The fact that it is a university venue means it offers a range of accommodation levels that would be difficult to find in other venues.
“With a lot of academic conferences you have everything from professors who can afford a hotel room to students who are packing 10 to a room so they can afford it. To be able to offer a dorm room at $18 per night (during summer months and vacation times) can be attractive,” Christensen says.
Another advantage of working with university conference centers is the enthusiasm and dedication of the on-site planners, according to Miami University’s Poppel.
“University planners will go above and beyond what it takes to make things happen. They are very flexible and come up with a lot of resources to add to an event,” she says. “Our university president even has given keynote addresses to a few of our groups.”
The center also offers an excellent learning environment for training programs, according to Katie Maciag, owner and president of Planners Network in Cincinnati, who has held programs at Miami University’s Marcum for more than 20 years.
“Besides providing an instant connection with education, it provides an opportunity to get away from the typical venue,” she says.
While most conference centers are on large campuses, a few smaller universities also have them. One of these is DePauw University, in Greencastle, Ind., where the Inn at DePauw & Event Center hosts everything from legal and insurance meetings to a twice-yearly scrapbooking conference. The 54-room center has 2,500 square feet of meeting space.
“We do a lot of teaming up with DePauw for its lecture series’ and more,” says Lauren Smoot, director of sales. “President Clinton was here in November, so we contacted potentially interested people and said, ‘Come over, we can get tickets.’”
For some in-state groups, especially government-related, state universities hold appeal.
“Spending in the state stays in the state,” says Laura Elliott, sales manager for Kellogg West Conference Center and Hotel at Cal Poly Pomona. “Our per diem is within the L.A. County budget. A lot of state agencies use us, as do the unified school districts and a lot of corporate and association groups.”
Kellogg West, located east of Los Angeles, includes 85 guest rooms and 12,800 square feet of meeting space. It’s located on the old Kellogg Estate, on a hillside above campus, and provides the type of atmosphere many groups are seeking. Planners enjoy the center.
“We use the Pasadena Hilton and different Marriotts, but this location is quieter,” says Sharon Stillwell, office manager of the United Nurses Associations of California.
“We do a lot of training for our hospitals and have our annual conference, where all the hospitals come together,” she continues. “We go there rather than being in the office so we won’t be distracted.”
The center has easy access from all over Southern California and the parking is free, which is a plus for the area and another point in favor of university centers.
“I highly recommend holding meetings in—as well as utilizing—university conference centers,” Maciag says. “I think that they should be considered and not overlooked.”
Judy Jacobs, a freelance writer based in Moraga, Calif., has been writing for travel industry publications for over 20 years.