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A Fair Share

By Selena Fragassi


No competition here. Campuses are finding ways to share resources with each other, and the end result is—everyone wins. 

“Sharing economies.” In the past few years the phrase has become the buzzword of the new millennium, referencing a slew of convenient mobile applications that provide access to shared rides (Uber), shared accommodations (Airbnb), shared housework (TaskRabbit), even shared working spaces (DeskTime). While some people have debated how these non-professional pools might be affecting traditional industries like hotels and transportation, in many ways sharing resources brings a tenet of childhood to adulthood and, in so doing, is also incredibly smart for all parties involved.

“We’re not out to get each other but help each other,” says Kim Araya, director, university conferences & guest services at American University in Washington, D.C. She had the idea to establish a D.C. Consortium that includes a number of the capitol’s higher education institutions all supporting each other in growing their conference businesses.

Representatives from Georgetown University, Catholic University of America, Gallaudet University, George Washington University, Howard University, Trinity Washington University, and the University of Maryland routinely gather to talk shop and see where they can refer clients to each other. For example, Araya knows she doesn’t have beds available during the academic year so she’ll refer those needing overnight accommodations during these peak times to Georgetown, which has open availability in residence halls. In the same token, Georgetown’s conference department will call on American during the summer (when beds are open) to provide overflow intern housing after they fill up.

It’s an idea that Araya took from her superiors while working at the University of Minnesota, which had a smaller but just as successful system that looped in St. Thomas, McAllister, and Concordia Universities. “The way we see it, there’s plenty of business to go around,” says Araya. “And any [campuses] that don’t engage in this kind of collaboration are just hurting themselves.”

The idea of sharing is not new among meeting and event planners—MeetingsNet recently published an article citing officials with Experient, a Maritz Global Events Company, and different industry conferences like IMEX pushing this idea to the forefront. At an IMEX Frankfort presentation, for example, Experient’s SVP of Strategic Development Gary Schirmacher, said the “sky’s the limit” for assets that planners can share. Décor, equipment, signage, A/V, and menus are just a few of the ideas that can be cost saving measures for groups already using the same venue in a short period of time.

But, venues that could be viewed as competition sharing resources—that’s a whole new ballgame.

“It’s kind of like having a hotel chain,” Araya says of the D.C. Consortium model. “A Hilton might not refer to a Marriott, but they will refer to another Hilton location down the street. In that way it becomes a university chain.” In her mind, expanding the breadth of non-traditional venues like fellow campuses only helps to make this niche industry stronger. “People come to a university for a certain experience. If they didn’t want that, they’d go to convention centers. We have tons of great convention centers and hotels in D.C., which are much more expensive, so why not keep the business internal?” she furthers. “If [American] can’t handle the group, let me at least have another university do so.”

Although Georgia State does not have official partnerships with area campuses like the D.C. model, they also end up referring planners to nearby Atlanta Metropolitan College and Georgia Tech if they have exhausted options on campus. “If there’s a group of 1,000 people and I know there’s nowhere on campus to accommodate their [meeting or event], I would tell them we can’t do so but Georgia Tech might be able to assist you with the meeting, conference, and banquet space they have,” says Donata Davis, coordinator, conference & program services, university housing at Georgia State.

In return, Davis will often get calls from planners that need overnight accommodations that the other Atlanta campuses can’t provide. “Many times, groups or summer camps have the main program held at Georgia Tech and they come over here for housing. We have two groups that do that,” says Davis. “We’re not going to turn anyone away if they need accommodations.” And because they’re a little less expensive, it can benefit a group’s bottom line to stay with Georgia State.

Araya is also quick to point out the upper hand a planner gets in this unique situation. “If you think about it, our reputation is on the line, so we go above and beyond to make an impression,” she admits. “When you’ve been referred, you want to make sure that client has a good experience. You don’t want them to go back to the original university with bad feedback.”

This is why it’s important to have faith in the fellow business partners, too. “I personally know the conference department heads at each of our venues and know I can trust referring business there,” says Araya. Not only do the members of the Consortium get together for quarterly meetings, but they also make dedicated visits to the other properties to stay on top of what they have to offer. “We do tours of each other’s campuses and see the new spaces and amenities, so we can talk about them with clients,” she continues. That way, she knows if a client wants a downtown D.C. experience, to pitch them to Georgetown—and they know if a client wants an all-inclusive package, American is the place. She also notes that partnering with chambers of commerce and visitors and convention bureaus is another great way to promote features on campus.

It’s not just meeting spaces and residence halls where this synergy comes into play, either. Araya says speakers are another example of how campuses are pooling resources. “If a speaker is already in town for a conference, then maybe that venue can let me know about him or her; if we can also book them, we can end up splitting the cost,” she says, admitting, “I think we’re getting better in our industry. Maybe some might disagree with me, but I haven’t ever seen this relationship as a detriment. I haven’t seen anyone try to underhand or undermine us or take advantage of our knowledge or generosity.”

And the reach is only growing. “I’ve now had people with universities in the South that want to come visit us to see what we offer for groups that do business in D.C.,” says Araya. “That only makes us more credible.”

Get Connected

American University
(202) 885.8247

Georgia State University Housing – Conference Services
(404) 413.1994