As a conference centre manager, you'll ensure the smooth running, effective management, success and profit of the centre, using your excellent interpersonal skills and commercial awareness

You'll be responsible for the management of all staff and services at the centre, including:

  • accommodation
  • catering
  • finances
  • marketing, advertising and PR
  • reception/front of house
  • sales.

It's your job to ensure that all services provided meet the clients' needs and that events are run efficiently. You must strike a balance between customer satisfaction and effective business management, which often means dealing with last-minute changes or solving problems as they arise.

It's also your responsibility to develop the business by planning ahead, managing future sales/marketing campaigns, and budgeting efficiently to maximise income generated.

When organising events, you'll often liaise with an event manager.

Responsibilities

Your work activities will vary depending on the size of the conference centre and the services provided. For example, in a large conference centre offering a range of services, you'll coordinate the operational management team, which includes catering and accommodation managers. In a smaller centre, however, you may subcontract services, such as catering and entertainment, out to external companies.

As a conference centre manager, you'll need to:

  • communicate daily with the management team, planning work schedules and checking client requirements
  • deal with customer complaints, comments and enquiries
  • ensure all events run smoothly
  • manage budgets and financial plans
  • take responsibility for the recruitment, training, organisation and monitoring of staff
  • supervise maintenance, supplies and equipment
  • achieve profit targets
  • take responsibility for the sales and marketing of the conference centre, including pricing, image, brand, promotions and promotional materials
  • lead by example in maintaining service standards
  • apply current legal and in-house HR procedures to ensure the retention of good staff and the provision of high-quality services
  • research markets to identify new business
  • negotiate with external service providers and suppliers as required
  • purchase equipment necessary for the conference centre to operate
  • ensure compliance with health and safety, licensing laws and other legal regulations
  • carry out day-to-day troubleshooting and address problems as they arise.

Salary

  • You're likely to enter this career as an assistant manager, with a starting salary of around £20,000.
  • Typical conference centre manager starting salaries range from £25,000 to £35,000.
  • With a few years' experience, salaries tend to reach £45,000. Salaries at senior level can rise to in excess of £60,000.

Salaries vary depending on your experience, the size of the centre you manage and the services provided, and the sector.

Additional benefits may include free meals on duty, discounted hotel room rates (if you're working for a hotel) and discounted leisure membership.

Income figures are intended as a guide only.

Working hours

Conference centre managers regularly work unsocial hours. A shift system usually operates to ensure adequate management staffing, involving early morning starts, late night finishes and evening and weekend work.

You may have to work additional hours and be on call, in case of an emergency or urgent problem.

Part-time work is possible.

What to expect

  • The job involves a mix of office-based administration and liaising with clients, internal and external service providers, and suppliers outside the office environment.
  • Vacancies occur throughout the UK in major cities and towns.
  • Conference centre managers are expected to deal with a range of on-the-spot problems and meet tight deadlines to the satisfaction of clients.
  • Travel within a working day and absence from home overnight are occasional. Overseas work or travel is rare.

Qualifications

Although conference centre management is open to graduates with any degree subject, a degree or HND in the following subjects may increase your chances:

  • business and management studies
  • events management
  • hospitality management
  • international business
  • marketing
  • travel and tourism.

Some degree courses in areas such as hospitality, travel and tourism, or events management are accredited by the Institute of Hospitality as meeting recognised levels of professional knowledge and skills relevant to the needs of the industry. Search the list of accredited programmes.

You'll need relevant experience to work as a conference centre manager, and managers often have a background in hospitality (in hotels or catering, for example), sales, marketing or events, or to have developed the necessary experience and skills from other management roles.

Entry without a degree or HND is common as many people work their way up to management level through on-the-job training and qualifications.

Although you don't need a postgraduate qualification, a relevant course may be useful if your first degree isn't connected to the hospitality industry. Search for postgraduate courses in events management and hospitality management.

Skills

You'll need to have:

  • excellent interpersonal and communication skills
  • strong customer service skills
  • business and commercial awareness
  • knowledge of sales and marketing
  • a high level of organisational and planning ability
  • budgeting experience, accountancy skills and a general financial awareness
  • team working skills, including the ability to manage and lead a team
  • ability to remain calm under pressure
  • adaptability and flexibility
  • an efficient and organised approach with excellent timekeeping skills
  • influencing and negotiation skills
  • administrative skills
  • attention to detail
  • problem-solving skills
  • IT skills
  • the ability to think on your feet and make quick decisions.

You may need a full driving licence if travel during the working day is involved.

Foreign language skills may be useful, depending on the sector you work in.

Work experience

Prior work experience is essential. Many entrants have experience in the hotel, catering or travel industry, but sales, marketing and customer service experience is also valued.

Look out for hospitality work placements or internships opportunities during your degree or consider taking a sandwich degree with a year out in industry. Relevant experience will help develop your practical skills and build a network of contacts for future job opportunities.

Employers

Specialist conference centres are located throughout the UK. You can find a list of conference venues, searchable by region or city, at Conferences-UK.

Increasingly, many large hotels offer conference facilities in addition to their traditional business. Some chains employ a specialist conference manager. Smaller budget hotels may provide rooms for meetings.

Conference centre managers can also be found in higher education, as many universities and colleges use their space during vacations to host events. Some universities operate purpose-built conference centres throughout the year to provide a dedicated facility for external organisations.

Many large sporting venues have also diversified and are now offering conference and corporate event space and accommodation.

Look for job vacancies at:

Jobs may also be advertised on the websites of major hotel groups and universities with conference facilities.

There are a number of specialist conference agencies, which may offer job opportunities.

Professional development

Most conference centre managers will already have relevant experience in the hotel, catering or travel industry and will have moved into this role from a more junior or related position.

Your training is usually provided in-house and mostly involves on-the-job training. You'll be expected to learn from experienced colleagues and managers. External courses are also offered by private training providers.

It's important that you keep up to date with relevant skills and training. The Institute of Hospitality, for example, offers its own programme of hospitality and tourism management qualifications, which provide continuing professional development (CPD) opportunities to all managers and aspiring managers in the hospitality, leisure and tourism industries. They also provide webinars, online courses and a mentoring service for student and associate members.

Membership of a relevant professional body, such as the Institute of Hospitality or Association of British Professional Conference Organisers (ABPCO), provides benefits such as access to networking opportunities, training, events and industry information.

If you have management experience, you may choose to undertake an MBA specialising in hospitality management.

Career prospects

Progress in this area is limited, as a conference centre manager tends to be the most senior role within a conference centre.

However, conference centres based within hotels will have a hotel general manager, who is normally more senior than a conference centre manager.

Larger organisations or 'groups' will employ an area manager or director. There are only a few of these roles available, so competition is likely to be fierce.

Self-employed consultancy work may be another option once you've gained experience.

There are also opportunities to develop your career by moving into related work, such as hotel management, or into other roles within the leisure and tourism sector. You could also move into public relations, sales, marketing, training or events management.

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