Colleges are vital to the state’s meetings and events industry, says Brian Hodge, of the Providence Warwick Convention and Visitors Bureau.
“One thing we sell is the overall creativity and vitality of the city – the fact that a lot of interesting stuff is happening here,” said Hodge. “Colleges and universities play a tremendous role in that.”
And many of those higher education institutions are doing all they can to cash in on the interest.
In Providence, Brown University attracts between 30 to 40 conferences and events to its campus each year and can accommodate groups from 20 to 600 people.
Many of the events are student and faculty-driven, at which outside speakers come in to provide educational talks. Then there is the revenue-generating branch of Brown’s events business, led through its Office of University Event and Conference Services.
“It brings tremendous income to the university and to the city,” said Julie Haworth, director of university event and conference services.
In general, companies host events at Brown because they want to provide a learning atmosphere for their participants. They rely on Brown University resources – its faculty, its campus and its history – Haworth said.
“Our events surround our mission and usually involve education,” Haworth said.
The Museum of Art at Rhode Island School of Design is also a sought-after meeting space that hosts about 20 meetings and receptions each year. It books events independently of the school.
It attracts business meetings and events through outreach efforts and also receives referrals from the PWCVB for visiting conventions that want an interesting space like the RISD museum, “where you are surrounded by beautiful artwork,” said Donna Desrochers, director of marketing for the Museum of Art.
Available meeting spaces offer seating for groups up to 200. Though there was a dip in event rentals in 2010 and 2011, business seems to have rebounded, according to Desrochers.
The Culinary Arts Museum at Johnson & Wales University can also be rented out. Companies can plan seated dinners or standing receptions using different parts of the museum, including the Culinary Arts Museum Theatre or a 1950s-style diner within the museum, according to Johnson & Wales’ website.
The University of Rhode Island’s South Kingstown campus often attracts companies that want meetings outside a city environment.
URI hosts hundreds of events each year attracting thousands of people to the state and generating about $3 million per year, according to Joseph Pittle, director of conferences and program development for URI.
There’s also the nonprofit conference center on URI’s W. Alton Jones campus, Whispering Pines. The center sits on more than 2,000 acres in rural South County and is set up as a hotel with 32 guest rooms and four conference rooms, the largest of which holds up to 100 people. Its location makes it far different than meeting spaces in nearby cities, said Ann Marie Marcotte, Whispering Pines’ sales conference coordinator.
“We develop relationships with clients [and] they come back year after year,” Marcotte said. •