Studiothink, a Cleveland, OH-based brand
management firm, is in the business of devising creative ways
for companies to market themselves. So when about 20 members of
the firm gathered in August for a teambuilding event, they
sought out a conference center that would facilitate a
creative, unconventional gathering.
They opted for Punderson Manor Lodge and Conference Center, one
of five affiliated properties in the Ohio State Park Lodges and
Conference Centers network. It provided the necessary space for
a traditional meeting combined with the outdoor offerings of
the state's vast wilderness.
"We travel to all of those resorts because of the results we
get when we get out of the typical hotel meeting room," says
Ron Kaminski, partner and president of the culture development
division of Studiothink.
A resort and conference center like Punderson Manor, which
offers four conference rooms in addition to outdoor decks and
patios looking out onto the tranquil backdrop of the Punderson
State Park, proved ideal for this fast-changing meeting format.
"The Ohio State Park Conference Centers help us do spurts of
high-engagement, high-energy thinking, then get people up and
moving, then back to thinking again," says Kaminski.
Studiothink is not the only company to turn to a conference
center as an ideal partner in hosting an unconventional
meeting. Increasingly, groups are selecting these venues when
seeking something that goes beyond the typical meeting
Conference Centers Rising
Worldwide, conference centers are on the rebound, helped in
part by a range of new offerings and innovations in design and
program perks. According to an August report from the
International Association of Conference Centers (IACC), demand
for conference centers is "outperforming the broader hotel
sector in relation to occupancies and profitability." The
sampling of the group's 300 members found profit-margin growth
of 14.5 percent more in 2012 than in the year before.
"We're really pleased to see that this is the first year where,
without any contradiction, the signs are all pointing clearly
to recovery," says Mark Cooper, CEO of IACC.
This is especially true for executive-style conference centers
- those primarily dedicated to hosting meetings and events,
including offering on-site lodging and dining accommodations.
During 2012, these executive conference centers saw an average
daily rate (ADR) increase of 5 percent over the year before,
and a gain of 7.3 percent in occupancy year-over-year.
"We're seeing investments in terms of the technology and
infrastructure - creating stable connectivity throughout the
property," says Cooper. "That's what we want to see - fresh,
vibrant meeting environments that are well-invested in, thanks
to the profits that are coming back to them."
Stacia Pierce, career expert and CEO of Ultimate Lifestyle
Enterprises, who frequently plans and organizes meetings and
events, has seen these shifts firsthand.
"Many conference centers have recently invested in expansions
and enhancements to catch the eye of the nation's top meeting
planners, as well as that of entrepreneurs," says Pierce. "Our
present economy demands both creativity and flexibility. Most
top-notch conference centers have adjusted their booking
packages and offers accordingly."
While the properties are getting busier, the amount they charge
is not growing at the same rate. To Cooper, this indicates that
conference centers are taking a "measured approach" in
responding to the recovery - holding back on charging meetings
groups as much as they could for the sake of ensuring
continued, steady occupancy-level growth.
"They're building their customer base back, playing the long
game, and not having a knee-jerk reaction," he says.
Conference centers are also more widely used thanks to their
greater flexibility. This begins with how they are using their
"Most conference centers have beautifully decorated cafes,
multiple lobbies, sitting areas, and large hallways that can
all be used for meeting spaces," says Pierce. She adds that it
"is always helpful to have an in-house meeting planner
specialist available to help each client imagine the
Over the past few years, Pierce has hosted and attended many
"less-conventional meeting activities" held in conference
centers. These have included brainstorming sessions and
coaching meetings with clients, fragrance parties for perfume
launches, jewelry shows, and pop-up coaching stations for women
looking to build their careers.
One of the more notable trends of this flexibility is the rise
of "day centers" and other conference facilities that allow
organizations to hold meetings on a more casual basis. The
serviced office supplier Regus has been rapidly expanding its
U.S. locations. Cooper points to London-based ETC Venues, which
runs eight day centers "all operating extremely healthfully in
one capital city."
Also key: creating more welcoming and memorable meeting
environments with different furniture and color schemes - what
Cooper calls "quite funky spaces." This may include
partnerships with local art galleries or organizations to bring
art and greater visual splash into what had previously been
just functional space.
Studiothink, which has locations throughout the country, wanted
to use its event as a time to discuss the value of balancing
the needs of each individual and office with the overall goals
of the company. The unconventional conference center allowed
for these looser interactions between participants.
"For whatever reason, when we get people out into nature, they
open up faster, and view each other as humans, not as titles,"