U of S conference business back on track

With large parts of the Marquis Hall kitchen, retail space and dining rooms out of service for renovation, with construction going on almost everywhere on campus, and with a good chunk of the Bowl caged off, the U of S has not been the most attractive conference destination recently. But now that the cranes have come down, things are looking up for Hospitality Services.

"We weren't looking our best the past couple of years," said Lynn Guina, director of Hospitality Services, a division of Consumer Services that offers on-campus accommodation over the summer months and is the catering sales and marketing office for conferences and sports groups. The result of all the construction and renovation was that Hospitality Services had its worst year ever in 2011 with only 877 over-night visitors booked into Voyageur Place. By comparison, Guina said a good year would see some 3,000 guests come to campus and stay for an average of 3.5 days.

"But it's time to move into more certainty," she said, "and we're in a nice position now for hosting conferences. This year we're regrouping and stabilizing, and I can already tell that 2013 is going to be a good year. We already have several large events booked." (See story below)

Guina, who was recently elected to the board of Tourism Saskatoon, is quick to point out the advantages of hosting a conference on campus. In addition to accommodation rates that are 75-80 per cent lower than downtown hotels, the campus location helps create "a sense of community" for conference attendees. Events on campus are also an excellent student and faculty recruitment tool. "We never look better than we do in the summer," she said, "and for sports groups, it's often a wonderful introduction to the university for youth."

The conference season runs from May 10 to Aug. 15, and about 80 per cent of the business originates from U of S
faculty and staff who take advantage not only of the cheap accommodation rates but also free classroom rental including audio visual equipment, she said. "This university has exceptional facilities. I don't know why you wouldn't have your conference on campus."

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