May 2014

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May 2014

News From USITT's Executive Director

Considering Conference Locations

Finding the perfect location for a USITT event can be like ignoring the hazy foreground to the clear and shiny sky above. (And, no, this is not a hint that San Francisco is in the lead as a new Annual Conference location.)

It’s that time again. The Institute is looking for locations for future conferences. Just as building the schedule of sessions is a challenge, selecting future cities creates challenges for those tasked with that responsibility.

What goes into the choice? This is a question we are asked by competing cities and attendees, so here are some of the answers.

First and foremost- cost.

Cost of facility rental, airfare to attend, hotel rates, all of these are first on the list. Cities return their bids, and those that don’t fit within our parameters are asked to resubmit a better bid or they are cut from consideration. This presents some challenges for us in finding cities that meet all of these cost challenges (or even two of them).

USITT needs 36 session rooms holding between 30 and 300 people each. Stage Expo requires over 150,000 square feet of exhibit space at the bare minimum. Even planning for modest growth of exhibitors, we need bigger and bigger convention halls. That means many cities from our past are no longer viable for us.

But, that means we need to find cities with enough meeting and expo space that have affordable hotel rooms. The hotel industry took a hard hit in 2008 along with the rest of the economy. That got us some great rates. Today, the hotel industry is back on its feet and the average room rate is climbing fast. We need over 1,000 hotel rooms on our peak nights, and we want them reasonably close to the meeting. Here’s another factor that reduces the number of cities we can visit. From there we toss out cities with rates well over $200 per night plus tax, and we are getting to a narrower and narrower band of places we can begin to look at taking the conference.

Travel costs play a significant part in the decision. Airfares have climbed and so has the cost of gas. We factor that into some of our decision. Even the cost of getting from the airport to the convention center is part of our thoughts.

Additional cost figures all lead to how cities are chosen. The cost of attending USITT’s Annual Conference & Stage Expo is not insignificant. But it remains first and foremost in the minds of every person tasked with finding the locations. As much as we want to go to certain cities, the costs are prohibitive. As much as we want to always go somewhere new, the number of places that can accommodate our space and our wallets grows smaller each year.

The recent Voice of the Member survey showed that the annual conference, our cornerstone event, is the most valued event we offer. It pointed out the weaknesses that, when fixed, would make for a stronger event. Those are being addressed. The survey also showed that price consciousness is a strong member value and that value really does play a role in choosing conference sites.

The first point of our strategic plan is to “maximize value to members.” Value comes in many forms and dollar value is one of them. We hear our members and do work to keep costs as affordable as we can. Hopefully, having more information about what goes into a conference site selection will help you understand the challenges of finding that “new” spot.