David Taylor is the divisional managing director of Grass Roots Events
When I first started working in the industry, neither residential nor non-residential training centres had the best of reputations. More often than not they were either bleak, purpose-built buildings in city centres or old manor houses, schools and the like, bought cheap by organisations for internal use and then given a lick of paint and little else.
Fast-forward to today and training centres are often a very different beast. Now owned and operated by specialist companies, the best conference centres are of a good four-star standard with natural daylight, excellent Wi-Fi and a wide range of onsite technology. The training rooms are ergonomically designed with blinds, modern, comfortable furniture and state of the art whiteboards screens etc.
Training venues have the advantage of being wholly focused on the delegate experience, while hotels have to satisfy a wide range of guests needs. Food, for example, at dedicated training centres is usually lighter with soups, salads, fresh bread, fruit and snacks readily available. Coffee is of the proper roasted variety, and a wide range of soft and energy drinks are offered as alternatives. Convene; operators of non-residential training centres in the US are now using gourmet chefs to actively promote the cuisine in their restaurants.
Location is critical when choosing meeting space for training, with attendees wanting somewhere close to their office and easy to commute to. Companies such as etc.Venues now have a very good stock in the city, an area where hotels have struggled to meet demand. Price-wise, training centres make sound economic sense too, with rates usually around 20% cheaper than in a similar hotel.
Surplus office is regularly sold for training, but this does not usually make for the best meetings rooms. When choosing a venue, you want a professional service from start to finish and I’m not overly keen on training venues where food is sourced externally. Service standards should be in line with comparable hotels and not an afterthought.
Many residential conference centres take weddings, association business and leisure bookings to supplement their trade and while this may make sense financially, to my mind it somewhat defeats the purpose of using a training centre in the first place. If I wanted a crowded reception, lively bar and other distractions then I would have used a hotel to start with.
Luckily though help is at hand. The specialist agent will know the training sector as well as they know their hotels and can negotiate excellent rates and terms and conditions, while ensuring the venue is being used exclusively for training. Our use of training centres has significantly increased each year and will account for £20 million of our spend in 2017, in the UK and overseas. The simple fact is that clients realise conference centres now tick far more boxes than hotels when it comes to hosting training courses.
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