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Summertime is the season for college conferencing

Courtesy UCSB

The campus of the University of Alaska Anchorage doesn’t quiet down much when students leave for summer break.

“We have more than 110 conferences in the summertime,” said Tina Veldcamp, associate director for conference at UAA, located about 15 minutes from downtown Anchorage.

The same it true at the University of California Santa Barbara, where the conference services office handles more than 100 clients between the end of June and Labor Day.

“It is a crazy time,” said Whitney Morris, assistant director for UCSB conference services.

Summertime bustles at many colleges and universities thanks to thriving conference departments. When students move out of residence halls, meeting, conference and camp attendees move in —from religious conventions and state government conferences to soccer camps and teachers associations.

The campuses offer varied facilities and settings, and, most important, value.

At the University of Nevada Reno, the eight residence halls aren’t plush compared to guest rooms in the casinos that have made the city a destination. But a rate of $41.50 for food and lodging is certainly attractive to the 25 to 30 groups that book the campus during its seven-week summer conference window. Those groups are largely sports camps.

Interest in campus conference facilities has increased during the recession according to a recent report in USA Today.

Chuck Salem, president of Unique Venues, told the newspaper that requests for proposals for the schools his company represents had risen by 90 percent from 2009 to 2010.

UAA has been in the conferencing business since 1989 around the time the college shifted from being a community college to being a university. All of its residence halls are relatively new, built since 1998, but because of summer school students, the largest group that can be housed on campus is 300.

That’s not a problem, says Veldcamp, because so many groups that use the campus in the summer want a mix of housing choices.

“It happens a lot with our big association conferences. We’ll have a number of people that want a more posh environment, staying in a hotel, while others just want a place to rest their heads so they can spend the money out sightseeing in Alaska.”

“We have had conferences tell us that we are half the price of a hotel,” said Veldcamp. But, as she points out, because the university has a limited amount of overnight accommodations, it has a cooperative, not a competitive, relationship with hoteliers.

The school has an abundance of classrooms, a theater and on-campus dining. “We can even do teleconferencing and video conferencing.

At UCSB, conference planners not only get a seaside setting, but a wide range of residence hall options. “Our halls turn into big hotels,” said Morris.

Some are within view of the ocean; one of the newest isn’t, yet with its own pool and other amenities, it has more of the feel of a hotel than a traditional college conference center.

For year-round conferencing, UCSB offers the Loma Pelona Center, where 8,000 square feet of meeting space is contained in two auditorium-style rooms.

UCSB’s biggest challenge in the summertime is indoor meeting space. Many of its lecture halls, which would be perfect for breakout space, are tied up with summer school classes.

That’s when the college’s coastal setting comes in handy. Depending on the type of meeting, it is often easy to convince meeting planners that their best option is to gather outdoors, whether it be for a breakout meeting or a beach barbecue.

“I think what works really well for us are youth and leadership programs and even religious retreats that are budget minded and don’t mind meeting outside and doing different things,” said Morris.