(from New York Times, September 17, 2012) Just under 20 miles west of Manhattan is Montclair State University, and the description of their meeting space rivals that of any fancy hotel; “the conference center has a million-dollar panoramic view of the Manhattan skyline that will leave you breathless.” The college, like many other universities around the country, has been experiencing an increase in interest from companies seeking a more cost efficient conference space. Holding the company’s corporate meetings on a college campus allows companies to project the image that they aren’t spending lavishly. The president of Unique Venues in Johnstown, Pa., Chuck Salem, says that he has seen an increase in inquires over the last couple of years. In 2009 his staff followed up on 2,087 leads, but in 2011 it increased to 9,721, with 55% of the business from corporate or business planners. Unique Venues is a referral service for around 500 college and university conference centers.
Most colleges and universities have had conference centers for a long time but they had been mostly for academic use; they are just starting to realize the positive attributes of marketing to outside groups. Not only can the universities make money, but also the extra business can also enhance the university’s image. Because the economy has made it so difficult for new hotels to develop and existing hotels to compete with the colleges, hotels have to show “their value is better than conference centers.”
There are several distinct advantages to using a college or university as opposed to a hotel. It provides a learning environment as opposed to simply just another business meeting. During the summer there is a lot of space and financial need, so it is advantageous to both the college and the company. Over the summer clients can use the dormitories, classrooms, and conference space. The final advantage to using a college’s conference center as opposed to a hotel is that the universities are usually not as flashy and present more overall business atmosphere because “there are no tourists in the lobby or guests in swimsuits.”