Archive for June, 2013

Why Do We Do This Crazy Business?!

Posted on: June 17th, 2013 by Michael Lepage No Comments

Author: Debbie Harding, Conference Sales and Services Manager, University of British Columbia’s Okanagan campus

As we’re well into our conference and accommodation season in mid June (already!), we have most likely experienced a whole array of things as a result of our “busy” season!

Personally, it’s all been really fantastic thus far, knock on wood!  We’ve had the privilege of having some extraordinary groups stay with us and are expecting lots more in the coming weeks.  However, this does not come without its challenges and pressures; meeting and exceeding the needs and expectations of our clients and balancing the resources of the large network of people we work with on campus.  It’s our job to make sure everyone is happy! Right? Right!  And through the hard work, patience, and sometimes pulling your hair out, it all seems to work out!

Why do we do it?  What is the main motivation that drives us to work so hard to make everything work out to the best of our ability?  I’m sure there are long psychological lists that can answer this question.  And without question, we are professionals and want the best for our clients and guests. But for me, I try not to lose sight of my motivation, which in the end, is for our students.

This becomes very clear during convocation.  This year we had four of our very own Guest Service Agents walk up to the podium to receive evidence of their hard work and dedication.  What a wonderful moment!  Students come from all over the country and world to study and live at UBC’s Okanagan campus.  They work hard to be able to afford to come to University. I like to believe that what we do in the summer with conference and accommodation hopefully makes it a little easier for students to live on campus and experience this brief, unique, and exciting time of their lives.

Maybe we’re not changing the world and sometimes we feel like we are running in circles, but I can guarantee that if we can help students in any way to experience living on campus, we’ve certainly succeeded in helping to change their lives.

Debbie Harding, Conference Sales and Services Manager, University of British Columbia’s Okanagan campus
Telephone: 250-807-9358

The Balancing Act

Posted on: June 3rd, 2013 by Michael Lepage No Comments

Author: Dana Beaton, Assistant Director, Conference & Guest Accommodations, Simon Fraser University

The life of a Conference/Events/Guest Accommodations manager at a post-secondary institution is a constant balancing act. We balance the priorities of a variety of client groups, internal administrative units and our own department.  We are a revenue generating entity in a student services unit.  We are a client and customer service focused entity in a unit focused on facilitating the campus experience for students and faculty.   We are a unit that welcomes external clientele in an area that focuses on primarily internal matters.  On many campuses we are like the 2nd cousin twice removed that showed up without warning at the family reunion…we don’t quite belong but our plate spinning and balancing act is the hit of the festivities.  Because we don’t quite belong it often falls to us to be the problem solvers, the option detectives and the acrobat in the balancing act.

Our campus is on a tri-semester system meaning students are living in residence and attending classes year round.  Classroom space can be hard to find, as can theatre, recreation and dining space.  The times when classroom space is readily available are times when the rest of campus is focused on maintenance, renovations and time off.    Budget considerations weigh heavy but so does the need to train staff, clean rooms, inspect rooms, fix what is broken and prepare our offices, staff and buildings to give guests to campus the welcome they deserve.

The student culture pervades campus and the needs of the student population trumps the wants of Groups and Guests – after all the university is in the business of educating students first and foremost.  Students are our core reason d’etre.  We find balance through creativity and patience.  We suggest alternatives.  We think outside the box.  We remind our directors, chairs and deans that bringing in conference groups fits with the University mission to “Engage the World”.  We endeavor to show that bringing in conference, sport, youth, and religious groups can be looked at as a recruitment tool for exposing the greater community to the University.

Our Residences are divided into Student buildings and Conference buildings and we do our best to keep the two populations, with their often conflicting needs, separate.  A group of 100 summer camp kids do not mix well with students writing midterm exams.  Our summer student population is fairly predictable which allows us to predict the space that is left over for Conference & Guest Accommodations.  If the summer student population grows, the space available for Conference & Guest Accommodations shrinks.  If space goes off line for renovations, the student population must still be accommodated and the space available for summer conferences shrinks.  We find balance by challenging our facilities personnel to plan renovations 2 or 3 terms in advance.  We find balance by contracting groups for a type of room, not a specific building or room block.

Our Dining Hall is a shared space with a seating capacity of 300.  It is here that we find our balancing skills most tested this season.  Almost 300 students on “all you care to eat” meal   to one facility.  Then you mix in youth camps of 150 and 200 (in the same week) plus walk in business.  Now feed everyone!  We find balance by reminding all stakeholders that both meal plan students and conference groups are paying customers with contracts for meals.  We find balance by refocusing on the core purpose of a dining hall which is to provide meals to paying customers and reminding stakeholders that the use of a dining hall as community “hang out” space, while desirable, should be secondary to feeding paying customers.

As conference professionals at post-secondary institutions we become adept at such balancing acts.  We thrive on them.  We find fulfillment in them, because we know that when we are successful it’s a winning proposition for our clients, our department, our community, and our university.

Dana Beaton, Assistant Director, Conference & Guest Accommodations, Simon Fraser University
Telephone: 778-782-4330

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