Location, Location, Location!
Have you ever wondered how we pick all the fun and exotic places that the NFED holds the National Family Conference? Do we throw a dart at a map and select our fate? The process is a little more scientific than that.
To keep things fair for all parts of the country, we try to vary our location each year. Typically we host a West Coast Event, Midwest Event, East Coast Event and another Midwest Event and start over. Historically we have had our highest attendance when we are in a Midwest location and our lowest attendance when we are on the West Coast.
So what is our criterion for finding a location?
The first criterion is to be able to find a family friendly facility that has enough conference space to hold all our workshops, general sessions and childcare rooms. It is also very important to us to be near a university of similar location at which we can host a Dental Symposium and/or Dermatology Grand Rounds. The conference is not just about educating our families, but also about educating the local dental and medical professionals.
Since our speakers come from all areas of the country we need to have close access to air transportation.
We typically choose 2 cities that meet the above criteria and send out a Request for Proposals (RFP). The NFED utilizes the free services from a company called Helms-Briscoe to do much of this leg work. Debbie contacts the local hotels. She finds out their availability and gets first bids. She then sends me a grid that lists what all the hotels have to offer (do they have a pool, how much is breakfast, do they have enough conference space, what is the proposed room rate, etc.). I do internet research and pick several as finalists. At this point, I arrange a site visit and spend 2 days visiting all of the various properties to find the perfect spot for the National Family Conference.
To me, the most important factor is that our families will feel comfortable at the facility. Is it kid friendly? What vibe do I get from the staff? Is the lobby clean? Is the food good? Are there “vacation” things to do close by so that our families can combine their vacation with our conference? After the site is selected, the real negotiations begin….can we get more for less money?
If you know of a “perfect” location for a future National Family Conference let us know!
What obstacles do we run into?
Hotel and conference space is VERY expensive and we really try hard to keep the cost affordable for families. A typical conference room can rent from anywhere from $500-$2000 per day (per room). At any one point the NFED can be using 12-15 rooms. Some hotels will lower the conference room rent if you spend money on food and beverages. We try to negotiate low food and beverage minimums and no (or very low) conference room rentals. Hotel food is also VERY expensive. Typical costs for lunch are $25-40 per person and dinner costs run over $50 per person. Coffee (or even lemonade) can cost almost $20 a gallon and cans of soda usually run about $2.50 per can!—all of these costs add up very quickly.
The NFED also uses a lot of conference space compared to the number of sleeping rooms we reserve in our block (did you know that we are responsible for paying for the reserved sleeping rooms in the block even if they are never booked?). Many hotels do not want to give us as much conference space as we need, or they want us to use mini suites as the child care rooms (Can you imagine “paint” hand prints all over the fabric couches?). So finding adequate space can sometimes be a challenge!
What do your conference fees actually pay for?
Basically all your fees pay for is your food. We solicit sponsors, grants and use general donations to fund room rentals, speaker’s (they donate their time) and staff travel, scholarship recipients, off site activities, and childcare costs.