expositions are as varied as the convention, meeting or
exposition itself. They may be groups or individuals. Taking an overview, the sponsors of
conventions, meetings or expositions can be:
• Associations
• Corporations
• Trade unions
• Independent companies who sponsor and operate trade shows
• Religious groups
• Tour groups
• Theatre and arts groups
• Social organizations
These organizations decide to sponsor a convention, meeting or exposition for many reasons. In
the case of corporations, conventions may be designed to disseminate information, solve
problems, train people, or plan for the future. Associations may sponsor conventions, meetings
and expositions for the purpose of networking, educating members, solving problems, or
generating revenue.
Conventions serve a valuable function within corporations and associations. The following list
delineates just a few of the functions of meetings (Woods and Berger, 1988, pp. 101-102):
• Generate a spirit of unity and cooperation that contributes to the formulation of a collective
identity;
• Enhance communication by creating a pool of shared knowledge;
• Provide a forum for the generation of new ideas;
• Afford management an opportunity to define and promote the collective aim of the
organization;
• Obtain increased commitment to decisions by involving more individuals in the decision
making process; and
• Provide a setting in which company leaders can act like leaders on a very visible level.
Sponsors of conventions, meetings and expositions are responsible for the conceptualisation
phase of a convention, meeting or exposition. This phase must occur before the logistics of a
meeting are planned. In fact, without the proper conceptualisation, a meeting is likely to be
unfocused and unproductive. This phase involves, first of all, determining whether or not there is

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even a valid need for the convention, meeting or exposition. Once the sponsor can justify holding
this convention or meeting, they can then attend to the other aspects of the conceptualisation
phase, such as establishing a list of potential attendees and developing the philosophy of the
convention, meeting or exposition.
Determining whether or not there is a need for the convention, meeting is the first and perhaps the
most important step in planning a convention or a meeting, and yet this is the step most often
overlooked. Many executives consider conventions and meetings an unproductive use of their
time. There have been numerous surveys done to ascertain individual perceptions of the
importance of conventions. These surveys report that “participants rate nearly on half of all the
conventions they attend as ‘a waste of time” (Ashendrenner 1998, p. 43). This is particularly
distressing, considering that that the average business convention of ten to twelve managers costs
a lot to the company. Perhaps the reason so many of these meetings are considered unproductive
is because many of the individuals charged with the responsibility of organizing meetings have
never received any formal training in meetings management.
According to Ashenbrenner, a meeting or a convention should be viewed as a last resort. He
suggests a number of questions that should be asked before a convention is called
(Ashenbrenner 1988, p.43):
1) Do I need the resource capability of the group?
2) Will a meeting be faster, and can we accomplish more?
3) Can I gain commitment to ideas and decisions by having the group present?
4) Can I prepare for and conduct this meeting properly?
5) Will a convention “tie up” people too long?
6) Will a convention cost too much in term of salary and lost productivity?
7) Will people have adequate time to prepare?
8) Will personality clashes or disagreements sabotage the meeting or the convention?
9) Will the convention have solid leadership?
10) Do the advantages outweigh the disadvantages?
Once these questions are answered and a need for a meeting or a convention established, the
individual responsible for the convention must decide how to plan the event. Planning is often left
to individuals who have little if any knowledge about how to plan, organize, and execute
conventions. Therefore, it is no wonder that conventions appear to be poorly organized and the
participants become frustrated with the apparent waste of time. Many sponsoring organizations
find that it is much more practical to hire an individual whose primary responsibility is to plan,
organize and execute meetings. This is turn saves the sponsors money by avoiding some of the
problems just discussed.

8.9 MARKETING AND PROMOTION


The most carefully selected site in conjunction with a well planned, dynamic program or
exposition will be all for naught if no one is there to see it. Therefore, the sponsoring organization
needs to assure attendance. This is done through careful attention to the marketing materials

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provided to the potential attendee of the upcoming event. This provides the first impression.
Therefore, this material is responsible for setting the tone of the conference, meeting, or
exposition.
Obvious ly, marketing and promotion is less of an issue for corporations, who by their very nature
can assure attendance at meetings. Therefore, this segment of this unit deals specifically with
those groups who have to encourage people to attend their functions.
In order to successfully market and promote a convention or an event, the sponsoring
organisation must:
1) Determine their break-even attendance figures.
2) Develop a marketing plan
3) Develop a timetable
4) Implement the programme
5) Evaluate the program.
Marketing procedures should start with determining the breakeven attendance figures. The
breakeven attendance figures is the minimum number of paying attendees the convention must
have in order to not lose money. If the convention is supposed to generate profit, the minimum
number of attendees must, at the very least, create enough revenue to cover expenses. During the
initial planning phase, the planner and the sponsor should establish the absolute minimum number
of participants. Determining this number requires that the sponsors have a clear understanding of
their budget.
Once the break-even figures are determined, the marketing plan must be designed. A marketing
activities plan must be done with respect to a particular meeting, convention, or exposition.
Although this unit discusses marketing for a specific event that is a convention, one must always
remember the impact that the marketing has on the overall reputation of the sponsoring
organization. Marketing for a specific annual event also has carryover from year to year. Meaning
whereby that if marketed well the first few years then a particular annual convention would
require lesser efforts the succeeding years.
A marketing plan should begin with a clear and concise understanding of the goals and objectives
for the marketing and promotion of the convention. For instance, a sponsor may determine that
the goal of the marketing plan is to increase awareness of the organization and its annual meeting
or that the goal is specifically to increase attendance at said meeting. These goal and objectives
should be explicit in nature and be easily measurable.
Next it is important to identify the target market. The sponsor must decide who they want to
attend the event. In most cases this group has already been targeted and described in the
prospectus. Once the sponsor understands their targeted audience, they must develop appropriate
marketing and promotional strategies. For example if the target market is upper segment then a
different strategy has to be undertaken in comparison to the low end market.
In determining the market strategies for the marketing and promotional activities, the sponsor
must keep in mind what strategies will effectively reach the intended market and hold their
attention long enough to convey the message. The marketing strategy most often used for the
transferral of information regarding meetings, conventions, and expositions is direct mail. The

