Have you ever wondered how a big conference selects the venue for their event? Well, even if you never did wonder that, I'm going to tell you because it's not nearly as easy as I initially thought.
First, the larger the event the less hotels and conference centers you have to choose from. If you only expect 1,000 attendees, you have literally hundreds of venues to choose from. The field gets much smaller when you bump up into the 2,000 to 3,000 attendee range like PASS. And you can bet that there is a very small field of choices for events that are truly huge, such as Microsoft TechEd or Oracle OpenWorld.
Of course, you select sites based on a couple factors. Obviously, cost is a big criterion. Other important criterion include location. For example, we usually try to move the location of the event from one general region, such as the East Coast, to another major region such as the Pacific Northwest. This movement is intended to give repeat attendees a new place to see every year. But we also have a lot of attendees who can only go to a conference every year or two, so moving the conference gives them the chance to go to a closer event. Another important criterion when choosing the city to hold the conference is called "draw". Draw is the tourist style amenities offered by a city that would make the average person on the street desire to visit a city. For example, Las Vegas has almost too much draw. Many managers might worry that their employees will be out playing instead of attending sessions. On the other hand, holding a conference in a place like Wichita would leave most people wondering what, if anything, they could do at night.
Second, the larger the event the more advance planning you need to book your hotel or conference center. In PASS' case, we try to book our venue 18 to 24 months in advance of the event. Yes, Charlotte, that's TWO YEARS before we hold the event. If we waited any longer than that all the good venues would be taken and any that were available would be twice as expensive.
Finally, negotiations are a major pain. But there are a few ways to ease the discomfort. First, we try to book more than one event at the same site. For example, we're currently on track to hold the 2006 and 2008 North American Summits both in Seattle at the same hotel. This, at worst, locks in the space for 2008 at 2006's prices or, at best, gets us a discount on space for 2008 at discounted 2006 prices.