Conference Centers Offer More

By Chris Neuberger

At conference centers, protein, pampering and PowerPoint are in. That’s the word from Benchmark Hospitality, manager of 25 conference centers and conference resorts. PowerPoint presentations are fixtures at most meetings, but now, more meetings include aromatherapy, seated massage and other spa services as well. And protein has become the fuel of choice at dinner and on breaks. Here are more highlights from a Benchmark report on meeting-industry trends observed by Benchmark-run properties:

Staying connected is a top priority. What’s a standard feature in every meeting room and guest room? A data port. Large numbers of clients, particularly in high-tech fields, want high-speed Internet access, too. Not surprisingly, high-speed T-1 lines will become basic equipment in each guest room and meeting room.

Setups are growing more informal and more conducive to interaction. Here’s the norm: half rounds and hollow squares are among the more interactive setups. More clients want setups that include couches, and they want to use lounge and lobby areas for breakouts.

The Internet is changing corporate America, and the conference-center industry isn’t escaping the revolution. What’s delivering more meetings than ever before? Online bookings, which are evolving into a significant source of business.

Protein rules. On refreshment breaks, string cheese and hard-boiled eggs are crowd-pleasers. At dinner, generous servings of steak, poultry, game and fish are a big hit.

Dot-com demand for conference centers peaked in early 2000 then decreased. E-commerce clients tend to require high-dollar entertainment. But property hosts have seen high risks of nonpayment, too.

A growing number of meetings are adding nontraditional items to the agenda. Demand has risen for spa services such as reflexology, aromatherapy and seated massage.

Benchmark Hospitality, based in The Woodlands, TX, runs conference centers, luxury resorts and hotels and conference centers in the United States, Canada and the Far East. Visit Benchmark on the Web at