Top 10 Reasons Why we Love our Job

Martha Wallace, Residence & Conference Centre – Kitchener-Waterloo (located on Conestoga College Campus)
Susan MacKenzie, Wilfrid Laurier University Conference Services
Susanne Keppler, University of Waterloo – Conference Services

As we meet over lunch just after another snow-filled weekend, we decided as a group to come up with the top 10 reasons why we love our job in Canada; working within conference services at either a university or college campus.

Reason #1:
Friendly, Non-Competitive Relationships. We build relationships through CUCCOA and various organizations at different colleges/universities. CUCCOA plays a very important role in unifying this relationship and coordinating events throughout the year.

Reason #2:
Unique Facilities and Services. Each campus offers unique, specialized and leading-edge facilities and services. What hotel has a theatre, large gymnasium and restaurant all within the same location?

Reason #3:
Campus Culture.  There is a camaraderie that is formed with students, staff and faculty.  It is a young atmosphere with students always willing to provide a new perspective or modernized way. There is always something we don’t know and can learn from!

Reason #4:
Work that Matters.  We are part of something larger that makes a difference throughout the institutions, the community and the region. We are surrounded by living, connecting, learning and growing.  Student development works well in this environment, as we open doors for future employees by offering students placements, co-op and/or related work experience.

Reason #5:
A Flexible, Understanding and Cooperative Working Atmosphere. We have a strong team that cares about the vision and overall success of the operation. 

Reason #6:
No Two Days are the Same.  From quilting, academic, and religious groups, to a cycling tour, every day brings new opportunities to the business.

Reason #7:
PD is Encouraged. We are always developing new skills with courses available through our institutions and associations such as CUCCOA, MPI, etc. Current technology trends with Ecommerce, social media and online booking agencies are ongoing.

Reason #8:
Problem Solving and Thinking Outside the Box.  We do what we can to accommodate our clients with limited resources available. There are always challenges related to facilities, renovations and campus construction, staffing, etc. and each problem requires creative solutions to ensure guest satisfaction.

Reason #9:
Seasonal Operation.  The curtains open at the end of April and close at the beginning of September.  As campus resources are limited throughout the year there is less focus on coordinating during the academic season.

Reason #10:
Job Opportunities. There are always new opportunities both within our institution and our association communities that open up throughout the year. The skills that we develop as conference professionals are transferrable to departments both on and off campus.  Growth and expansion on college and university campuses will offer opportunities to experience new career challenges.

Martha Wallace, Residence & Conference Centre – Kitchener-Waterloo (located on Conestoga College Campus); Email:; Tel: 519-895-2272 x713
Susan MacKenzie, Wilfrid Laurier University Conference Services;; Tel: 519-884-0710 x3958
Susanne Keppler, University of Waterloo – Conference Services; Email:; Tel: 519-888-4567

Classroom Management & Conference Planning

Author: Leah Wotherspoon, Special Events Assistant, Meetings & Special Events, University of Calgary

Managing non-academic classroom bookings on campus has its share of challenges at the best of times, but as the academic off-season approaches, preparation for the flurry of spring and summer activities is in full-swing.

A university has a wide variety of priorities, and sometimes these priorities end up competing with one another for the finite resources that the campus has to offer. Once the winter session ends, the conference season begins. It is important to try to strategize space utilization for the conference season in order to be able to not only provide the best possible experience for the conference organizers, but also to be able to prevent turning conference clients away and to honor agreements that are made well in advance.

One of the big challenges with managing space for conferences is that conference planning begins quite far ahead, but the academic schedules are not finalized until enrollment for the courses is closed. Even though there are few course offerings in the Spring and Summer, there is still a chance that academic class scheduling can throw a wrench in even the best conference planning.

This year, I am trying to plan ahead for the potential pitfalls of room booking, by coming up with multiple room configurations, in partnership with our conference planner, in order to try to avoid last minute scrambling caused by unanticipated academic schedule changes or even the necessary-but-dreaded room closures due to renovations or upgrades.

In all of this, communication, thinking ahead, and flexibility are all key to successfully managing the conference season, as well as the summer schools and summer camps that dominate campus during the spring and summer.
What are some of your strategies for managing space during conference season?

