Karen Wilhoit, Wright State
Conference Site Selection
ALAO held its annual conference at the end of October at the Roberts Centre in Wilmington. This was the second consecutive year that the conference was held at this location, and as many of you filled out your conference evaluations, you asked about the choice of the site. In fact, every year many of the comments on the evaluations center on various aspects of the conference site: location, convenience, facilities, food, temperature, and many others. The Board thought that the membership might be interested in having more information about the conference site selection process.
How does ALAO choose the city that the conference is held in? When I first joined ALAO, the conference was held in Columbus every year. Columbus has the advantage of being centrally located in the state, so it is not too great an inconvenience for anyone. However, people in the corners of the state always had to travel, and people lucky enough to be in or close to Columbus (as I am) always had a short drive. The ALAO board felt that we should try moving the conferences to other locations in the state, so we have had conferences in the Cleveland area, in Ashland, in Akron, and for the past two years in Wilmington.
Our goal is to alternate years – every other year in Columbus with the alternating years in other parts of the state. So, as announced this year, the 2010 conference will be in Columbus. The 2011 conference location is not yet determined, but should be somewhere other than Columbus, assuming that we can find an appropriate site.
What does ALAO require in a site? Our space requirements are: a room that will seat 350 for the lunch and the general session, 5-7 breakout rooms, as well as space to accommodate registration, vendors, IG tables, and poster sessions. The biggest challenge in finding appropriate space is identifying a site that can accommodate 350 people for a meal. For example, when we were looking at sites in Columbus for the 2010 conference, several sites could combine ballrooms to accommodate 350 for the meal, but in order to provide adequate breakout space would have needed to break that space back down for the concurrent sessions. Since we have a general opening session, followed by breakouts, then lunch, then more breakouts, this would have meant reconfiguring the space three times during the course of the day. Logistically, we didn’t see how this could possibly work smoothly.
Other things we look for in a site are a little harder to quantify. The facility needs to be laid out conveniently. One Columbus site, for example, has large meeting rooms at ground level, and smaller breakout space on an upper (sixth or seventh) floor served by one elevator; again, this just doesn’t work for our group. We need convenient (and preferably free) parking, internet access at a reasonable cost (preferably both wired and wireless), adequate electrical connections, and appropriate and reasonably priced food choices.
We also need a pricing structure that is clear and reasonable, a sales staff that seems willing to work with us and accommodate our needs, and in the case of hotels, a facility that is willing to commit meeting space in advance without a guarantee of a large room block for overnight stays.
ALAO remains committed to selecting locations that alternate between central Ohio and regions which represent the geographical diversity of our membership. We welcome your help – if you know of a facility that might meet our needs, please pass on contact information to us and we will investigate. Your input may be just what ALAO needs to identify a site for one of our upcoming conferences.