Internationally, a conference is widely regarded as a small to medium sized meeting, whilst the terms convention and congress are reserved for events attended by larger numbers of people; confirmed by a search of ‘conference’ in APEX (Accepted Practices Exchange) Glossary from the Convention Industry Council.
Sundial Group has long been involved in the International Association of Conference Centres which represents venues around the world that provide a dedicated environment for small to medium sized meetings. Indeed I have been honoured to hold the post of Global President and in that role built relationships with members from both English speaking and non-English speaking nations. Ironically it is the ‘mother country’ which has the greatest confusion over the use of the words ‘conference’ and ‘conference centre’.
Unfortunately the wider population in the UK tend to use the term ‘conference’ to cover the whole range of meetings. Indeed, we are currently in the ‘conference season’ according to the news channels with the political great and good and their lobbying organisations swanning off to out of season seaside towns. Interestingly the only organisation to use the correct terminology is the TUC which recently held their ‘congress’ in Brighton.
So why does this really matter?
Conference Centres are a specialist and dedicated niche provider which enjoy a loyal following from meeting planners in the know. Unfortunately many people charged with booking a meeting venue are not so well informed and so, like the rest of us in 2012, type terms that spring to mind into their search engine in the hope of finding what they are looking for. Recent research has found that internet search engines are the most popular venue selection process used after personal experience.
Although no doubt technology will find a solution in due course, the 2012 internet is not good with semantic confusion. If you don’t know what a conference centre is when you look for it you probably won’t find it. If you want a dedicated venue for an important small meeting but the first thing that springs to mind when you hear conference centre is the Queen Elizabeth II Conference Centre in Westminster (Capacity 2,500) you will probably type something like ‘meeting hotel’ or ‘meeting venue’. These names cover a far wider spectrum of spaces available for meetings and, given the massive SEO and digital marketing budgets of the major hotel brands are unlikely to render a first page listing of the best (in my view) environment for a meeting.
I think we need to start a campaign for the correct use of the word conference. Let’s get the news channels to rename the autumn party political meeting period the ‘convention season’, or, slightly less mid-Atlantic, the ‘congress season’. Come on QE II fess up and rename yourselves a congress centre.