Quick Takes: Mark Cooper

cooper_cmykBased in the United Kingdom, Mark Cooper has served as CEO of IACC since October 2012. Prior to the appointment, he held senior posts with conference center operators and global agencies including Dolce Hotels & Resorts, Sundial Group, ConferenceDirect and Warwick Conferences. Founded in 1981 as The International Association of Conference Centres, the not-for-profit organization is dedicated to promoting understanding and awareness of the conference center industry worldwide. IACC also maintains a set of stringent Quality Standards and a Code of Ethics for its members, which currently number 378 across 22 countries. Cooper’s discussion with F&D took place on the heels of a successful 2016 IACC Americas Connect.

What feedback have you received on the latest IACC Americas Connect?

At the end of last year’s annual members conference, we promised radical change to this much-loved event, and we were delighted with the attendance and feedback we received from our delegates who attended from throughout the Americas and globally. Our goals were to stage an affordable event, in an innovative and accessible destination, offering education that is relevant to the needs of our members today. Our chapter board, annual conference planning committee and staff took this to heart from day one in planning this year’s members meeting.

Can you cite a few sessions that were especially trend-sensitive this year?

Of particular interest to our members this year were sessions that helped them anticipate the future needs of a fast-changing meetings landscape. Meeting Room Design, The Future of Meetings, Future Technologies and Global Innovations workshops were the most well-attended and received by delegates.

What are the factors driving IACC’s current expansion?

IACC continues to grow in tandem with our activities and our profile in the industry, which is not surprising. We are focused on delivering value to members in regions where we have a good membership presence, as well as establishing our presence in new parts of the world. By the end of this year, we expect to have four member venues in China, one in New Zealand, as well as our first members in Singapore and Hong Kong. It will be another important year for IACC, fuelled by the initiatives we are spearheading and the value we create for our members.

The International Association of Conference Centres has recently been rebranded as IACC. What is the motivation for this change?

Today IACC’s membership reflects more than just conference centers, each branded in individual ways, but all providing the same high-quality standards and delivery of exceptional meetings that began in the 1980s under IACC. Member venues include conference centers, seminar houses, day meeting venues, corporate universities, and meetings-focused hotels and resorts. So, the association will simply be referred to as IACC. Part of IACC’s rebranding are its four newly defined brand pillars: exclusive meeting venues, by design; at the forefront of meetings innovation; globally connected network of passionate members; curators of exceptional meeting experiences.

Will these be marketed as a value proposition to the clientele of IACC’s members?

IACC’s brand pillars are the signature qualities that exemplify the IACC Experience, so absolutely these pillars are an important part of the value proposition which affects the experience the clientele of our members receive when they attend a meeting at an IACC venue. They set us apart from any other organization in the meetings industry, and it was important to us that they were believable, supportable and embraceable. One key result of IACC’s new Meeting Room of the Future study is that “experience creation” is a priority today.

What is your definition of experience creation?

Experience in terms of meetings comes in many forms, but in summary, it is everything that takes place which turns a boring meeting (we have all attended many of those, right?!) into something that stimulates, motivates and remains a fond memory after the event. It is the meeting spaces, the connections people make, the problems that are solved and how they are solved. It is very broad.

How can venues help to support experience creation, according to the study?

The research confirms what IACC venue operators have been saying for some time now. Recognizing that the environment has the power to affect the success and satisfaction of the user experience is the first step. One member cites our evolution as being powered by a human-centered training room design methodology that helps the venue team better understand how they can improve the experience of every user of their spaces. When permitted, the venue team (think conference consultant, rather than conference coordinator) will work with the planner to create the meeting room layout, the social spaces for networking and the supporting technologies needed to help them create a memorable experience. Creative venue design, the use of art to stimulate, and of course the food and beverage programs are vital components in creating memories at meetings.

What is the desired impact of the study? Do you think IACC members will be responsive to the results and look to integrate the features that planners are seeking, such as flexible meeting space and interactive technologies?

It is possibly too early to answer this question with certainty, but already we are hearing that the research is providing our members with insights into where they should be focusing their resources and investments in the next two years. Just this week, I met with a member committed to investing $75 million into their venue portfolio over the next 18 months, and they stated that this research was a “breath of fresh air” that will help support and guide them in where to invest for the future needs of meeting planners and delegates. (Editor’s note: Visit http://www.iacconline.org/iacc-meeting-room-of-the-future to access the study.)