Author: Daphne Andrews, Manager, Conference Services, University of Victoria
The University of Victoria planned and prepared for “Congress 2013” for the past five years. Congress is Canada’s largest academic conference; sponsored by The Federation for the Humanities and Social Sciences, it comprises 80 scholarly associations and 79 institutions representing 85,000 researchers, educators and students across Canada. Every year Congress is held at a different university in Canada, and this year was UVic’s opportunity to show off the best of our institution.
Our goal was to make this Congress unique, sustainable, green, and to, deliver top notch customer service to the 7,800 delegates who visited the University of Victoria. We achieved these goals through preparation, planning, commitment, training, and hard work. One of the biggest challenges we faced was that we would be hosting Congress on our own. Congress, for the past two years, was co-hosted by two Institutions working together to house, feed, and provide facilities for the thousands of delegates.
UVic planned three signature events that offered musical and social programming for the delegates: a WorldFEST multicultural day; an Indigenous Circle Celebration and Dedication Ceremony; and a free concert by musician Buffy Sainte-Marie. The planning committee offered these events to the public as well as delegates in order to encourage community participation in Congress. Congress was also one of the capstone events for UVic’s 50th anniversary celebrations.
In Residence Services we had 2,000 rooms available in 20 buildings, for the incoming guests. Because we centralized our check-in services in one lobby; we needed to be organized, utilize our space efficiently, and process check-ins as quickly as possible. This was one of our biggest challenges.
- In anticipation of mass volumes of reservations by phone, we created a contest for all delegates who utilized our on-line booking form, offering a free two-night stay as the prize to encourage use of the online system.
- Over 85% of participants booked on-line
- We implemented an “express check-in”, for those delegates who paid in full up front. These guests were entitled to by-pass the regular guest check-in line and go directly to an express line.
- We created express packages in advance of arrival noting delegates name, building and room number. Each express enveloped contained room key(s) and breakfast vouchers.
- Three additional check-in stations were added to our existing four, with one dedicated to express check-in guests.
- Over the seven days of heavy check-ins, an average of 44% of guests took advantage of paying in advance and utilizing the express service.
- Processing time for express check-in was under 2 minutes!
- Customer Service – from staffing to the “little extras”:
- We ordered chocolate chip cookies, and we had staff circulating through the lobby area with a platter of cookies, and a welcoming smile – these were warmly received by weary travellers
- We also offered bowls of candy and mints on the counter at every check-in station.
- Everyone in Residence Services pitched in to help. Our Residence Life and Education staff stepped up and into a variety of roles at the front desk – from check-in clerks to Manager on duty. Having extra staff during crunch times was very helpful when we had a large number of arrivals.
- We ensured we had a Manager available after hours and weekends to assist front desk staff with any issues that emerged.
- We trained everyone in customer service: student staff, regular staff and volunteers. We also did special training in heavy lifting (for baggage assistance) and in emergency “bed-making” in case our Housekeeping staff needed extra help.
- Due to the extra volume, we secured space in an adjacent building for luggage storage. We were able to direct guests to the staffed luggage room when necessary, relieving any potential congestion in the lobby, and ensuring that our guests would check out on time.
- Residence Services was assisted by a strong team of volunteers. We were able to attract Residence Life student staff to work as volunteers offering free accommodation to those residence students who would act as Residence Volunteers during Congress. These student volunteers were very knowledgeable regarding Residence buildings and the campus in general, and were able to answer questions regarding location of food services, luggage room and Congress registration.
- Our volunteers assisted guests to locate their rooms and buildings and helped them with luggage. We also had access to a couple of golf carts for transporting luggage or assisting guests with accessibility requirements.
- Communication, communication, communication! This was a key element of our success – from our on-line booking form, to email confirmations, to check-out notices.
- In all of our communication we reiterated terms and conditions, administration fees, and important dates to ensure that delegates were well informed.
- Because we wanted to encourage guests to check out on time (to assist our Housekeeping staff) we delivered check out notices to all the rooms. We included additional information on these notices, and emphasized our key return policy by stamping it in bold red ink on the notice. While this required planning and coordination ahead of time, it paid off: Out of 2,368 keys, only two sets of keys were not returned!
- We also provided Information sheets about UVic; and a food service brochure in every room to make our guests feel welcome and informed.
It was an intense eight days while Congress was on campus, but the operation in Residence Services went smoothly. We had lots of positive comments from our guests, and we believe it was the overall preparation, communication, training, team work and the positive attitude of our staff and volunteers that helped make Congress 2013 “the best Congress ever”.
Daphne Andrews, Manager, Conference Services, University of Victoria
Telephone: (250) 721-8703