You want me to contribute what?

Posted on: October 27th, 2014 by Michael Lepage No Comments

Author: Wendy Bros, Manager, Guest Accommodation Services, MacEwan University

With educational institutions’ budget constraints many of us who operate out of the Ancillary Departments are starting to feel the pressure to contribute more back to the Universities/Colleges we work for.

When you have limited time and space to operate with, how do we accomplish this?

1) Know your expenses and set your rates:
There is a fine line between blowing yourself out of the market and covering your costs. Doing your homework helps. Do a price comparison of the market in your area; calculate your expenses so that you know when you can offer a discount on volume and when you can’t. Keep in mind that the higher your occupancy the lower your costs are on each night you sell, which brings me to point #2….

2) Booking sites will be your new best friends:
They will increase your sales and occupancy on those unused nights. The higher your occupancy the lower your expenses are per night, driving up your profit margin. Win, win right? This brings me to point #3…..

3) Increase Sales Through Awareness:
How many times when you explain to someone new what you do for a living, they say…”I didn’t know educational institutions rented out rooms.” Most people don’t, however just by listing your rooms on these booking sites, creates awareness to thousands of people who didn’t even know we were an option before. Maybe they won’t book with us today but we will be in their minds the next time their daughter or son has an out of town tournament to attend….which brings me to point #4…..

4) The Non-monetary Contribution We Make to our Institutions:
I never miss an opportunity to remind anyone who will listen to me, the contribution we make by bringing in thousands of people to campus…all potential students, all potential parents of students and all potential students going to live in our residences someday. That is direct marketing at its best.
So when we are faced with that inevitable question, ”How much will your contribution increase next budget year?” these are the tools for success we have behind us to provide our answer with the utmost confidence.

Wendy Brost; Manager, Guest Accommodation Services; MacEwan University Residence
Telephone: 780-633-3623

Conferencing made easy

Posted on: October 16th, 2014 by Michael Lepage No Comments

Author: Maaike Ammerlaan, Conference Sales and Services Manager – University of British Columbia Okanagan

I just came back from our CUCCOA National Conference held this year in Halifax, NS and I have picked up some great ideas again from my colleagues at universities & colleges all over the country and from the very inspiring speakers we were able to listen to.

What always spikes my interest are new electronic gadgets that help make my life as a conference planner a lot easier. At the conference I learned about ‘mobile check-in’, where guests check- in online (like on a flight) and just have to pick up their keys when they arrive at your campus. Off they go to their room with no time to waste at the front desk filling out forms or handing over credit cards. How easy and quick is that?

Or how about at your next big dinner event, you have a large touch screen in the room showing the lay-out of the tables and chairs, and the guests can select their seating by touching the screen and adding their name based on the other people they would like to connect with socially. Social tables it is called. Throws the painstaking time of putting a seating plan together out of the window!

And what if you can see on one map where the hot spots of your conference are by showing the ratings of each event as a colored dot: blue= not much interest, yellow= medium interest, red= lot of interest. By having your participants rate each activity, it instantly shows what is hot and what not at your conference. Cool!

Also getting more popular is the conference app where all the information about your conference can be found on the app. At our National CUCCOA Conference we tried out a conference app called Guidebook. They set-up a simple (free) version where everyone who would download the guide to their smart phone, ipad/tablet or laptop could see the program, speaker information, who was attending, sponsor information and maps of the conference facility and the local and regional area. You could also fill out a to-do list, set-up your own schedule, connect with other attendees by sending your electronic business card through the app and (very popular) upload pictures taken during the conference (of social events mostly!).
Instead of having to find your paper schedule to see what’s on at what time, you just open your app. The upgraded version of the app also gives you the opportunity to download presentations and have interactive maps. That definitely helps you make your conference become a lot greener!

Because attendees can rate each session instantly, as an organizer you do not have to send surveys to participants after the conference, who then have to think back about all the speakers they have listened to (and not mix them up). You can see your stats right away per event and know they are pretty accurate.

All these new technologies not only make going to a conference more fun, as a conference organizer, it makes putting on a conference a lot easier.

Maaike Ammerlaan, Conference Sales and Services Manager, University of British Columbia

To have and to hold or…not?

Posted on: September 15th, 2014 by Michael Lepage No Comments

Author: Sarah M Roberts, Sales and Conference Planner, Meetings and Special Events, University of Calgary

Every event starts with an initial inquiry – if it’s from a repeat client or a new one – to see what space you have available, rates, available guest rooms and many other details.  We are in the sales business when these inquiries come in – how can we best serve this client with the right meeting space and rates to fit their budget?