Leah Wotherspoon, Special Events Assistant, Meetings & Special Events, University of Calgary
Telephone: 403-220-6229

On-Line Reviews

Author: David Carroll, Sales Manager-RCC at Sheridan Brampton and Oakville, ON

In this day and age of web travel, an on-line review can be the difference of a group staying with you or the property down the street.

As we all know, sometimes the reviews may not be accurate, and/or over exaggerated…but regardless, a negative review should have the same priority and positive feedback that a good review would get.

With the big three, Trip Advisor, Expedia and, you must stay on top of them and always respond to each review.  If the review is negative, thank them for it and (if the review is correct) let them know you are constantly working to improve and give your office number to call.  Do the same with a positive review.  Reply, thank and welcome them back next season.  Another good idea is to have your guests write a review for you while they are in house for a contest or similar.  This way you can add to your rating scale on the sites and if something is wrong you can take care of it at the property level right away.

To be as open and honest as well as approachable is the best way to get through the property review process.  Let them know who you are and what you offer, don’t over promise what you may not be able to deliver and always blow them away with customer service. To give you an idea of just how well this can work, our Residence & Conference Centre in Oshawa received last year the award for the Highest Overall Customer Satisfaction Rating for 2012.

As Hotel rates are still very competitive with our rates in most demographics, we must add Value above discounts to win the game….and part of that Value is responses to every review you receive.

If you do not have your property registered to these sites, you should.  It can create awareness and business at no extra cost. 

Good luck this summer and here’s to great reviews!!

David Carroll, Sales Manager-RCC at Sheridan Brampton and Oakville, ON
Telephone: 905-815-4150 ext. 77653

January a Perfect Time to Devote to Business Development

Author: Erin Walton, Manager, Conference and Event Services, MacEwan University

For some of you, January can be a quiet season in the office if you only have conference space during the summer months.  This is precious time you can be devoting to business development, service enhancement and diversification. 

Have you been thinking about adding Online Registration to your service model for years now?  Speaking from experience, it can be quite a successful way to grow your business.  We use a combination of Constant Contact and Cvent products to deliver online registration services to our clients. Here are some of the ways we have incorporated it here at MacEwan University:

*RSVP tracking – when collecting revenue isn’t required, we use Constant Contact (~$34 per month for unlimited events) to track rsvps.  Some events that take advantage of this service are Convocation Lunch & Dinner, Employee Christmas Party.  Internal clients love this because it makes it so easy to rsvp!  We also use Cvent for event rsvp’s that require more sophisticated programming (ie waitlists, multiple sessions etc).  For example, we provide the registration in all programs offered by the Centre for Advancement of Faculty Excellence throughout the year (approximately 65 annually).   We also use this system for MacEwan University’s Organizational Development Day. There are no fees associated with this event but multiple concurrent sessions where waitlists are required.

*Conference Registration – where internal or external clients need to register for a conference/event where fees apply, we use Cvent (~$5 per registration based on the volume we purchase).  It has been cleared through ITS in terms of Certificates of Compliance and the secure paypal account makes it easy to reconcile with Finance post-event.

*Accommodation Reservations – here at MacEwan University we don’t currently offer online room reservations for our overnight guests.  To facilitate this with our clients that want a one-stop shop for their conference needs, we are incorporating some questions into the online site to capture their accommodation needs, then contacting them directly to confirm their reservation.  It isn’t entirely automated, but it makes the client feel like it is.

So, if things are a little slower for your department at this time of year, why not consider adding online registration services to your service menu?  You’ll be pleasantly surprised at the opportunities for application for both your internal and external clients.  We’ve even offered this service to clients that aren’t meeting on our campus – because it’s all web based and doesn’t require any software it can be done virtually from anywhere.   Since adding online registration to our service menu in 2007, we have registered over 9000 delegates at 72 events.  Cha-ching!


Erin Walton, Manager, Conference and Event Services, MacEwan University
Telephone: 780-497-5038

Let’s Talk About Blogging

Author: Caitlyn  Dixon, Conference Coordinator, Dalhousie University Faculty of Agriculture

Let’s talk about blogging, shall we?

