The 2010 PASS Community Summit was recently held in Seattle and was a great success. Thanks to all of you who were able to make it there. Earlier this year, there was much discussion / debate on where the summit should be held in the future. We announced earlier this year that the location for the summit would remain in Seattle for 2011/2012. There were many reasons for this decision such as availability of dates and the deals being offered with a multi-year contract in the time of negotiations during an economic slowdown. Many venues are booked years in advance – especially ones that can accommodate large groups of people such as the PASS Community Summit (and we're growing). We are in the early stages of a location search for 2013.
When searching for venue, we keep the following things in mind (not necessarily in any particular order):
· Ease of getting to location – This usually means that the city is a hub for at least one airline and that the number of flights in/out are substantial to provide many transportation choices. Also, since a large majority of our exhibitors are located in the USA, we try to stay within the USA. One of the main reasons is that customs and shipping (even to Canada) booths / exhibit supplies / etc. is a big expense/hassle that it could affect the support we get from the exhibitors and sponsors. Some attendees (especially from Governmental organizations) also have difficulty getting clearance for attending a conference outside the US Borders.
· Minimize need for bus transit of attendees – Bus transportation of attendees to/from locations to conference activities and events can be very expensive and inconvenient.
· Room Block – We need to reserve rooms at an attractive price. Often this leaves destinations such as New York City and Washington, DC off the list due to the very high hotel rates.
· Competitive Pricing for Meeting Space – Meeting Space rental rates can differ wildly and can really make a difference on how much funds are put back into the community. I remember some research from a couple of years ago on space in Charlotte, NC and Boston, MA that were similar in size / location / etc. The Boston space was more than twice than what was available in Charlotte.
· Avoiding Holidays – Every effort is made to schedule events to avoid popular religious and American holidays. This further limits availability.
· Appeal of Location for Marketing – This means attempting to avoid the label “Boondoggle” when selecting a location while still maintaining an attractive location.
· Social Networking – We know one of the reasons that the summit is successful is the ability to network in a comfortable environment often where a discussion can be had over a dinner or a drink.
· Avoiding potential weather concerns – in 2004, the active hurricane season caused cancellation of the Monday pre-cons when we were in Orlando during hurricane season. In 2005, another hurricane started to threaten our location in Dallas. Since our event is usually in the fall, much of the SE USA is often not considered when the hurricane season peaks in mid-September.
There are other factors as well, but these listed above are the ones that I think of most when considering a location for the summit. Remember that when things are more expensive or there are factors that really could impact attendance (room rates, int’l travel, etc.), this leaves less room in the budget for things like mailings to chapters and other community needs/projects.
Back in early 2001, I was looking for a conference where I could learn more about SQL Server. I only had a budget of $1000 from my employer which meant that part of the cost of the conference and the T&E were my responsibility. I settled on PASS in Orlando because I was familiar with the destination and cheap hotels. I also decided to volunteer for PASS before I really knew anything about PASS. My motivation was to become friends with someone who would be staying at the conference hotel so that I could possibly leave my laptop bag in their room. I know this was selfish, but it is the truth. I believe the other conferences related to SQL were in Vegas and somewhere in California that year. In other words, location played a big part of my decision to choose PASS that year.
When I first joined PASS, I asked why not Las Vegas? We actually had a very attractive offer from one of the strip hotels. It seemed to meet most of the items on that list. Well, OK – some bosses (and even the President of the USA) think that a trip to Vegas is a boondoggle. That is part of it, but actually the most compelling reason that we chose to not go to this particular property was the layout of the space. In order to get from the breakout rooms to the expo hall, attendees would need to pass all those flashing lights in the smoky casino plus a topless pool. We decided on one of the other locations (Dallas or Denver if memory serves me). I wanted to move the summit to a new venue each year.
As the years have gone by, I can see the tremendous value of having the summit in Seattle. More MSFT support is one of the reasons. Other factors include familiarity with venue, familiar lodging options, and of course the rainy weather often found in the fall. :-) However, I believe that the summit will not be in Seattle in 2013. This is both good and bad news. A gentleman at the Board Meet and Greet weighed in with a personal observation during a discussion of Summit location. He was from Ft Myers, FL. He took vacation from his job and paid his own expenses. To him, it cost him an additonal price of a plane ticket and more travel time to get to Seattle, but the investment in his own career was enhanced by being able to meet with and interact with so many MSFT people. I hope that he will continue to come to the summit and hopefully pick up a slew of new folks.
We have already done some background work for finding a location in 2013. As we continue to progress on the search, we will keep the community informed as much as possible. There are times that we can't share as much as we would like to due to negotiations with various venues, but those times will hopefully be short-lived. If you have some additonal constructive input, please leave a comment below. Thanks for being active with PASS!