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IACC studies a changing marketplace

IACC booth at IMEX

If you are a meeting planner who attends major meetings industry conferences, odds are good that you have been hearing more about the International Association of Conference Centers (IACC).

IACC, established in 1981, is no newcomer to the industry, but the not-for-profit organization has stepped up its efforts to help meeting planners understand what sets its 350 conference center members apart, according to Mark Cooper, who became IACC’s CEO a year ago.

The organization had significant presence at IMEX America, the country’s largest hosted buyer tradeshow, in Las Vegas this year. IACC had a tradeshow booth, led education sessions for planners and hosted events for association planners and the media.

IACC also plans to have a significant presence at the Meeting Professionals International’s European and U.S. conference next year. The organization has created new educational materials aimed at planners, that explain why meetings at IACC conference centers make sense. The new marketing brochures focus on the total meeting experience. For years, IACC has focused on the physical differences offered by its facilities.

Member organizations must meet a long list of requirements for seating, room size and other physical features. But because a growing number of facilities are not IACC members offer many of those features, IACC has realized it must put more emphasis on the other factors that make its members different, such as service levels and business focus.

“The facilities are an important part, but they are not the only thing,” Cooper said. “A good chair and table are not hard to buy. What makes us exceptional as an association is the whole attitude of an IACC conference center.”

Planners’ approach is changing

IACC is also studying meeting planners, its primary audience, and how that audience is changing.

It recently surveyed 2,000 meeting planners, and from the 200 responses it received, IACC gleaned insight on the generational differences of its audiences. Its survey was done in cooperation with Development Counsellors International and released earlier this year.

The survey found that millennials, the generation born from the early 1980s to 2000, approach meeting planning much differently than their predecessors. Those differences will require conference centers to make changes in the way they market to younger planners.

Millennials, the study found “are less inclined to pick a venue on the basis of what their delegates would like,” said Cooper. Instead, they choose meeting sites based on what they like and want.

Although Cooper is not sure what drives the difference, he believes that it could be a combination of factors.

“They [millennials] have such confidence that they will pick a venue on their own preferences,” he said. “It could be that part of it is that we have people coming into the industry who are supremely confident in their own judgment.”

But also, as relative newcomers to the industry, the millennials have not dealt with many dissatisfied or unhappy meeting attendees. They might not have yet learned “if the delegates aren’t happy, it is a life of pain for you,” said Cooper.

The survey also showed that meeting planners are less influenced by brands than in the past.

“Maybe it is because they are basing their decisions on other factors, like Trip Advisor,” said Cooper. Brand is being replaced by “the power of customer feedback and perception.”

He points out that brand loyalty has eroded as companies have been acquired or have merged. “It is less clear what you are going to get from a brand.”

Results of the survey are being shared with IACC members through webinars, training and seminars. The changes in meeting planner approaches could cause IACC conference centers to tailor their approach to clients, to make sure their proposals factor in generational differences.

The results indicate that venues must “acknowledge the customer’s preference,” said Cooper.

He likens the needs of meeting planners to those of a bride who wants her wedding to be memorable and different. To achieve those differences for meetings will require the conference center staff to ask more questions of meeting planners, for example, what aspects of the meeting matter most; for example, what approach to food and beverage is most suitable?’