How convention centers of the future will resemble high-end hotels

Meeting attendees are clear in their desire for a different experience, and the days of uncomfortable banquet chairs and one-size-fits-all meeting rooms are becoming part of the past. Getty Images (hotel lobby with seating)

Today’s affluent travelers check into five-star hotels with certain expectations: high-end design, comfortable common areas and elements of local culture. Hotels meet—and often exceed—those expectations by prioritizing the guest experience in every facet of their property and customer service.

Meeting attendees have dramatically different expectations as they head to a convention center for a conference. They’re prepared to spend their time in a standard, one-size-fits-all meeting room that lacks windows, personality and local flair. Convention centers have historically been viewed as necessities due to the size and space needs of a conference, negating the need to incorporate added flair or function.

But convention centers have started to look at luxury hotels and wonder, “Why not us? Why can’t we offer the same kind of experience and be a desired location?” To mirror the appeal of five-star hotels, they’re updating, expanding and renovating their spaces to meet the needs of today’s conference attendees. Convention centers are trying to attract more business and give their guests an experience inside the center long after their daily meeting schedule has ended.

To provide a modern guest experience and compete with spaces provided by full service, luxury hotels, convention centers of the future should:

1. Incorporate More Networking Space

Walk into any five-star hotel and you’ll find a spacious lobby filled with comfortable spaces designed specifically for recreation and relaxation. Creating spaces that guests want to spend time in is essential for hotels as it helps garner more revenue for their food and beverage outlets.

Convention centers should view open space in the same way. The more time delegates want to spend in the center, the more revenue the center’s food and beverage outlets will collect.

JLL research shows that attendees want more opportunities to meet other professionals in their field to get ideas for future projects, problem-solve common industry challenges and exchange business cards for future job connections. Networking has become one of the most important aspects of a conference.

By incorporating plenty of flexible, open networking spaces into their floor plans, convention centers can foster an environment that feels more like a swanky hotel than a dull, uninviting meeting hall.

2. Embody Modern Design

When asked to describe a really well-designed space, a convention center is rarely the first location that comes to mind. But why shouldn’t it? People enjoy spending time in spaces that are aesthetically appealing.

High-end hotels take design seriously, and modern convention centers that mirror their style by using trendy yet comfortable furniture, unique artwork and culturally inspired spaces will be more appealing to event planners by supporting the emerging needs of their attendees. Upping the design game will also help convention centers attract more high-profile events and markets—a conference aimed towards affluent individuals won’t consider a space that feels like it’s from the 1990’s.

For example, The Miami Beach Convention Center is currently embarking on a $600-million renovation that will include Miami-themed public spaces and permanent Miami-centric food-and-beverage experiences. After the updates have been completed, guests will enjoy a look and feel unique to South Beach and unlike any other convention center. 

3. Showcase Local Culture

Tourists travel to a certain city to immerse themselves in its unique culture. Nashville’s visitors want to hear authentic country music, and party-goers in Vegas want to experience the nightlife of the strip. Although most convention center guests are travelling on business, they still want to experience the culture of their destination.

Denver, for example, offers leisure travelers natural beauty, a trendy food scene and a relaxing environment. When meeting delegates travel there on business, they want a similar experience. They look for an opportunity to feel like they’re in Denver, clean air and breathtaking mountain views included. The Colorado Convention Center’s current expansion plans are a direct reflection of this trend, giving delegates a clear view of the Rocky Mountains that will make their experience unique and refreshing, a total departure from the convention center of yesterday.

Future convention centers will showcase their city’s local culture and encourage event and conference attendees to stay well past their daily meeting schedules. Guests will be able to try locally inspired cuisine and cocktails without setting foot outside the convention center. They’ll be able to enjoy views of a mountain range or a sandy beach while networking with their colleagues. This will prevent the feeling that they could be “anywhere” when they are in a convention center.

Meeting attendees are clear in their desire for a different experience, and the days of uncomfortable banquet chairs and one-size-fits-all meeting rooms are becoming part of the past. Public spaces are evolving, and convention centers adapting to this new approach will thrive.