Why Meet In Person?
The Decision to Hold an In-Person Conference
We know that many of you are as excited as the ASECS leadership to gather again. Even if the 2021 virtual Annual meeting showed that virtual meetings can be vibrant, we believe there are real benefits to gathering in person. As current President Rebecca Messbarger noted in her Fall 2021 News Circular column: "This will be a momentous reunion for our Society after three years apart due to the pandemic. We are working diligently with a seasoned conference planner—Devon Binder from Red Door Alliances, who has over twenty years of experience and a certificate in Pandemic Meeting & Event Design—to ensure a safe and reinvigorating gathering. We look forward to welcoming you back in person and to the renewal of scholarly and personal bonds that are only fully actualized when we come together—not merely face to disembodied face on a Zoom screen, but in the messy fullness of our physical presence together in the same space."
To learn more about what we're particularly excited about for this year's Annual Meeting, see the 2022 Special Events Page. At the same time, we know that many members may still be left wondering why ASECS is forging ahead with an in-person meeting amid the continued uncertainty of the pandemic. We are monitoring the Covid situation and will update the safety and well-being page with information on health and safety protocols as we develop them in light of the best available data and public health guidelines. What follows is an explanation of the factors that led ASECS to decide to hold the 2022 Annual Meeting fully in-person.
The fact is there are financial and logistical realities that constrain our options. Our Baltimore hotel contract was signed in 2019. It is a pretty standard hotel contract, which specifies a minimum number of “room nights” that will be booked by conference attendees. For Baltimore, our minimum number of room nights is ~1400—roughly 450 rooms booked for three nights each. This minimum was established based on prior years’ performance, which of course was in the pre-covid world. We also guarantee minimum expenditures on food and beverage—coffee, lunches and receptions.
For providing this guaranteed income, the hotel offers ASECS concessions. Namely, the hotel provides ASECS with all the breakout rooms for sessions and the larger rooms for general/plenary sessions at no charge. But if we fall below 80% of our minimum number of room nights or below our food and beverage minimum, we lose concessions proportionally and are liable for the hotel’s lost profits. These penalties can quickly run into the high-5 figure range.
Why not have a hybrid conference?
Hosting a hybrid conference is logistically challenging even for large organizations. ASECS has one full-time employee (the Executive Director) and now a meeting planner (Devon Binder) who is an independent contractor. In addition, a hybrid conference is expensive in two different ways. First, Audio Visual expenses are among the highest costs we incur at a normal Annual Meeting. In 2019, we paid nearly $30,000. That cost will only increase this year, perhaps by 30–50%. To upgrade our in-room setups to support hybrid sessions would inflate those costs further. Some members have suggested allowing for ad-hoc hybrid sessions, whereby session organizers just log into Zoom or the like on their laptop. Even upgrading the WiFi to be strong enough to do that would be quite expensive. Moreover, the second way holding a hybrid conference in any format will cost us is by driving down in-person attendance. This might mean that ASECS does not make our hotel room block or food & beverage minimum, leading to the large penalties explained above.
The Future of the Annual Meeting
The pandemic has forced the Executive Board to think carefully about the future of the Annual Meeting, to ensure that it and ASECS remain vibrant and sustainable in the future. Not least, the Board is considering a proposal from a group led by former President Jeff Ravel that urges ASECS to reimagine the Annual Meeting, to plan for more flexible, accessible, and less environmentally harmful formats for our gatherings. The membership survey, undertaken in collaboration with Gladiator Consulting, also aims at gathering data on members’ views of the Annual Meeting and their opinions about its future. But, for now, ASECS is locked into its Baltimore hotel contract, as well as the hotel contracts for our 2023, 2024 (which were rolled over from 2020 and 2021 to save us from incurring cancellation costs), and 2026 Annual Meetings. We appreciate your patience and understanding.
ASECS Executive Director