“Form follows function” is never truer said than for the planning of a convention centre .. or center.

Most buildings are occupied by one tenant for one purpose, such as offices. As a convention centre has different tenants every day, using the building for different types of event, it needs to be as flexible as possible, to meet the exact needs of each individual customer. The design must meet the needs of the market and enable the operator to run the building successfully for all types of event.

The first steps in planning a convention centre are:

  • identify the objectives for the destination,
  • establish the market opportunities in terms of types of event
  • agree the parameters for the operation of the building,
  • prepare the preliminary stages of the business plan.

The market and different events for which the building will be used will vary for a particular city, country and business objective. Once these are established and agreed through feasibility and market research then a detailed brief can be prepared, which specifies the range of facilities within the building and the operational parameters for all aspects of the building. This brief will be the guideline for the detailed design and construction process and as such, is a key document.

The brief/ specification enable an initial budget to be estimated. Funding can come from many sources, but in the vast majority of cases, convention centres are funded largely through the public purse, either at local or national level. The business plan outlining the potential return in revenue, profit and economic impact is crucial in making the case to secure funding

Once funding is in place the design team can be appointed, often following an international competition. During detailed design we (TRS) contribute as the end user which includes both the customer and the operator. In this way, form will truly follow function. The detailed design can be lengthy as these building types are complex and individual.

Simultaneously to the design process, the operation and marketing of the building should be planned. Conferences, especially international association events, often have long lead times and a new convention centre needs to market itself long before opening, in order to have such events in the opening year. Budgeting and business planning for the pre-opening period is vital.

Once the design is complete and construction is underway, it is important to programme in at least three months after the planned completion and handover date, for the operations team to settle into the building, have practice events and generally make sure all the systems are operating correctly. It is also prudent to have a buffer period between the reported completion date and the first commercial event, as it is extremely common for the construction to overrun.

Time, Cost and Quality are key criteria with different priorities at different stages of the project. The truly end-user focused project will have quality and ‘fit for purpose’ as the overriding factor although cost often becomes the main factor, resulting in the need for ‘value engineering’. It is important to remember a cut in the capital cost could have serious consequences on the operational aspects, which only come to light after the design and construction teams have moved on to other projects.

The most important factor in planning a convention centre is to have expert end user input throughout the project.

Get our free report on how to design and plan a convention center here …

8 replies
  1. Wilna-Mary Sondlo
    Wilna-Mary Sondlo says:

    I want to go into convention centre business. please send me all the necessary info I need.



  2. sallyg
    sallyg says:

    Hello there

    Sorry for late response – do you have all the info you need now or can we help with anything else?

  3. Sarah
    Sarah says:

    Listen, We are supposed to design a convention center in school this week.. it would really help us if you could guide us in planning aspect.

  4. Sally Greenhill
    Sally Greenhill says:

    Hello Sarah, I would encourage you to start by looking at the town/city that it is in, what business can be attracted there? Is it from the public sector or corporate organisations or both? What size of meeting facilities do they need, what are typical events locally? Do they need exhibition space, catering, breakouts etc. You should be driven by the potential market for the centre and calculate the facilities that will achieve maximum occupancy. You would then need to look at the existing supply and see what facilities are missing from the current venues.

    It is difficult to answer you in one paragraph as there are so many factors to consider so let us know if you would like more questions answered.

  5. Sally Greenhill
    Sally Greenhill says:

    The ideal site would mean delegates can walk to hotels, restaurants, shops etc and in this way economic impact to the destination will be maximised. However convention centres are often catalysts for regeneration and can kick start the redevelopment of a run down area, so the hotels, restaurants etc will follow once the required demand/footfall is there

  6. dekoker
    dekoker says:

    hello… i just finished my form 5 last year. i have an idea of having my own conference center in my district since there is none of that. but the problem is im failing to draw a business plan, so i need help

  7. Sally Greenhill
    Sally Greenhill says:


    Thank you for your enquiry on our website.

    To prepare a business plan for a conference centre in your area you will need to include the following:
    • The demand and market opportunities -which sectors, countries of origin, types of organisation, numbers of delegates, duration, facilities required, rates they will pay , potential capture rate etc
    • How the demand will be influenced by existing and future supply – identifying what that supply is and what market remains for your centre?
    • What facilities are required to meet this gap? Specification and design parameters – no and sizes of meeting rooms, exhibition space, circulation, ancillary facilities, back of house areas,etc
    • What types of organisation would work best to operate it in your area – public or private sector or both -which would be successful
    • How much destination support is available now and what will be needed – the infrastructure, service and marketing
    • Where might funding come from – what are the options?
    • Forecast PL&L for ten years
    • Will it be profitable or how could it be subsidised?
    • Period of return on investment#

    I hope this is helpful. Let us know if you are keen to take this further

    Best regards


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