Last year at our regional meeting in February, as I passed around the sign-up sheet for the blog, I was met with a little apprehension.  People were unsure what the blog was all about and I was met with a lot of “I don’t know what to write about” (I’ll admit, I was with them). 

That’s the beauty of blogs, you can really write about whatever you want.  Blogs are great for generating discussion, education, inspiring new ideas, and sometimes just for reassurance that other people are dealing with the same issues, frustrations and triumphs as you. 

I’ve recently started searching the web for other blogs by people who work in the hospitality industry.  While a lot of the ones that I’ve come across are mostly authored by those in the hotel industry, there is still a lot of great info that can be used in university operations. 

Here are a few that I’ve checked out lately:

I encourage you to do a blog search and to spread the word about the great one we have created!

Caitlyn  Dixon, Conference Coordinator, Dalhousie University Faculty of Agriculture
Telephone: 902-893-4122


“What do you do the rest of the year?”

 Author: Katelyn Narain, Group Sales & Services Coordinator, Simon Fraser University

“What do you do the rest of the year?” is a question I receive A LOT (and I’m sure fellow CUCCOA members can relate).  While it is fairly easy for clients, partners, and co-workers to understand what we do during conference season, it is the rest of the year that leaves them stumped.  After all, the summer is our “busy season”, so what does that make the rest of the year?

Conference season typically runs from May through August and is the time of year when our campuses are filled with groups of all types and sizes. We spend our days working with group contacts, supervising student staff, preparing meeting space, inspecting accommodations, and ensuring that events run flawlessly from start to finish. 

As the Group Sales & Services Coordinator at Simon Fraser University, my September through April is filled with everything that makes conference season a success. From nourishing relationships with existing clients to seeking new conference business to looking at policies and procedures  and making changes for the better, my days are filled with a variety of tasks (and grunt work) that allows conference season to happen. My days consist of sales calls, meetings, marketing initiatives, staff training, and yes, some days going through files that haven’t been touched in months.  Contract templates are reviewed, rates and budgets are set, staff is hired, and proposals are sent.  Often I spend more time during these months communicating with clients than with co-workers. It’s important to make the most of our “off-season” to ensure that when groups start arriving in May we are 110% ready to make their time at SFU an experience they won’t forget.

Although others may never fully understand all the work that goes into “the rest of the year”, for me conference season is never really over. The gears switch slightly, but in the end, everything we do, year round, is to create a successful conference season for our clients.

Katelyn Narain, Group Sales & Services Coordinator, Simon Fraser University
Telephone: 778-782-3228

Your Local Hospitality Partners

Author:  Janet Gates-Robart, Business Development Manager, Conference Services, Saint Mary’s University

Don’t forget to market your university to your local hospitality partners!

Firstly, you can’t afford not to be a member of your local tourism bureau, for us it is Destination Halifax.  If you don’t have a specific bureau in your area then I would   work closely with your provincial tourism office or city office as they are on the pulse of what large events, city-wide conferences, sporting events, etc. are coming to your area.  Building these relations and getting involved in future bids and proposals will assist with being “top of mind”.  Face it, Universities can easily be forgotten as an option for upcoming conferences & events.

Some other local hospitality partnerships that are beneficial and should be part of your network are:  hotels and 3rd party meeting/event planners.  Everyone’s striving for the same results and the busier they are the busier you will be.

I would also recommend you join your local chapters of MPI (Meeting Planners International), CSAE (Canadian Society of Association Executives) – too name a few.  These offer not only networking opportunities but also valuable educational sessions.

Here are some results we have received from working closely with our local hospitality partners:

–          A conference that could not afford hotel rates and the hotel recommended they call the local universities.

–          Doing a joint bid with a local hotel for a large conference that had students and professionals attending therefore requiring a hotel & residence block of bedrooms.

–          A conference that required a lot of breakout rooms or a large plenary that the hotel could not accommodate.

These are just a few examples but make it one of your goals in 2014 to build those local hospitality partnerships.  They will pay off!


Janet Gates-Robart, Business Development Manager, Conference Services, Saint Mary’s University
Telephone: (902) 491-8699

Kicking off a New Year to a New Season!

