We have heard from many of you concerning the Nashville meeting, and as we gear up for the 63rd Annual Meeting in Seattle, it occurred to me that now is a good time to answer questions about SAA meetings that are of interest to all. So, for the first time, I would like to present my column in a question-and-answer format focused on The Things You Wanted to Know about SAA's Annual Meeting but Never Asked . . . .
How far ahead is a site selected?--SAA signs contracts for its meetings five years in advance. The site selection process begins around six years ahead of the scheduled meeting. This is a moderate approach. Many associations, particularly larger ones, plan meetings as far out as 10 years.
What determines the dates?--Historically, all meetings have been scheduled for late March or April. SAA does not schedule meetings over Easter or Passover. Potential dates are then selected from the available weeks in this time frame and matched with the availability of possible sites. Conflicts with other organizations whose dates are already scheduled are also avoided as part of the process.
How are sites selected?--SAA follows a meeting site rotation schedule: western, central, then eastern. Seattle is our western venue in 1998, followed by a central location in 1999 (Chicago), eastern venue in 2000 (Philadelphia), central in 2001 (New Orleans), western in 2002 (to be determined), and so on.The first criterion is that the rotation schedule be met. Then we need to determine which cities in a given region have hotels and/or convention centers that can accommodate a meeting of our size and are affordable. Once the appropriateness and affordability of a few sites are established, negotiations begin. In addition to our evaluating suitability, hotels also will look at our meeting to determine whether the business we bring will meet their needs. Hotels will consider many factors, including the number of sleeping rooms in relationship to the meeting space requested and the amount of expenditures on food and beverage functions. The Executive Board then selects among the eligible choices and packages--usually two or three possible sites are presented. After the board has chosen a site for a given year, the executive director negotiates a contract with that site.
Why can't we go back to some of our favorite meeting sites?--When a site is a successful one, SAA does consider a return visit at the appropriate rotation. Factors that prevent SAA from returning include unavailability of dates or that we have outgrown a particular facility. SAA's meetings have been growing. For example, between 1987 and 1997, the meeting grew in attendance by 85%! The 1996 New Orleans meeting was 38% larger than the 1992 New Orleans meeting. We will return to New Orleans in 2001 and have signed contracts with the Marriott and Le Meridien to accommodate our meeting space needs.
Another frequently asked question relating to sites is "With another organization, we went to XYZ city. The rates were terrific. Why can't SAA go there?" In addition to the factors already mentioned, another critical one is timing. For example, a meeting in San Francisco the week after Thanksgiving might be a terrific deal. It depends on the convention traffic in that city and the type of business the hotel needs at that time. SAA holds its meeting in the spring--peak season in some cities--and the hotel room rates will reflect this.
Does SAA pay for meeting space?--Traditionally a hotel will provide meeting space for free, assuming the society fills the sleeping room block for which it has contracted. If we do not fill our sleeping room block, charges for meeting space typically come into play. Because of the huge amount of meeting space we require, it is very important to use our sleeping rooms at the host hotel. Our ability to do that impacts on meeting registration fees.
Why don't we have SAA-sponsored coffee breaks?--The simple answer is cost. For a coffee break at average hotel prices, the cost for the current attendeeship at an SAA meeting would run around $8,000 per coffee break--and that covers only coffee, decaffeinated coffee, and tea.
Why can't I just buy tour and special event tickets on site?--Tours and special events must have a minimum number of people or are canceled. If minimums are not reached through the preregistration process, SAA must cancel the tour/special event or pay for the empty seats. The society is not able financially to underwrite the tour and special events programs; therefore, we need to cancel tours or events that do not reach their minimums to avoid penalty fees for late cancellation or to avoid paying for unsold seats. If we reach the minimum through preregistration, we would be able to continue to sell on site any spaces that were available (up to the maximum number allowed).
Prices for the roundtable lunches are quite high. What can the society do about this?--The roundtable lunches are a pass-through cost. SAA arranges them but makes no money on them. The costs reflect the prices of hotel food. Staff negotiate the best possible deals. One of the possible solutions being explored for the Seattle meeting is table sponsorship. If an organization were to sponsor a table for, say, $100, then the cost of the lunches (we are considering box lunches also to lower the costs) could probably be cut by almost half. The 1998 Program Committee, headed by Jon Driver, is currently exploring sponsorship possibilities. If your organization is willing to sponsor a table, please contact Jon (email@example.com).
Why were there no audio tapes at the Nashville meeting?--Audio taping of sessions was a new activity in New Orleans in 1996. Tapes give meeting attendees a chance to hear sessions that were either too crowded or conflicted with other sessions. Tapes also make the sessions available to those SAA members who were not able to attend the meeting. Tapes are made on site, and sessions are taped continuously without editing. If one presenter asks not be taped, then that presenter's session cannot be taped at all. In Nashville, about 23% of presenters did not permit taping, thus eliminating a large number of sessions. As a result, the contract with the audio taping firm was cancelled. We would like to offer audio taping in Seattle, but this will depend on presenters' responses to the question regarding audio taping on their submissions.
I hope that this information provides some insights into SAA's meeting planning process. Meeting attendees can always provide feedback on a meeting through the meeting evaluation form in every registration packet. We would like to hear from you!
We know that you are going to really enjoy Seattle. A "sneak preview" brochure with housing information will be mailed in September. Check the web site as well for more on Seattle. See you in the Emerald City March 25-29, 1998!
Tobi Brimsek is executive director of the Society for American Archaeology.