The next question is often – “can you hold this space for me?”

Or an RFP arrives in your inbox – you’ve got 24 or hours (or sometimes even less!) to respond with a meeting space and guest room combination that will make it work for this potential client.  You respond efficiently and quickly, and maybe put some space on hold.

And then….you wait.

The question is: how long?

We deal often with clients who have a planning committee, or other decision maker that needs to see all the options before a decision can be made.  In our high demand periods, this can mean a few clients or RFPs for the same set of dates.   Although we are clear that event space are not being held, who doesn’t want a juicy piece of business to happen!  We will often work with the client according to their timelines to make it work.

This poses a challenge however: placing holds and maintaining them are time consuming, and our search for a new software system continues, so we continue to use older technology that is not as intuitive as we would like.

For most clients, we will hold their meeting space for a week or two, and if another inquiry comes in we will ask them to advise us within a couple business days.  For guest rooms, we do not hold without a contract, the volume of inquiries and bookings is too high for holds as we operate a hotel and seasonal residence in the summer.

So…do you hold?  For how long?  Do you take a deposit?  Do you hold sleeping rooms?

Would love to know!

Sarah M Roberts, Sales and Conference Planner, Meetings and Special Events, University of Calgary

From a Student’s Perspective

Posted on: July 28th, 2014 by Michael Lepage No Comments

Author: Jena Lewis, Student, University of Lethbridge (Melissa Wiebe, Conference and Event Services,  University of Lethbridge)

From an outside student perspective, everything at a university seems to run like a well-oiled machine. It is only once you get behind the scenes that you can see how much time and effort (and occasionally panic) it takes to ensure that every event runs smoothly, and every hotel guest leaves happy.

One of the greatest lessons I’ve learned is that not all panic and stress is bad, but rather it can help create quick “on-your-feet” skills. Not only are these skills useful when empathizing with customers over lost keys or when they can’t find a specific classroom, but they also come in handy when giving a presentation in class, or when you are being peppered with questions.

Another skill I have been learning, albeit slowly, is time-management. This is crucial when planning any kind of event, especially when multiple university departments are involved. Time-management is a necessity when it comes to blocking off study time for finals, or finishing that crucial term paper while still maintaining a social life, and juggling other course work and commitments.

Ultimately the most important skill I’ve acquired is effective communication. One of the best pieces of advice I’ve received that helps work through problems in my work and my life is to always repeat a question back to the person asking it. This not only allows you time to think of a quick response, but also shows the customer that you understand exactly what it is that they are asking about.

All-in-all the experiences I have had while working for the Conference & Event Services department have helped me develop skills necessary for school, as well as other skills that will translate to life after school. The high-stress daily activity of this field may come as a surprise to those new to the field, but eventually most students (or other new staff) adapt to the work-pace and are able to deftly accomplish complicated tasks, both at work and beyond.

Jena Lewis, Student, University of Lethbridge

Melissa Wiebe, Conference and Event Services, University of Lethbridge
Telephone: (403) 329-2650

Change is All Around Us

Posted on: June 30th, 2014 by Michael Lepage No Comments

Authors: Susan MacKenzie, Laurier Conference Services and Susanne Keppler – University of Waterloo Conference Services

In the conference industry, CHANGE is the name of the game. As professionals we deal with change on a daily basis. Whether dealing with rooming list changes that are sent at the last minute, meeting room venue changes due to lack of air-conditioning, or residence changes due to a construction, we all deal with change each and every day of the conference season.

Change comes in many other smaller forms as well. While not causing as much impact to the guests, behind-the-scene changes related to computer and equipment upgrades, lock system conversions, signage, etc. can cause a lot of disruption to an already hectic conference operation. Often the conference staff are the last to find out about campus changes which can result in slight panic when trying to deal with the issues at the last minute or just as a large group is arriving.

One of the hardest aspects of change is a change in staff. All campus conference operations hire students for many different roles. We have heard past blogs about the difference an excellent student can make and we all have stories about students who have had an impact on our lives. It can definitely ease the manager’s load when a seasoned student returns for more than one summer. A student who is able to step into the role with minimal training just makes life a little easier at the start of the season. We build strong relationships with students and other staff as we train, mentor and guide them through the ups, downs, ins and outs of conferences. They grow and mature and leave our operations with a solid skill set that they will build on in their future career paths.

