The How & Why of WAA Conference City Selection

Jan 06 2020

Each year WAA’s Annual Conference convenes in a different city in the west. In 2019 we went to Los Angeles and the year before, to Las Vegas. This year we’re headed to San Diego/Tijuana, then we are off to Albuquerque in 2021 and Calgary in 2022. When it comes to selecting a conference, it pays to plan, so before 2020 calendars were even on the wall, the Board began discussing site selection for 2023. So, how does the Board select a site?

It starts with a review with where WAA’s been (and hasn’t been). This year, the Board noted that when 2023 rolls around, it will have been six years since WAA was in the Pacific Northwest, and a whopping 11 years since the conference was in Denver. The Board also considered member feedback—we’ve heard from attendees that Seattle is a preferred conference site so that reinforced that it might be time to put the Emerald City back in play.

Still, given the number of variables and competition for the best cities/hotels—even this far in advance—it’s unwise to pin all our hopes on just one or two sites, so we cast a wider net. Staff pre-qualifies any prospective new cities and hotels to ensure they have adequate guest rooms, exhibit space, and meeting rooms.  (No sense soliciting a proposal if the exhibit hall is too small!) A formal Request for Proposals is then issued to the cities/hotel on the list with our dates, detailed meeting specifications, and requirements.

Hotel availability is just the first hurdle. After a qualified hotel responds to our RFP with a proposal, there is typically an extended period of pre-negotiation to garner favorable terms for WAA and our attendees. And it’s not just about specs and rates. The Board will also consider the look of the exhibit hall, airport access, performing arts infrastructure, the hotel’s environmental protection practices, nearby dining options, and more. As necessary, we also consider what the prospective site will contribute to the conference program. Is there something we can do or offer in a location that we can’t do anywhere else? Will we be able to engage a new community of folks in the host city, who might not otherwise attend?

After the tip-top prospects are established, staff generally ends up presenting three or four hotels/cities for Board consideration at the Spring Board Meeting.

So, where are we now? On schedule! Late this fall, staff evaluated the “long list” of Board-generated prospective conference sites. We came away with a shorter list of hotels that have the availability and interest in hosting WAA in 2023. Proposals are in, and preliminary negotiations are underway, continuing into January and February. Staff will present final recommendations to the Board in April, and we expect WAA Executive Director, Tim Wilson, to announce the selected 2023 conference site at the 2020 Membership Meeting this August.   (The cities are under consideration for 2023 are Oakland, Denver, and Seattle.)

Conference site selection is never slam-dunk. Even when a site appears to be a front-runner, many factors must align before WAA goes to contract. Although WAA might not always land in your favorite city, we hope you’ll find it helpful to know what goes into the decision-making process.

Image credits: Seattle, courtesy of Visit Seattle, LACMA, courtesy LA Tourism, Tijuana, courtesy Descubre Tijuana