If you think you can’t afford meeting in this economy, maybe you should give it that old college try. When meeting planners take their meetings and events on campus, they usually get more than they pay for.
“Our pricing is very competitive with similar facilities,” says Mark Nelson, director of sales and marketing at the Carolina Inn, which is operated for the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, by Destination Hotels & Resorts. “From our cutting-edge medical research to a Nobel Prize winner, we feel there are endless ways for attendees to partner with the university. We have nationally-recognized experts in most disciplines.” Planners typically can hire respected faculty members to lead seminars or workshops for very reasonable rates.
Julie Warren, director of sales and services for the Bloomington (Ind.) Convention & Visitors Bureau, points out that planners and attendees stand to benefit from the “immense resources of the student body,” as well. Planners can involve these “future employees or colleagues” as volunteers or attendees, inviting them to social or educational functions or enlisting their aid in event set-ups or registration.
In addition, many colleges have “lifelong learning” programs that are available to groups. Other benefits campus-based events may offer include free parking and complimentary admission to the big museums on campus (BMOCs).
Here’s a sampling of what may be available at a state college or university near you.
University of North Carolina (UNC), Chapel Hill
Many UNC graduates become “Carolina Blue” bloods for life. That’s why alumnus John Sprunt Hill donated The Carolina Inn to the institution in 1934, enabling the proceeds to go towards education.
UNC was chartered in 1789, the year that George Washington became president. The Carolina Inn was designed in the Georgian-neoclassical style in 1924; it resembles the front of Washington’s Mount Vernon estate.
What your meeting supports: The university library system, particularly its regional books and North Carolina Collection of important, local papers.
Recent/upcoming events: Environmental Protection Agency, January 2008 (300 attendees); Blue Cross Blue Shield State Meeting, October 2008 (150 attendees); the National Cooperative Grocers Association, March 2008 (100 attendees).
Conference and hotel facilities: 184 guest rooms and suites; 13,000 square feet of function space, including three ballrooms.
Special amenities: The elegant Carolina Crossroads Restaurant offers Mobil four-star dining. For UNC-related business, The Carolina Inn offers a 13 percent discount. “T times” are when afternoon tea is served in the lobby or on the greens at the nearby UNC Finley Golf Course. From April to October, free bluegrass music can be heard on the porch of the inn on Fridays.
BMOCs: Since the Tar Heels won the NCAA Championship this March, The Carolina Basketball Museum has been a slam-dunk for visitors wanting to view, not only the 2009 trophy, but also memorabilia from UNC greats, such as Michael Jordan and coach Dean Smith. Displaying a Venus fly trap and other carnivorous plants, the North Carolina Botanical Garden is one of the largest in the Southeast. Morehead Planetarium & Science Center is where NASA astronauts began celestial training in 1950 for the Mercury through Apollo-Soyuz missions.
University of California in Los Angeles (UCLA)
Maybe it’s the L.A. lifestyle, but more freshmen apply annually to UCLA than any other college in the nation. And UCLA is just as popular for meetings on topics ranging from the arts to the sciences.
UCLA’s intimate Guest House feels like boutique hotel. Its Conference Center at Lake Arrowhead is a lakeshore retreat with a wood-burning fireplace and walking trails that UCLA describes as being a “mile high … a world away” from Los Angeles.
What your meeting supports: UCLA’s Conference Services revenues are 100 percent self-generated. Because overnight group business gives dormitory employees year-round employment, meetings also help keep the cost of student housing down.
Recent/upcoming events: C. elegans, Genetics Society of America, June 24-28, 2009 (1,500 projected attendees); California Teachers Association Summer Institute, July 30-Aug. 4, 2009 (1,000 projected attendees).
Conference and hotel facilities: UCLA Guest House Hotel has 61 rooms, with some kitchenettes, on campus. The Conference Center at Lake Arrowhead has three vintage cottages in the San Bernardino Mountains and 12 meeting rooms for groups up to 200 (from September to mid-June). All meals are included in the group packages offered through UCLA Catering (with no extra service charges or gratuity).