CUCCOA also experiences ongoing change as new members join and as great members move on to other opportunities. As members venture on to new roles, we lose their experience and comradery. Our Kitchener-Waterloo conference support system has recently experienced a change. Martha Wallace from Residence & Conference Centre-Kitchener-Waterloo will soon begin a new role at a hotel opening in Waterloo. While we wish Martha all the best, Susanne and I will definitely miss her positive attitude, determination, and willingness to always get together for a social event. We have benefited from our cohesive and supportive network and we will miss the connection. We know that Martha will take all of the skills she has gained while at work and through CUCCOA and successfully move forward in a new direction. We also know that Martha will ensure that the social events continue.

Change is always around us, and while it isn’t easy, we have to look on the bright side and discover that change also brings new opportunities, new friendships and new adventures. In the words of Gail Sheehy, “If we don’t change, we don’t grow. If we don’t grow we aren’t really living.”

Submitted by:

Susan MacKenzie, Laurier Conference Services
Telephone: 519-884-1970 x3958

Susanne Keppler, University of Waterloo Conference Services
Telephone: 519-888-4567 x35833

The Ripple Effect

Posted on: June 18th, 2014 by Michael Lepage No Comments

Author: Ruth Harland, Manager, Conference Services, Hospitality Services, Western University

Have you ever noticed how a small simple ripple starts very clear and precise and then continues to expand outward in an ever increasing circle with less distinct features until it becomes part of one larger pool with all edges blended and blurred?

Conferences have the same effect on us.

We recently had a conference in with several challenging requirements and great expectations. They had never held their event on a campus before and so it was going to be a learning curve for both of us.   Of course, we wanted it to go well and they wanted their members to really enjoy the experience.

After all the planning and preparation, they arrived. The requests started almost immediately and the Conference team was on the run. For the next few days, a tremendous amount of time and people were dedicated to this group. Our Conference team was short staffed and tired and they could easily have become frustrated and annoyed, but then, the ripple effect happened.

The organizers were very appreciative of every effort made on their behalf and repeatedly told all members of the team. The staff worked harder and longer just to please them. Any glitches that came up were quickly identified and resolved. What could have been a long and discouraging week, turned out to be a positive and great experience.

And so, hopefully here is my ripple effect…..

Thank you for being part of our organization. I am better at what I do, in part because of your willingness to share your ideas and best practices. Your support is very much appreciated.

Ruth Harland, Manager, Conference Services, Hospitality Services, Western University
Telephone: 519-661-2111 ext. 85974

The Story of Yoshi

Posted on: June 9th, 2014 by Michael Lepage No Comments

Author: Clarise MacGillivray, Guest Service Agent, Conferences & Accommodation, University of British Columbia Okanagan Campus

I (Debbie Harding) am taking the opportunity to share a write up from one of our student Guest Service Agents. So often we try to think of things to show our appreciation to these students and to encourage a sense of ‘team’ and ‘camaraderie’ between them. As you can see, they are so inventive and supportive of each other! So, thank you to our wonderful, brilliant and FUN guest service agents! We are so lucky to have you all on board!

The Story of Yoshi

As we gear up for another busy conference season in the Okanagan, we would like to take a moment to introduce a special member of our front desk team. He goes by the name of Yoshi! If you are not familiar with this lovable character, Yoshi is the small dragon that carries Mario on his back in the popular Nintendo video game series. In our office we use Yoshi to acknowledge when another staff member has gone above and beyond – perhaps in customer service or dealing with a tough situation in which they were able to work through it in a professional manner.

As the summer goes on, Yoshi is passed from one team member to another as a way to show appreciation for the exceptional work of each individual that in the past may have gone unrecognized. The feeling of a fellow team mate passing the Yoshi on to you makes you feel extremely valued, and it motivates you to continue going above and beyond in all aspects that make the front desk run smoothly.

For example, I gave Yoshi to one of my co-workers after my very first shift at the front desk. We had a huge conference checking in just as my shift was starting and she was so patient with me. Even amongst the craziness of everyone arriving she made sure that I was comfortable and had everything that I needed to succeed on my first day. It was so nice to have that calming presence to help alleviate a lot of the stress I was feeling on that day.


