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.

6 comments on “How do we pick our National Family Conference Site?”

  1. 1
    Gina on July 26, 2011

    This is really interesting I never know how you guys got the spots you did now i will do some reasearch on my own…I will let you know if I find anything good

  2. 2
    Catherine on July 26, 2011

    Very informative and good prespective on all the hard work that goes into the planning of this fun and educational event. And most appreciative of your attention to cost as well as to all the sponsers who help out in a big way.

  3. 3
    Gina on August 4, 2011

    Ok so here is my question. Do you ever repeat a place besides St Louis. I know you bring things back to St Louis ever Ten years , right? But what about other places? Any chance of coming back to LA area? Or any other place the conferences take place? Would they give you an even better discount if you were a returning customer?

    1. 4
      Lea on August 5, 2011

      The NFED usually comes back to the St. Louis Area on their 5 year anniversary years! So the next one should be when the NFED celebrates their 35th anniversary! The NFED is in the process of planning our next year’s (2012) conference to be held in Florida! In the past, the NFED has been on the East Coast, West Coast, South, North, Midwest, Mountain Region…….and The United Kingdom!

  4. 5
    Peggy O'Neill - Baron on August 30, 2011

    From Peggie O’Neill -Baron

    I can honestly say I ‘missed EVERYONE’ after we left. Mere words cannot describe how we were in ‘awe’ of the entire program . The hotel staff was superb! Our rooms were clean, comfortable and just amazing! The food and caters were absolutely the best we’ve ever experienced! Truly everyone should be commended . (yes, I did send a letter complimenting the staff to the hotel). The guest speakers were an additional plus to the program … not only did we learn something from each and everyone, we left with tears in our eyes. The speakers, the programs, the “one on one” programs with the professionals were simply amazing. Splash City … that was amazing! Food, staff, the park … everything! Dear Lord, the TALENT SHOW! The kids talent show was truly not only wonderful but inspirational. To see ALL these wonderful families; their talents and abilities and CONFIDENCE was truly amazing! I was at a loss for words and the memory of this program and all the children will last in my memory and heart forever. I had tears in my eyes all the way back to our hotel room! The visit to the NFED office was wonderful… we were aware you were exhausted, but you so willingly, and kindly opened your office and time to us! Thank you!

  5. 6
    Fuad Noor on July 11, 2012

    Dear Malinda. Thanks for all the efforts and it is for sure great efforts from great people. God bless you and keep the good job ,me and Akram are counting the second to be there ,see you ther and best regards.

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