What About Denver? Or Minneapolis?
Discussion of SAA Annual Meeting sites is cyclical and generally heats up in the spring, just as we begin registration for the upcoming conference. Members begin thinking about whether they’ll attend this year—and, inevitably, where they’d rather be going.
In a recent Twitter exchange, tweeters calculated the number of times the Annual Meeting has been held in each region of the country, commented about a return to the Walt Disney World Dolphin Hotel, and suggested that we consider Minneapolis/St. Paul, Cincinnati, Dallas, Vermont, British Columbia, Detroit, Milwaukee, Boulder, Fort Collins, or Denver. I’ve been contacted directly about Salt Lake City, Raleigh/Durham, Charlotte, Miami, and a host of other cities.
So how do we go about selecting SAA’s Annual Meeting sites?
Every two to three years our meeting logistics firm, Conference & Logistics Consultants (C&LC), and I take on the resource-intensive task of site selection to ensure that we have sites booked at least three to four years in advance of a conference.
C&LC issues an RFP that is based on both SAA’s Principles and Priorities for Continuously Improving the Annual Meeting and the realities of our conference as it has evolved. The Principles and Priorities stress affordability, accessibility, diversity and inclusion, technology, experimentation, fair labor practices, social responsibility, and “green” practices. And the realities? For starters:
- Availability in July or August.
- Regional rotation to ensure that all members can expect proximity at least every four to five years.
- At least 600 sleeping rooms on two “peak” nights, and proximity to overflow hotels.
- At least 60,000 square feet of meeting space to accommodate 8-11 concurrent education sessions + 46 section meetings + 30 appointed group meetings + various “affiliate” meetings + an 18,000-square-foot room for general sessions + additional space for an exhibit hall—all over the course of four days.
- Free and reliable Internet access in sleeping and meeting rooms.
- Inexpensive food options.
- Access to cultural venues.
- Reasonable weather.
- Relatively easy and affordable access via air, train, or car.
C&LC’s continuously updated database includes details about convention centers and bureaus; hotels’ renovation schedules and room capacities; hotel chains’ announcements about new builds; and airlines’ services and hubs. To the extent possible without a government affairs staff, we maintain a list of states and cities whose laws and regulations may conflict with SAA’s Principles.
And so the matching game begins. I consult with the SAA Council all along the way—as we issue the RFP, receive responses, and narrow the list and craft a schedule.
In this last round the list was pretty narrow to begin with, particularly for western destinations. We hoped to consider Denver, Salt Lake City, San Francisco, or Seattle—each of which declined to bid. See Salt Lake City’s response: “Thank you for your consideration of Salt Lake. The SAA date range from early July to mid-August are some of our busiest weeks in Salt Lake. Unfortunately in reviewing the projected attendance, space and utilization on the convention center; Visit Salt Lake will not be able to offer a proposal utilizing the convention center and adjacent hotels. We asked the Grand America Hotel to review the RFP for possible opportunity to offer a proposal and they also declined. While 2021/2022 did not provide opportunity for Salt Lake to offer proposals for SAA, we do look forward to future opportunity when perhaps SAA could be considered.” [Emphasis added.] We have been invited to reapply in July 2020 in case SLC has not yet sold the space.
Each year I encourage the Program Committee to consider alternatives to 11 concurrent education sessions x 7 blocks. Each year I alert the Council to the challenges of accommodating 46 section meetings. How might we innovate? As long as certain traditions remain, we’re locked into venues that can handle them….
With Executive Committee approval, I have just signed contracts for the Boston Sheraton Back Bay in 2022 and the Washington Hilton in 2023. I depart for a site visit to Anaheim on June 19 to see if it’s a good fit for 2021. Wish us luck!