Author: Debbie Harding, Manager, Conferences and Accommodation, University of British Columbia’s Okanagan campus

Happy New Year! As we begin the New Year, it becomes crystal clear very early on that things are already kicking off for the conference season, only a few short months away.  You may think that it’s way too early to start planning for conference season on January 6th!  Not the case.  We are already setting up meetings with housing, maintenance, residence life, conferences, and housekeeping to begin planning our transition from housing to conference season.  When are students moving out?  How much time do we have to clean and set?  How many students are staying over summer? What are the maintenance projects? We are looking at our groups and planning staffing needs. We are putting together our job posting for student guest service agents to be posted by late January. We are fine tuning revisions to training modules and procedures. And so much more!

Planning for conference season can be just as complicated and critical as planning the actual conferences!  It takes a tremendous effort to make sure that our student residences are ship shape for all of our conference and accommodation guests. The best way to do this is to make sure that our organization is prepared on all levels for the season ahead.  We are extremely fortunate to have a fantastic cohesive team that works together to make this happen smoothly.  We also have the benefit of experience!  Because of our critical evaluation each season, we are better prepared for next season. Starting now just makes it that much smoother for later.

We welcome the New Year because it gets us excited for what’s to come!  Our focus is turned to the future and all that it will bring!  So, here’s to a fantastic 2014 to all of our CUCCOA colleagues and success for the coming year!

Debbie Harding, Manager, Conferences and Accommodation, University of British Columbia’s Okanagan campus
Telephone: 888-318-8666

Food Will Make or Break the Client Experience

Author: Melani Lane, Manager, Residence/Conference Operations, Dalhousie Agricultrual Campus

After many years of experience and thousands of clients later, I still maintain that no matter how organized and efficient we are, if the food service is poor, the client will say the overall experience was bad.

An old residence room and a fantastic buffet breakfast, a meeting room further away than the clients wants with a beautifully catered lunch and a projector malfunction in a room filled with the smell of freshly baked cinnamon rolls – the client will smile and say “what a great conference”.

All the behind the scenes scrambling, coordinating and negotiating on behalf of our client is important. However, equally important is the relationship we have with our Campus Food provider. We have been blessed with a food service manager who works as part of our team. Our clients are her clients and we all need to make them happy. We have older dorm style rooms, our equipment may inexplicably malfunction and sometimes we have to place a client further away then they want for a meeting. However, we know we can always count on our food service folks to pull out all the stops and provide a wonderful food experience.  We keep files on favorite meeting space, preferred residence, special technical requirements and our food service folks keep files on favorite meal item, special desserts and so on.

 I know that our behind the scenes attention to the hundreds of little details are so important to a successful client experience. However, ask a client when they are checking out how they enjoyed their stay  — and so many will say something like “great, the lemon squares are delicious”, not “great, I appreciated that someone spent 2 hours putting up all that extra signage”. Seriously, does it really matter which member of the team gets credit? Isn’t it simply important that the client has a great experience? So, hats off to Campus Food Providers – I am so happy they are on my team.

Melani Lane, Manager, Residence/Conference Operations, Dalhousie Agricultrual Campus
Telephone: 902-893-6671

Remember to Keep Learning and Developing

Author: Maaike Ammerlaan, Conference Sales and Services Manager, University of  British Columbia, Okanagan campus

It is that time of year again where we look back at our summer season and make plans for the next year. And sometimes it is hard to come up with new ideas and initiatives to grow our business. Hard to stay fresh, motivated and focussed.

We had the privilege of hosting Chris Hadfield, the Canadian “singing astronaut” through our Distinguished Speakers Series at UBC Okanagan campus. The event (which was free to attend) sold out within an hour and live feeds were set-up to lecture theaters around campus to accommodate all the people that would like to see and hear him speak, even if they could not be in the same room with him.

Being so interesting, having so much accomplished and still being so humble and personable was what most people took away from the event. He had to train hard (25 years in total and 5 years just to be able to be in space for 6 months), but he told the kids that were present that when you have a dream, to stick with it and work hard to get there. Find your passion and go for it.

