As we have continued to receive feedback on the meeting (thank you!), and as we now gear up for the 64th Annual Meeting in Chicago, I would like to address some of the issues which have surfaced through your feedback.
Last September, in SAA Bulletin 15, (4):5, my column focused on "The Things You Wanted to Know About SAA's Annual Meeting but Never Asked . . ." This is, in a way, a continuation of that discussion. I am aware that one of the membership's major concerns regarding the Annual Meeting is cost. Why do we go to where we go? Why does it cost what it does? Why do prices continue to climb? Does the board consider the cost factors when selecting a site? Some answers to these questions follow below.
We do hear your concerns. As I have mentioned in the past, our planning for an Annual Meeting begins about six years in advance of the meeting date. Sites are reviewed, visited, and considered. The board makes a selection and the contract is signed approximately five years out from the meeting. The first meeting that I have booked for the society is New Orleans in 2001. Denver follows in 2002. In both of these cases, the base rate--that is, the rate quoted in the year the contract was signed--are in line with what SAA members had been paying.
There is no doubt that rates are on the increase. An industry study in 1997 reported that the average daily rate in 68 cities rose 13.5 percent. Some cities reported increases of more than 20 percent. Overall rates are increasing. To keep the SAA rates in an affordable range, we are exploring a broader range of destinations.
Another factor that influences hotel room rates is season. Our meeting is during the peak season for many cities. I have often been asked why we don't meet in Washington, D.C. The plain and simple response is cost. Our meeting coincides with peak season in Washington and that is reflected in the steep daily rate from the convention hotels.
In addition, the marketplace for the meetings community is now a seller's market. Contracts have become quite stringent from the hotel perspective. A meeting such as ours may be more appealing to some markets than others. There are a number of factors that attract a piece of business to a hotel including room nights, food and beverage functions, and the meeting room to sleeping room ratio. As you may know, our meeting space requirements are rather extensive, but our food and beverage functions are not.
Rates in Seattle for the headquarters hotel were $134. Rates for the Chicago meeting--which is a self-contained meeting in the Sheraton Chicago Hotel and Towers--are $145. While this is an extremely good rate for Chicago, I understand from member feedback that we might prefer lower rates. The base rates in the contracts that I have negotiated for 2001 forward reflect that understanding. The 1999 meeting promises to be a very exciting one. Chicago is what is known as a "first tier" city; therefore, rates are reflective of that city's popularity. In reality, however, the rates that we have in Chicago are probably among the most reasonable that one can obtain for that city. Please be assured that the board is currently selecting among cities that both meet our needs and are not at the upper end of the rate scale.
Another issue that has been raised is the number of student and government rooms. These types of rooms are essentially rooms at a discounted rate. The number of discounted rate rooms requested can have an impact on the "regular" rate rooms in the mix. In Chicago, because there were so few student rate rooms (less than two dozen) originally contracted, and the projected student rate was much higher than would be anticipated, the solution was to find a nearby hotel with economical rates and contract an additional large block of rooms. We have done just that. While there are no student rate rooms in the Sheraton, we have contracted a huge number of student rooms in the Motel 6 a few blocks away. The rate is $85 for single to quad. Students need simply present a valid student ID to get this special SAA student rate. There is a special reservations form for students to use for the Motel 6 rooms. It is available on the SAA website (www.saa.org) or from the society's office. You may also email firstname.lastname@example.org with your fax number, and we will fax the form to you.
We were able to address the number of government rooms in Chicago as well. We were able to increase the number of government rooms at the Sheraton by the number of student rooms we no longer requested. Again, even this year and next, working with the established contracts, we are trying to respond to your pricing and availability concerns.
We look forward to an exciting meeting in Chicago! We encourage you to come and stay at the Chicago Sheraton Hotel and Towers, a beautiful site for the meeting. The reason we would like you to stay at the Sheraton is that there are monetary penalties if we do not use all the sleeping rooms that have been contracted. This is not usually the case, but it is so in Chicago.
Every year in your registration packet, there is a meeting evaluation. In Chicago, we are adding an additional questionnaire to help the Meeting Development Committee continue to plan the development and direction of SAA meetings. Please take a moment to fill out the brief questionnaires to let us know how you enjoyed the Chicago meeting and provide input to the developmental process of the Annual Meeting. We need your feedback. If you would like to send me a comment about the meeting, I can be reached at SAA Headquarters, 900 Second St. NE #12, Washington, DC 20002, fax (202) 789-0284, email email@example.com. Your input does make a difference! See you in Chicago!
Tobi Brimsek is executive director of the Society for American Archaeology.