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Person of Interest

By Selena Fragassi


As a chief fiscal officer at the University of Arizona and a consultant for a network of conference service departments, Joel Hauff sees the big future for meeting on campus.

Joel Hauff has a very long job title as the vice president for student affairs and enrollment management and executive director for online and distance education administration at the University of Arizona. It’s an impressive title that matches Hauff’s 22-year career in collegiate operations, which also newly includes consulting and previously serving as chair for the conference services workshop within the Association of College and University Housing Officers—International (ACUHO-I).

The time and dedication has provided Hauff a wealth of knowledge about conference service operations and insight into the financial implications of meeting on campus. As he sees it, doing so can be both a revenue generator for higher education and a value proposition for planners needing to work within limited budgets without sacrificing quality. Here’s where Hauff sees the industry heading—and his advice for how to leverage the opportunities for your next meeting or event.

UV: The collegiate conferences services industry has been gaining traction in recent years. Where do you think it’s headed next?
JH: “The spotlight right now is how colleges and universities can generate external revenue wherever they can, especially as tuition has skyrocketed across the country and states are defunding higher education. We are at a breaking point, and there’s a lot of pressure on institutions to maximize their revenue capacity; conference services is ideal way to do that, so expect more to come. Hosting events and conferences, and having meetings on campus during the summer season when facilities are underutilized, makes more sense than letting them sit empty.”

UV: In what ways are colleges and universities being more progressive in attracting planners?
JH: “New construction has really become elevated in recent years. So many residence halls now are apartment-like with full kitchens, which is unmatched by hotels. The quality of food service has also risen dramatically with action stations, gourmet menus, and better service to appeal to all the foodies these days. Colleges and universities are now learning how to translate these amenities—often for the student benefit—to meetings and events. They’re figuring out how to package this variety of upscale services and bundle it with really large meeting spaces that have better technology than almost anywhere else in the world. As well they’re offering people a unique experience they don’t get every other day of the week, whether that’s an older crowd that gets to relive their college days or a younger group excited to be in this environment knowing that’s where they’re headed. Colleges are getting savvier by not selling themselves short.”

UV: What advice would you give to planners who may be considering booking a campus venue?
JH: “For one I think it requires a little bit of imagination and a spirit of adventure—be open to the idea of letting the campus meeting planner or specialist be creative and suggest ideas. At the University of Arizona, we once held a two-day group that was so large we couldn’t feed them all in the dining hall so we came up with the idea of using a parking garage. At first the planner didn’t think it could work, but we said, ‘Trust us, it’ll be great.’ And it was. We brought in hay bales, picnic benches, and fans to keep air moving. They loved that the whole space was for them, and that the whole group of 3,000 people could eat together. Embrace those experiences. And expect the same level of professionalism as a traditional venue—the same expectations of service will be met, even if coordinating the event is done in a unique or creative way. At the end of the day, campuses are a great value. Their primary mission is not to make a huge profit, but to make some revenue to reinvest into the institution. They are there as a public service.”

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The University of Arizona
Tucson, AZ
(520) 621.3772