Yoshi Moments

Yoshi Moments


The Story of Yoshi by Clarise MacGillivray, Guest Service Agent, Conferences & Accommodation
Debbie Harding, Conference Sales and Services Manager, UBC Okanagan campus
Tel: 250-807-9358

The All Important Bag of Tricks

Posted on: May 19th, 2014 by Michael Lepage No Comments

Author: Dana Beaton (Problem solver extraordinaire), Assistant Director, SFU Conference and Guest Accommodations, Simon Fraser University

Like moms, wedding planners, and superheroes everywhere, every college and university conference professional has their bag of tricks full of items they’ve come to rely on for solving common (and not so common) problems.  Here’s some of the key items in mine…

Black sharpies… handy in any number of situations.  Scuffed black dress shoe?  Last minute signage?  Misspelled name tag?

Spare shoes.. a must,  have multiple pairs if you can.  Have spare shoes in your office, car, bag – whatever.  Have them ready for when the shoes you wore for fashion become too much for your poor feet,  for when you step in a puddle when out directing traffic, or to dress up an outfit for the one day you come dressed ultra-casual to work and a client shows up for an unscheduled meeting.

Snacks… can solve many problems. As the organizer you are generally the last person to eat or…the first person to skip the meal to deal with a crisis.  A snack from your supply stash might be the only thing to come between you and a full breakdown.

Cords… extension cords,  power bars, Ethernet cords,  USB cords, power cords… you name it, have one tucked away just in case.

A multiyear calendar… the calendar on a smart phone is handy to see a single date or a short date range, but that paper 10 year at-a-glance calendar is way handy when it comes to putting days, weeks and months into context.  Somehow being able to show it on paper in black and white brings home the proximity of a date in a way a digital calendar never will, no matter how many emoji’s we can fit on the screen.

Sticky notes… in a rainbow of colors.  Use them to amend to-do lists, jot down random thoughts in the middle of a meeting so they don’t distract you from the topic at hand, and to label boxes, files and people (they make handy name tags in a pinch).

Tape measure… because size often does matter. Will that table fit?  Is the doorway wide enough for a client in a wheelchair?  While I think I’m pretty good at eyeballing it, sometimes you actually do need an accurate measurement. 

Like Mary Poppin’s carpet bag, my bag of tricks is bottomless with new items popping out almost daily to deal with the unusual circumstances that are the day to day reality of my chosen career.  Now if only I could find a way to make the bag change colors to coordinate with each event’s colors…

Dana Beaton, Assistant Director, SFU Conference and Guest Accommodations, Dept of Residence and Housing,  Simon Fraser University
Telephone: 778-782-4330

The Road to Recognition

Posted on: April 28th, 2014 by Michael Lepage No Comments

Author: Erin Crane, Manager, Conferences,  University of Lethbridge

“Don’t worry when you are not recognized, but strive to be worthy of recognition.”
Abraham Lincoln

Let’s face it, if you seek recognition and want to be praised for a job well done conference planning and hotel management are not the jobs for you!

Our efforts are focused behind the scenes, making sure everything is happening when and how it should.  We plan, we implement, we troubleshoot and then we pick up the pieces and put it all back together again when things don’t go as anticipated.  It takes a special kind of person to do this job and with that comes the need for enough confidence and self-awareness to know that it could not be done without you.

That being said, we cannot lose sight of how important recognition is to us and to the people who work in our departments.  My team has been lucky enough this year to receive numerous accolades for our successful conference and hotel season.  It has reminded me how inspiring and motivating it is when your efforts are recognized and praised.

Recognition is not only a great motivator for staff but it can also be a great marketing tool.  What better way to advertise your business than in an article where they talk about how your facilities and how your efforts made a difference and an impact on an event.  It is the best testimonial you can have.

There are many ways to show recognition so I’ve listed a few for you to consider:

  1. Seek out city wide awards for tourism and customer service.  Attached is a link to our local awards.  Check with your Destination Marketing Organization or Chamber of Commerce to see what your city offers.
  2. Create your own in-house awards.  Our student team developed a recognition award last year that was awarded at our monthly meeting.  Each staff member had to write down an outstanding effort made by someone else on the team.  Each one was read aloud and the person who had the most, won the recognition award.  This was a great system as everyone who had done something outstanding was recognized even if they didn’t walk away with a prize.
  3. Nominate yourself or someone on your team for your internal University awards.  Even if you don’t win it is nice to be nominated.
  4. Don’t forget that CUCCOA has awards that are presented at the National Conference. Please nominate someone and pass on the recognition.

Erin Crane, Manager, Conferences,  University of Lethbridge
Telephone: 403-329-2417

Things I would tell my younger self….

