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Mark Cooper, International Association of Conference Centres

Mark Cooper is CEO of IACC Meetings (previously known as the International Association of Conference Centres) and gathers all the strength of the internet around him in his leafy English village as he aims for one thing. He tells Rob Spalding why he wants to be known as…

Mr one per cent

RS: Can we settle something from the start, Mark: the differences between IACC and AIPC?

MC: There are radical differences. IACC represents smaller conference and meeting venues and AIPC is a convention centre association. Convention centres operate very differently to IACC venues because of the nature and size of events that they can host.

RS: Who are the members of IACC?

MC: In 1981, a group of conference centre operators in the US (including Benchmark Hospitality and Dolce Hotels and Resorts: founding IACC members) came together with the sole aim of promoting their meetings-focused venues differently to hotels and positioning themselves as specialist and higher quality learning and conference environments. IACC was founded on a belief that it would be a global association and that it would develop a collection of the top one per cent of meeting venues and that’s still very much part of our goal today.

RS: What particular benefits do you bring to IACC as its CEO?

MC: Well it has to be more than a British sense of humour, that’s for sure!

I have a strong belief that the meetings industry is a better place when events take place in quality environments and that IACC provides the best venues with this focus, the chance to be seen and appreciated by meetings planners worldwide.

Also, from a global perspective, as I’m located in Europe when I am not travelling, it means I can be connected with our team and efforts in Australia and Asia in the morning, Europe during the day and our Americas team in the afternoon. We have a lot of moving parts all over the globe and time-zones should not stand in the way of creating synergies throughout our chapters.

I have represented both conference centres and hotels and have in the past been a third party meeting planner and I hope it is this breadth of knowledge and appreciation for the different stakeholders that allows me to contribute in both the venue operator and meeting planner forums.

RS: As an international organisation with US and global credentials and members, does IACC have to be carefully steered between the cultures?

MC: Yes and no. Yes, in terms of appreciating how language can sometimes be a barrier. For instance, we need to communicate with our members both in English at times but, also in their native language on other occasions. And no, in terms of having different goals for IACC. Our global board of directors and chapter boards work closely together and it is amazing how much we have in common and how easy it can be to be aligned with a global strategy for IACC. Of course, we have cultural differences and sometimes this includes the venues themselves, but never in a way that we feel we are compromising to create a ‘fits all’ model.

RS: And for your own culture?

MC: I’m a British national and live in the rural village of Long Itchington, Warwickshire. It’s a typical English village with a pond, pub and shop, where everyone knows everyone.  My commute is normally to Heathrow, so I know the way without satnav now! I hope my own culture is one of inclusiveness and that the deep hospitality experience that is engrained in my DNA from a very young age (I grew up in an English pub and restaurant) has led to my approach being one of engagement with our members around the globe and being an active part of the IACC community outside of our leadership and board environments.

RS: Where are you currently going with IACC and why?

MC: Our future goals are centred around bringing our forward-looking initiatives such as the IACC Meeting Room of the Future into the next stage of industry engagement and increase the value it brings. For example, we are creating a live showcase in partnership with MPI and other industry bodies who are leading with innovation. We recognise a key strength of IACC is the unique community spirit that exists with our members. Our events will continue to focus on the strengths in sharing ideas to improve the experience delegates receive at IACC certified venues.

Time-zones should not stand in the way of creating synergies throughout our chapters”

RS: What is the greatest single problem facing your members right now?

MC: It seems to vary across our chapters and from country to country. I know that for our US members business growth and retaining skilled staff is an issue; in Scandinavia recruiting and retaining skilled chefs is an issue and for the UK, well it’s the uncertainty of Brexit. We realise these are challenges that not only face IACC Certified Venues but the entire industry. We are working with our members to really understand the root of their issues and to provide them with ongoing support.

RS: The role of CEO has only existed for six years. You were a board member for eighteen. Did you create your own job?          

MC: Now that would be an interesting approach to managing your career development for sure! No, I was only a board member for a short period of time, maybe a year, but I was a member of IACC for 18 years, working for a number of its certified venues. I guess I am a good example of how powerful the IACC community is, as I can link all of my roles in over many years to the great relationships I have carved out through the association.

RS: If you could ask one thing from the meetings industry today, what would it be? 

MC: To embrace the internet and think of having great infrastructure as fundamental to venues’ core services. Good quality internet for meetings is expected as a given now, just like we’d expect running hot water in our hotel room. The industry needs to embrace what other industries and event cities and countries already have.

RS: Do you have one specific goal in mind either personally or professionally?

MC: IACC aims to represent the top one percent of meeting venues globally and this is the goal we strive for every day.  We have a long road ahead of us to meet this massive goal, but massive goals are more fun, right?