One of the IFEA’s primary directives is to provide high quality educational and networking opportunities. High on that list is our IFEA Annual Convention & Expo, which gathers together many of the top professionals and event organizations in our field to meet, share and discuss the most current insights into the issues, trends and programs affecting our global industry.
As we choose the locations for these important gatherings, we must consider many components (external and internal) to ensure the highest quality experience possible. These range across many operational areas and include (among others):
- Choosing the highest quality properties, with professional staff and support services to work with us (as part of our team) in achieving our goals;
- Providing the highest quality experience at the most reasonable cost to our attendees;
- Ensuring that the IFEA, organizationally, remains fiscally sound and successful;
- Tracking attendance trends and history;
- Developing close partnerships with local members, tourism marketing organizations, media, city officials, corporate leaders and support service providers;
- Ensuring that the properties we choose can meet our space, technical, access, food & beverage, and risk minimalization needs, while maintaining the cost-effective, high quality goals that under-pin everything we do;
- Working around and being sensitive to religious and cultural holidays that impact our global attendees.
Like any event or festival, achieving this visually short list of objectives, involves many long hours of research, negotiations, creative solution-building, and on-site visits. It is not as straight-forward as simply choosing a destination and knowing that all of your needs can be met. Some of the most top-of-mind destinations (including ‘A’ level cities or popular tourist destinations) are unable to, or do not need to negotiate, as they can typically sell-out without us, for much higher revenue returns. We begin all of our conversations with a multiple-page RFP of needs to determine if we are able to extend our negotiations with prospective cities and properties further. We typically aim to confirm and announce our location selection immediately after the first of each year, as that closer proximity negotiation window provides us with substantial financial and other benefits that we/our attendees would not normally get if we locked-in much earlier.
Historically, those who have been attending our conventions for many years will recognize that the IFEA has moved convention locations virtually every year, adding further to the list above with the need to build/develop new partnerships, learn new venue footprints and capabilities (all from a distance) and completely recreate the wheel on an annual basis. As we look to the future, we have debated the need to revisit and reconsider this and other models (studying the examples set by many of our professional peer organizations such as IEG, IAFE, OABA, IAAPA, ICAS, etc.) of repeating a convention location for a multi-year period.
In 2015-2017, set-into motion by an unexpected, eleventh hour concern with a new property that we were ready to announce, that test opportunity presented itself as a necessity. In response, calling upon the strong partnership that we were pleased to have developed, we made the decision to return to the JW Marriott Starr Pass Resort in Tucson, Arizona for three years in a row. The response to the beautiful 5-Star, 4-Diamond Starr Pass Resort & Spa was very positive and two of those years provided our highest historical attendances. Interestingly, we also recognized the increased networking that occurred when we were in a resort vs. a more urban setting. We have found that the size and nature of our convention works better and more successfully (as does our financial risk) within a single property, as opposed to using convention centers with multiple satellite lodging options. We also usually confine our search within North America and the United States, as a substantially higher percentage of our attendees (currently) comes from that global region and we must be able to easily and cost-effectively transport our equipment and support materials to the location.
In the future (and a perfect world), we would like to identify a group of high-quality, geographically-spread, (resort) properties (3 or 4) that can meet our goals effectively, and that would allow us to consider a fixed rotation of those properties. While we understand the anticipation that a continually changing location creates, our primary focus must be on delivering the education and networking components that are the core of our programming. We hope that content continues to be the driving force for attendance at our conventions as well (as you and your peers have identified in surveys) and look forward to having you, your staffs, boards, city representatives, volunteers, vendors, et al. join us each year for the top professional gathering of global industry leaders in our field, wherever that may be.
If you have any suggested cities, markets, or properties that you would like us to consider for future IFEA convention opportunities, and are able to open doors through your professional networks that will help to further engage the conversations, please let us know and we will give them the same serious consideration that we give to all options.