While the perception issues and budget challenges of the past few years have turned some groups away from upscale hotels and other traditional meeting locations, college venues are generating new interest.
At least that's been the experience at the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA), according to Jason Walley, director of conference services, who says campus conference facilities are seeing an influx of business from groups seeking a low-key, affordable alternative to hotels and resorts.

"We're getting new interest from the planners we meet at industry trade shows, particularly those on the government and association side," Walley says. "While university-related business has slowed, we're seeing a nice uptick in outside business coming in."

Last year about 300 groups, including the California State Teachers Association and Crohnn's and Colitis Foundation of America, held meetings on the UCLA campus, which offers 60,000 square feet of meeting rooms and 6,000 guest rooms, between mid-June and mid-September.

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To prepare, the UCLA Housing & Hospitality Services turned student housing into full-service conference lodging with 24-hour front desk service, daily maid service, free Wi-Fi and food service that includes Thai dishes, sushi, salad bars and other fare.

Meeting space on campus encompasses a variety of function rooms, the largest of which can accommodate up to 440 people for a seated event. Venues also include the Fowler Museum of Cultural History, where event spaces feature a 400-seat amphitheater, landscaped courtyards, seminar rooms and exhibition galleries.

In the future, Walley says he wants to bring in more corporations during the school year to have day meetings and trainings. UCLA works with local hotels to arrange overnight accommodations for meeting groups since students occupy campus housing during the academic year.

—Maria Lenhart