Archive for January, 2013

No request is too odd for Conference Services at Universities and Colleges

Posted on: January 28th, 2013 by Michael Lepage No Comments

Author: Katelyn Narain, Simon Fraser University

More often than not, clients will say to me, “I have an odd request”. To them their request may seem silly, out-there, or anything but normal and they worry that their request may be met with a long string of no’s, a laugh, or a blank stare. However, when it comes to planning meetings, accommodations, and meals on University and College campuses – we encourage being different – because let’s face it, we are. Universities are unique and often provide facilities outside the norm.

Creativity is key when it comes to space because not only do we have conferences taking place on campus, but we are also fully operating Universities and Colleges.  There is typically a large variety of meeting space, which can allow for unique setups that provide the solution to many “odd requests”. From classrooms being used as dance rehearsal space, to hallways being used for cocktail receptions, to gymnasiums being used for discos; we take the space we have and turn it into whatever the client requires.

Groups are often looking for both high end and low end accommodation options. They want the higher-end suites for the speakers and the bang-for-your-buck affordable accommodation options for the participants. At SFU and many other universities and colleges, both options are available. Having both types of accommodations available often solves many accommodation (and budget!) issues that clients face.

Because university campuses feed thousands of people daily, no catering request is too crazy for us. In 2012 we had a conference group of over 300 Seniors staying with us with  dietary restrictions ranging from being allergic to everything except chicken and green vegetables, to not being able to eat solid pieces of food (we were blender ready!), to being vegan/gluten/soy/lactose/vegetable free. We work closely with our catering departments to accommodate any requests that we receive (from those dietary requests to 5:45am breakfasts to individualized menus) and they always meet the needs of our groups with a smile!

Clients may think their requests are a bit “out there” or challenging, but in most cases we’ve heard it and handled it before. We’ve dealt with groups that wanted to make their conference as green friendly as possible, groups that have needed everything done by paper because they couldn’t use new day technology, and a group that needed to change rooms because of the “aura”.

When working with a client, I always remind them that no request is a dumb request. We’ll do our best to help them out, and even if it really is that odd, we won’t laugh…because let’s face it; something weirder is always around the corner.

Katelyn Narain, Simon Fraser University


Telephone: 778 782 3228

Conference Services is a great area to increase incremental revenue

Posted on: January 21st, 2013 by Michael Lepage No Comments

Author: Janet Gates-Robart, Saint Mary’s University

Here are some best practices that you should implement to drive this business forward:

Firstly, never sit back and assume your repeat clients/conferences are a sure thing.  You always want to treat them as if it is their first time on campus.  If you are complacent you may risk losing the conference.  Always follow up after the conference to assure it was a success and end the conversation with confirming their return to the University for future years.  Immediately following-up in writing, and if possible, in the form of a contract.  After all, they are your base revenue or shall we say your “bread and butter”.

Be careful when you are increasing revenue by increasing your residence rates and/or meeting room rates.  You want to be an expert on what the other universities in your area are including and not including in their rates.  Know your competition.

Being new to the business development area of conference services one of the interesting observations is that universities are not “top of mind” for meetings & conferences yet we offer great value.  You don’t want to be “the best kept secret”.  Work on a marketing strategy that will enhance your awareness to the business community and all that you have to offer.

Never assume your colleagues and faculty at the University are aware of all the services you have to offer.  Treat them all as potential clients.  Many sit on Boards and are influencers on bringing conference to your campus.  Keep in touch through the university newsletters or a distribution list updating them on changes that may be of interest.

Janet Gates-Robart

Business Development Manager, Conference Services

Saint Mary’s University, Halifax, NS

T: (902) 491-8699   E: Janet.Gates-Robart@SMU.CA

Happy 2013, the beginning of an exciting New Year!

Posted on: January 14th, 2013 by Michael Lepage No Comments

Author: Debbie Harding, University of British Columbia, Okanagan campus

As we begin the New Year I am contemplating all of the things I want to do for UBC’s Okanagan campus’ conference and accommodations department in terms of guest experience, campus relationship building, marketing our product to not only groups but to all of the individual travelers who don’t know about summer accommodation options at colleges and universities.  I also cannot help but think about all of the exciting marketing initiatives set forth by the CUCCOA marketing committee.  And finally, working with our clients organizing their conferences in May and throughout the summer.

Wow, that’s a very diverse list of things to accomplish!  Like many of my colleagues in CUCCOA, we don’t have corporate marketing budgets and staffing.  It typically falls to a “you and me” situation with very little budgets.  Thankfully, one important element will prevail and see us through, and that is our passion for what we do.

Much like planning a conference with our clients, the first thing that I find incredibly helpful is the tried and true “list making”.  Once all of my thoughts are on paper (or computer, more likely) I can begin to dissect each element and start making a plan of action, one step at a time.  By breaking down the overwhelming circle of thoughts in my mind, I am able to systematically and logically prioritize, outline actions needed, identify people I need to contact, create timelines, and decide on the delegation of elements to succeed in accomplishing a successful outcome.

Sounds like common sense, however it’s easy to get overwhelmed with so many things on our plate.  We tend to focus on putting out everyone else’s fires and moving others’ project forward.  We forget to slow down, shut our door, and make a list for our projects.  Then decide if all of those thoughts running around in your head are viable and realistic goals.  Don’t be afraid of crossing things off the list!

We are the experts of planning, troubleshooting, and customer service for all of our guests and clients.  We would be wise to take advantage of our own expertise and advice!

Debbie Harding, UBC, Okanagan Campus


Telephone: 250-807-9358

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