Interesting people, like Chris Hadfield, inspire you, make you think about what you are doing, make you focus again on what you are passionate about and give you the courage to make changes if needed.   As we reflect on our conference season, about what went well and where we can improve, we should maybe reflect on ourselves as well. What is it I am good at, what do I do best? Where can I improve in my work and as a person? Am I using my energy in the right way or should I take the time to regroup and refocus?  

We are working in an environment where learning and development are key, and that is what makes our jobs so interesting. Let’s not forget to check in with our selves once in a while and make sure we keep learning and developing. Try to be that interesting person that is focussed and passionate about what he/she is doing and go for it.

Maaike Ammerlaan, Conference Sales and Services Manager, University of  British Columbia, Okanagan campus
Telephone: 250-807-9804

Killing with Kindness

Author: Rebecca Eyers, Manager, Residence Life & Conference Services, Nipissing University, Muskoka Residence Complex

A phrase we use around our office often is “kill them with kindness”, although I feel blessed that we have many incredible clients, staff, as well as campus and community partners, I think we can all agree that we have days or people that can make our jobs a little more challenging.

Although I have accepted that we can’t please everyone (although we still try), it is important that we always have that warm, inviting, can-do attitude. In a customer service role it is tough sometimes to stay positive as we deal with the good, the bad and the ugly.  Every so often one of my staff will come to me about something a client said or a campus partner did that is really bothering them. After we talk out the situation, I always like to think of the situation from the other person’s point of view so we can learn something from the situation. I always understand how my staff is feeling but I remind them of the nature of our job, the importance of letting things go and encourage them to continue to “kill them with kindness”.

Some of you reading this may be thinking, it’s not the simple or straight forward, but I say why not? I am a firm believer that “what goes around comes around” and one thing I pride myself in doing and challenge my staff to embrace is to “kill them with kindness”. Now I ask you, what is it that you do or say to help get yourself or your staff back on a positive note?

Rebecca Eyers, Manager, Residence Life & Conference Services, Nipissing University, Muskoka Residence Complex
P: 705-645-6999 ext. 7299

Busy, Busy, Busy

Author: Susan Labentsoff, Director, Marketing & Communications, Meeting, Event and Conference Services (MECS) & Ancillary Services, Simon Fraser University

I read an interesting article the other day that was posted on LinkedIn and was published by the Harvard Business Review.  The article was entitled “Please Stop Complaining about How Busy You Are” by Meredith Fineman.

It got me thinking about what being ‘busy’ really means. It seems nowadays whenever you ask someone how they are, one of the most common responses is “Busy!”  Are we really that much busier than we were before?  Are there more expectations?  Are we forced to do more with less?  I don’t know the answers to those questions, but I do know that it seems that we’re all on this treadmill of being so busy – and to what end?

I’ve always had the philosophy that if you’re too busy on a regular basis, either your workload is unbalanced or your time management skills need some work.  Sure, we all have times in our work life that are busier that others – different seasons, budget time, special projects, etc. but overall if you find yourself working long hours and never seeming to get caught up, there is something out of whack.

 I recently hear a commercial on the radio for a bank promoting being “good busy” not just busy and it struck me as something we should really take a closer look at.  What does “good busy” mean?  To me it means prioritizing tasks and responsibilities, doing the important things first and not getting caught up in things that don’t matter.  Probably easier said than done, but I think the first step is to at least acknowledge there is a difference between being busy and being good busy. 

In my role at SFU Meeting, Events and Conferences my main responsibility is to generate revenue for the organization.  To be good busy, everything I do should be related to that end goal.  Everything the sales managers do should be related to that goal.  What is your main responsibility? What is your goal?  Is everything you do related to achieving that goal?  If not, perhaps you have to ask yourself, am what I’m doing right now going to help me in realizing what I’m meant to do?

I’m not saying this is easy, especially when it seems like we’ve been programmed to be so busy all the time.  But give it try, you might surprise yourself on how much time you spend on things that just aren’t good busy!

Susan Labentsoff, Director, Marketing & Communications, Meeting, Event and Conference Services (MECS) & Ancillary Services, Simon Fraser University
Telephone: 778-782-7903