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most common methods and things people most often responded to are brochures, invitations, and
personal letters. Direct mailing tends to yield the best results for the money spent.
Secondary marketing strategies might consist of advertisements in trade journals or magazines,
flyers, paid endorsements, telephone calls, or word of mouth. These strategies may or may not be
cost effective when compared with the overall effect of direct mail.
Choosing the marketing or promotional strategy is just the beginning. The targeted audience
probably receives large quantities of mail each day. The challenge becomes to create a maile r that
stands out in the whole lot target audience receives and makes them want to open the envelope to
read the contents. If they have solicited the information, they are very likely to read it. If the
mailing is unsolicited, they are unlikely to read it, and so designing an eye - catching mailing that
attracts attention is doubly important.
Once the marketing or promotional strategies have been determined, a timetable must be created.
When do each of these strategies need to be implemented? Timing may be everything. Does the
first suggestion of an annual conference appear in the previous year’s program? How much lead-
time does each strategy require? For instance, it may require several months to shoot a
commercial or to design and print a glossy brochure.
Professional Convention and Meeting Association, New York suggests that for an annual meeting
the following time- table be used as a guideline for pre- conference marketing strategies:
52 weeks before the event is the best time to announce the date and location of the meeting.
24 to 36 weeks before the event send out the first set of press releases. If budgets permit, a second
mailing of press releases should follow with any key pieces of information, such as keynote
speakers, educational seminars, and so on.
24 weeks before the event is the time to start advertising in key industry publications.
18 to 24 weeks prior to the event mail a second round of brochures to the targeted population.
Include registration and transportation information.
14 weeks before the date of your event mail a second round of brochures to your targeted
audience.
8 to 12 weeks before the event mail a final reminder to your targeted audience.
2 to 6 weeks in advance of the conference, meeting or exposition send out badges, final programs,
and any other promotional pieces that attendees should bring with them.
(Professional Meeting Management 1988, pp. 282 -283)
If budget or marketing strategies allow only one mailer to be sent to potential attendees, it is
suggested that all of the relevant information concerning registration, transportation, housing,
seminars, and so on, be sent six to eight weeks prior to the convention, meeting, conference, or
exposition.
Marketing continues once attendees are at the event. Promotional gimmicks, such as pins,
balloons, mints, banners, programs, table tents, proceedings, and fliers, can all be used to
continue the promotion of special activities taking place within the main event. On- site
promotional activities also include the marketing and promotion of future events. This can be
done through inserts in programs, handouts, fliers, and gimmicks. In developing the marketing

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plan, certain criteria should be followed. Alastair Morrison states that the criteria for a marketing
plan should be (Morison 1989, pp.201-202):
1) Based on fact;
2) Organized and coordinated;
3) Programmed;
4) Budgeted;
5) Flexible;
6) Controllable;
7) Internally consistent and interrelated; and
8) Clear and simple
Implementing the marketing plan is closely tied to the timetable just discussed. Different parts of
the plan need to the implemented at various times within the overall game plan. Timing is critical
to the success of a marketing plan. Evaluation should be considered in every step of the
marketing plan. The evaluation of a program must be based on the desired results, which are
clearly stated in the goals and objectives for the marketing plan. These goals and objectives have
been carefully written to provide easy forms of measurement. Often, in the case of conventions,
meetings, and expositions, the success of the marketing plan is judged by comparing current
attendance figures with previous years’ figures. While this might in part reflect the success of the
marketing plan, other areas must be reviewed also. For example, if the event were exposit ion and
attendance figures down, yet the exhibitors had a more successful exposition with more qualified
leads and sales, then attendance figures would not be a good indication of the success of a
marketing plan.

Check Your Progress

1) Who performs the site selection process? Why it holds crucial position in list of sponsoring
organisation’s activities?
…………………………………………………………………………………………………..
…………………………………………………………………………………………………..
…………………………………………………………………………………………………..

2) Enlist types of centres. Do they vary from the perspective environment?


…………………………………………………………………………………………………..
…………………………………………………………………………………………………..
…………………………………………………………………………………………………..

8.10 LET US SUM UP


We saw in this unit that it is very important to choose the correct site and location for a successful
convention. It is also important to give the right environment to he attendees and the correct

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image to the potential clients by good marketing efforts and by planning well in advance. In a
nutshell convention management is not about on site management but about management much
before and after the meeting.

8.11 CLUES TO ANSWERS


1) See Sec.8.3.

2) Secs.8.6 and 8.7 deal with these aspects.

Activity
Visit convention centres in and around your locality. Prepare a list of major sponsors of these
events.

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