Despite the expense, many venues are making the investment in significant upgrades. Among them is the Valley Forge Casino Resort in King of Prussia, Pa., where a comprehensive renovation that includes everything from new air walls to updated technology and signage is in progress. According to President and CEO Mike Bowman, the project was determined by feedback from meeting planners.
“We’re competing with a lot of other facilities, and we know we have to provide the latest in convention center technology,” he says. “Planners also told us that they want simplicity, including good directional signage and air walls that make spaces more flexible.”
The San Jose McEnery Convention Center, in California, where a $130 million expansion and renovation debuted in October, has adapted to meet increasing demand for more networking areas, places for attendees to plug in their mobile devices, outdoor event space, better signage and more breakout rooms, according to Meghan Horrigan, spokeswoman for Team San Jose, which manages the facility.
“Planners had been asking for more breakout space, so our lower level is devoted to flexible meeting space that can serve small exhibitions as well as a wide range of breakout sessions, from small to mid-size,” she says. “It’s great for groups who need exhibit space but don’t want an entire hall. It also addresses trends for additional educational needs.”
New networking spaces at the center include The Hub, which has lounge furnishings, plug-in outlets and big-screen TVs showing news pertaining to the event and the destination.
“We even designed the lobby, so it’s not only more welcoming to visitors, but has places for attendees to sit, relax and network,” Horrigan says.
When convention centers make the shift toward more flexible breakout spaces and networking areas, they are recognizing important trends in what attendees want from the tradeshow experience, says Traci Browne, president of Red Cedar Publicity and Marketing.
“Flexible space has become more important because the educational element at shows has become more important,” she says. “When the Vancouver Convention Center expanded, they added a lot of rooms that can easily be broken down into smaller areas for breakout sessions when needed. Planners no longer have to go to the expense of renting a ballroom to get this kind of flexibility.”
Browne also sees more convention centers adding prefunction space and areas where attendees can gather for conversation.
“Event organizers are hearing from attendees that they want more networking time, but that doesn’t mean they want another big party,” she says. “It means they want to talk with their peers. Conversation pods are a great thing for convention centers to have.”