Special amenities: The concierge at UCLA Guest House Hotel can assist you in getting reduced ticket prices for entertainment on the UCLA campus. Local calls (within 10 miles) and the Internet are complimentary, as are medical center and campus shuttles. UCLA’s John Wooden Center has three gyms and a rock wall for climbing; Sunset Canyon Recreation Center has a team-building challenge course.
BMOCs: The UCLA Film & Archives holds more than 200 annual screenings in its Billy Wilder Theater, and its archives have at least 300,000 moving images and 27 million feet of newsreels. The Geffen Playhouse often premieres new stage dramas and musicals with well-known actors, such as Laurence Fishburne and Annette Benning. Fowler Museum has Asian, North and South American and African art in its galleries.
Indiana University (IU) in Bloomington
“Breaking Away,” the title of the film about Indiana University’s Little 500 cycling race, says it all. The Biddle Hotel & Conference Center is where attendees can escape to a meeting, while planners avoid paying higher prices.
The Indiana Memorial Union, which has meeting space, is like a community center that brings students, teachers, and visitors together. It was established in 1911 as a men’s association. After a lively debate, the Union Board opened in to women in 1952. The Biddle Hotel & Conference Center opened eight years later.
What your meeting supports: Proceeds support the operation of the Indiana Memorial Union.
Recent/upcoming events: American Peptide Society – Biennial Conference, June 7-12, 2009 (3,000 projected attendees); Boy Scouts Order of the Arrow, Aug. 1-6, 2009 (1,300 projected attendees); International Society for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning – Annual Conference, Oct. 21-25, 2009 (800 projected attendees).
Conference and hotel facilities: 189 guest rooms and suites inside the IU Memorial Union; 5,000 square feet of meeting space inside Alumni Hall, not including the adjoining Solarium, and 20 meeting rooms, holding up to 200 people.
Special amenities: Members of the IU Alumni Association can receive a discount at the Biddle Hotel, except on special weekends. Dining options inside IU Memorial Union include six fast food outlets, a Cyber Café, and daily buffets and nightly dinners in the Tudor Room. For all guests, parking is free, and there are courtesy shuttles around Bloomington. If you have to make a transaction, the IU Memorial Union has ATMs, a UPS Store, the IU Bookstore and the Back Alley, which is available private for bowling parties and has cosmic bowling lanes.
BMOCs: Motion picture fans can watch screenings at the 404-seat Whittenberger Auditorium. The Elizabeth Sage Historic Costume Collection has vintage gowns, lace, jewelry and accessories, as well as fashion design sketches. The art of human sexuality is on display at the Kinsey Institute Gallery.
Michigan State University (MSU) in Lansing
The W.K. Kellogg Foundation gave the MSU School of Hospitality Business a grant to open the Kellogg Hotel & Conference Center, a hands-on learning lab for hospitality students. The first of its kind, its success inspired the foundation to fund 10 more nationwide. Over 66 percent of the center’s employees are students.
Joel Heberlein, general manager of the Kellogg Hotel & Conference Center, says the students are actively involved in many aspects of the hospitality industry. “They [even] assist in planning and coordinating the Annual East Lansing Film Festival and Michigan Lodging & Tourism Association’s Annual Stars of the Industry Awards Banquet.”
What your meeting supports: Operational costs; 85 percent of its income comes from rentals.
Recent/upcoming events: Order of the Arrow Boy Scouts, July 2006 (8,000 attendees); Odyssey of the Mind International, May 2007 (15,000 attendees), returning May 2010; International Stallion Exhibition, annually in March (18,000 attendees). (Source: Greater Lansing CVB)
Conference and hotel facilities: 160 guest rooms and suites; 35,000 square feet of meeting space, along with 32 breakout rooms holding groups up to 1000.
Special amenities: A business center, express mail services and complimentary WiFi. There’s free parking for visitors and shuttle service around campus. Guests also are welcome to use the indoor and outdoor pools at the Intramural Sports Building, have an informal hockey match at Munn Ice Arena, enjoy a game at the Indoor Tennis Center, tee off at MSU Forest Akers Golf Course, or canoe on the Red Cedar River. Dining options include the State Room, KC’s Lounge and The Coffee Bar.
