Chinese conference center blues

China would do well to get more familiar with the IACC Quality Standards

Picture an international conference planner entering a brand new training center, walking in to inspect a meeting room only to find bulky, plush non-rolling chairs that can’t slide under or out from under the conference table amid weak lighting, uncomfortable temperatures and mismatched chair armrests that pinch fingers when moved in to the table. Sadly, such is too often the case in China today.

China is exploding with new hospitality space and training centers, but unfortunately few spaces make the grade when it comes to the IACC Quality Standards. This means these facilities are unlikely to be added to the IACC Approved Conference Center list, or to attract conference center business which approval might bring. These newly built projects are missing the opportunity to be showcased in an international marketplace. A bit of smart design could have set them on the right track.


The IACC (The International Association of Conference Centres) is an association, backed by the big global hotel chains, which establishes standards for conference centers to ensure successful meetings. The IACC Quality standards are a detailed set of criteria ranging from percentage of dedicated meeting space in a conference center to acoustical ratings for meeting room walls. Task lighting levels measured in footcandles, ambient sound levels, space, seating, ergonomics, chairs, table width, AV capability, telephone/data/electrical outlets connectivity, climate control are all explicitly designated in the IACC standards after exhaustive research. IACC details needs for conference planning, food/drink, technology and guest rooms. Ideally, its member centers offer the all-inclusive complete meeting package (CMP) with a per-person rate that simplifies the event planning process for corporations and associations eager to plan an event but without the expertise to ensure its success.

IACC standards can be quite detailed. The chair is the most important part of a conference center and the most used. Conference attendees are likely to sit in these chairs for eight hours a day, they should expect to be comfortable. Logically, the IACC design standards are very detailed in regards to seating. The North American Chapter requirements for chairs mandate that they “have arms that swivel and tilt synchronously and allow height adjustment. Chairs have a rounded or waterfall edge on the front of the seat pan. Chair seats have a minimum width of .46 metre or 18 inches, a minimum depth of .4 metre or 16 inches and seat height adjustable within at least 7.5 centimetres or 3 inches of the range between .38 and .53 metre (15 – 21 inches).”

And as conferences are increasingly tech-enabled, the IACC’s “Total Meeting Environment” requires that “all dedicated conference space must have interior architecture, sufficient power accessibility, signal infrastructure, design elements and physical arrangement to support the convenient and unobstructed use of all up-to-date portable equipment for audio visual presentation technologies.”

New hotels in China aren’t as bad off as the new training centers, as they’re often designed to five-star luxury standard. These five-star hotels might have climate control and other features that satisfy the IACC standards, but could still benefit from expertise in designing for IACC specifications. For example, very often in Chinese hospitality, the ballroom is prodigious and typically large enough to meet the IACC’s 1000sf requirement. But the other meeting rooms required for conference centers (which may just be leftover spaces never intended as conference rooms) often do not meet the IACC quality standards for zoned lighting, individual climate controls, vertical surfaces, etc. The IACC dictates a minimum size of the ballroom, but also a number and size for medium and large meeting rooms, as well as a number and size for break-out spaces. Space as one can imagine, is important for conference center hosts.

In short, designing the requisite details into new hotels and training centers gives them greater utility, flexibility and marketability—in general, the enhancements line-up with good design principles and common sense. Chairs should roll up under tables when not in use, guest rooms should have work space, large meeting rooms should have zoned lighting, and high speed internet should be available to conferees—these are the details that add up to a professional-grade conference facility.

How can designing to IACC standards benefit a venue? Alignment with the IACC standards means client organizations can book an event at an IACC certified conference center with the assurance that the hosting center has the features, from the ballroom to the multimedia features, to make the event a success. The IACC maintains a database of over 300 IACC approved conference centers online, and it has a downloadable checklist of features. It also publishes a Quality Assurance Checklist for conference centers.

At VOA, we’ve been designing with IACC standards in mind for many years now, and we do it instinctively. I believe it means doing something the right way. Subscribing and designing to the IACC standards requires more of an investment, but it opens up a hotel or training center to an international market.

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