Posted on: April 21st, 2014 by Michael Lepage No Comments

Authors: Andrea Hennel, Manager Specialized Services;  Chelsea Rule, Event Logistics Coordinator Events and Conference Services; Jennifer Brading, Event Logistics Coordinator Events and Conference Services, Mount Royal University Events and Conference Services

Our team was having a rather nostalgic discussion around events and how we approach events management now versus when we first started in our careers, which inspired the writing of this post.

Things I would tell my younger self that would have saved me buckets of stress and sleepless nights…

1. Comfort is key

Never EVER wear those pretty high heels when running an event. It never fails that it will always be the day you wear those beautiful new shoes that you suddenly find yourself running a half marathon at work that day.  You can spot a newbie a mile away by the shoes they wear.

2. Do a “mind dump” at bedtime

Rather than waking up all night with the “don’t forgets and to do’s”,  keep a list beside your bed and take 10 minutes at bedtime to decompress and write down whatever comes to mind for to do’s.  This “mind dump” can be very freeing when you can’t shut your brain off the night before a big event.

3. Don’t play the blame game….

Things happen and you may want to pull your hair out BUT… focus on troubleshooting rather than whose fault the situation is.  We all work very closely with our internal service providers and while things generally go wonderfully, there are times when things can fall off the rails.  The “how we can avoid this situation in the future” discussion can happen after the event, but in the heat of things, its “all hands on deck” to ensure smooth flow.  This leads us to part two on this note- be prepared to pitch in and help out with anything and everything.  This may involve being a caterer, parking attendant, custodial and housekeeping person within the first hour of an event.  At the end of the day client satisfaction is what really matters.

4. Always come in earlier than your client.

Give yourself at least 30-60 minutes lead time before you expect the client to arrive- in this time frame rooms can literally be moved around, speakers green rooms have “mopped”, all with the client being none the wiser of the disaster that could have been.

5. Never agree to something if you’re hesitant that it can be delivered on successfully.

While we all feel pressure to deliver on very high targets, we should all be asking ourselves if there is a concern with a particular client request what is causing this flag.  It is much easier to advise the client of alternatives or caution them on particular choices rather than agreeing to things that logistically or operationally you aren’t fully confident you can deliver on.

6. Always remember to thank people.

Gratitude goes a long way when working with internal service providers as they play a key part in the success of each event.  Knowing how each area/provider likes to be recognized will go a long way on the goodwill front.

7. Stop saying “I’m so busy”.

You are an event person and by virtue of this will always be busy.

8. You’re only as good as your last event

This is the best advice for any event planner. No matter the details that stand out for the Coordinators, guests always remember the details from the previous event. If there were major disasters that weren’t contained behind the scenes, your organizer and guests will remember. By the same token, if you wow your guests with unique event features, themes, entertainment, food & beverage, etc., your event will stand out in their minds and they’ll look forward to attending your next event!

9. A smile is worth a thousand clients

Event Coordinators are the ones who oversee damage control at their events. The oven could break mid-service. The weather could blow over the outdoor food tent. There could be a need for 20 extra tables 15 minutes before the event. All that matters is that the client sees you in a constantly calm and controlled state with a smile on your face. Of course inside you may be throwing a tantrum like a 4 year old and desperately wanting to chug the bottles of wine behind the bar, but an event’s success greatly depends on what you can manage behind the scenes and how you handle all of the mini (or major) crisis that arise.

10 There’s no such thing as a repeat event

Talk to anyone who attends annual events (but who isn’t involved in planning them) and they’ll say that coordinating recurring or annual events is an easy feat. It must be a great ease to just refer to last year’s notes and plans and hit the copy button every year, right? Think again. No matter how many times an event has occurred in the past, the event will be different every year. Coordinators will agree this is actually part of the fun when planning recurring events – there’s always something to troubleshoot and always things that you can’t plan for, no matter if it’s the 14th year of a standard Stampede pancake breakfast or a small annual corporate holiday party.

11. Have fun!

Despite the chaos that may ensue at times in our environment, we always need to be able to share in a good laugh at the end of the day.  Events can be crazy but they should also be positively challenging and fun. If you lose sight of this for extended periods of time, it may be time to evaluate your role in the event world.


Andrea Hennel, Manager Specialized Services at Mount Royal University

Chelsea Rule, Event Logistics Coordinator Events and Conference Services at Mount Royal University

Jennifer Brading, Event Logistics Coordinator Events and Conference Services at Mount Royal University

Mount Royal University Events and Conference Services

Tel: (403)440-8890


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