BMOCs: Explore the natural history of the Great Lakes Region at the MSU Museum. Attendees can watch cows being milked at the Animal Barns or nursed back to health at the Veterinary Teaching Hospital, and enjoy fresh, homemade ice cream, yogurt or cheese at The Dairy Store.
University of Georgia in Athens (UGA)
American public higher education began at the state-chartered University of Georgia on Jan. 27, 1785. Like MSU’s Kellogg Hotel & Conference Center, the UGA Conference Center & Hotel is a W.K. Kellogg Foundation learning laboratory.
Athens, called the “Liverpool of the South,” is known for its indie music scene. In the 1980s, local bands such as R.E.M. and the B-52s shot to stardom. More recent acts, such as Widespread Panic and the Drive-By Truckers, continue to up the town’s coolness quotient.
What your meeting supports: The total cost of operating the conference center and hotel.
Recent/upcoming events: Georgia Pest Control Association – Winter Conference, January 2009 (600 attendees); Georgia Association of Curriculum & Instructional Supervisors – Fall Conference, Sept. 23-24, 2009 (500 projected attendees); Georgia Partnership for Transportation Quality, Dec. 9-11, 2009 (600 projected attendees).
Conference and hotel facilities: 200 guest rooms; 9,000 square feet of exhibit space; 18 meeting rooms, five boardrooms and two auditoriums (capacity: 375 and 600), as well as a business center and computer lab. Dining options include the Savannah Room, the Courtyard Café, the Dawg House and Georgia Java.
Special amenities: Unlike private convention halls, there are no added rental fees for ballroom tables, chairs or standard linens. UGA also has its own IT, marketing, event services and design departments. The Ramsey Student Center and the Spec Towns Track are available for recreational and athletic use.
BMOCs: The Georgia Museum of Art is undergoing renovations, but is expected to reopen in 2011, with three times the space. The State Botanical Garden is on a 313-acre preserve and has a tropical conservatory, as well as native flowers, bushes and shrubs. The Butts-Mehre Heritage Hall Sports Museum displays Herschel Walker ‘s Heisman Trophy and other Bulldog memorabilia.
University of Texas (UT) in Austin
UT’s slogan is “what starts here changes the world.” In August 2008, it made good on that promise by opening the AT&T Executive Education & Conference Center at a time when other hospitality projects were stalling or scaling back.
“We don’t have any trending data to report yet, because we have only been around about six months,” says Keith Purcell, the center’s marketing consultant. “[However] during this time, we have experienced positive levels in group, business and leisure segments.” Part of the appeal may lie in UT’s location. It’s in the heart of Austin, a bike ride away from the Sixth Street entertainment district.
What your meeting supports: Operation costs. Since it is an auxiliary of UT, it doesn’t receive state funding.
Recent/upcoming events: British Petroleum, September 2008 (over 150 attendees); UT College of Natural Sciences, February 2009 (250 attendees); McCombs School of Business Executive Education, March 2009 (300 attendees).
Conference and hotel facilities: 276 guest rooms, including four suites and 17 executive parlors. Meeting spaces consists of an amphitheater (capacity: 300), an 800-seat ballroom and 12 breakout rooms.
Special amenities: The AT&T Executive Education and Conference Center was built according to green standards and is LEED-certified by the U.S. Green Building Council. Even the hand soap used in the restrooms is eco-friendly. Dining options include Carillon Restaurant, Gabriel’s Café and One Twenty 5 Café.
BMOCs: The Lyndon Baines Johnson Presidential Library and Museum has more than 10,000 items of political memorabilia and 45 million pages of manuscripts covering the period of American history from the Kennedy assassination to the Vietnam War. The Dolph Briscoe Center for American History is home to an impressive array of artifacts on the South, civil rights, energy and Texas history. And the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center has over 23,000 images of native plants in its Native Plant Information Network.