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SIOP Conference Committee Update

Jeff McHenry
Microsoft Corporation

Last year was my first year as chair of the SIOP Conference Committee. At the risk of discouraging those who might be interested in serving as Conference Committee chair in the future, let me just say that it was a great learning experience!

Thank You!

The members of the SIOP Conference Planning Committee last year included Bill Macey (President), Nancy Tippins (Past President), Kalen Pieper (Workshops), Adrienne Colella (Program), Linda Sawin (Placement), John Cornwell (Student Volunteers), Maria Rotundo (Preconference Tour), Kurt Kraiger and Steve Ashworth (Future Conferences), Lee Hakel (Administrative Office), and me. The committee, the outstanding team from the Administrative Office (Gail and Larry Nader, Jen Domanski, Esther Benitez, Milt Hakel, Lori Peake, Julie Allison), and all our wonderful student volunteers worked hard to make SIOP 2002 a great Conference. Thanks to all of you for your outstanding contributions.

2003 Conference Planning Committee Goals

The 2003 SIOP Conference Planning Committee includes Ann Marie Ryan (President), Bill Macey (Past President), Kalen Pieper (Workshops), Donald Truxillo (Program), Karen Barbera (Placement), John Cornwell (Student Volunteers), Kim Jentsch (Preconference Tour), Kurt Kraiger and Steve Ashworth (Future Conferences), Lee Hakel (Administrative Office), and me. Given the complexity of organizing and running the Conference, its great to have a mix of old and new faces on the Conference Planning Committee.

I received many suggestions in Toronto for making future conferences an even better experience for our members. I appreciate the input. Based on your suggestions and also on the results of the SIOP Member Survey, which Ann Marie referenced in her presidents column, weve established the following goals for the 2003 Conference Planning Committee:

  • Make our 2003 Conference a great member experience while demonstrating fiscal responsibility
  • Enhance the SIOP registration process to significantly reduce the number of registration issues that are handled manually
  • Resolve our sleeping room situation such that all members who want to do so can stay within a short walk of the Hilton at Walt Disney World while ensuring that SIOP incurs no sleeping room charges
  • Create a conference evaluation process that we can use to gather annual data on participant satisfaction with their experience at the Conference
  • Sign agreements with properties for the 2007 and 2008 Conferences that best meet our selection criteria using the Request for Proposals (RFP) process created this year

In the next issue of TIP, Ill tell you about plans for our 2003 SIOP Conference in Orlando, April 1113 (Preconference Workshops and tour on April 10). Ill also give an update on enhancements to online registration.

Let me also comment briefly on the last two goals. Jeff Stanton and Marcus Dickson have agreed to create a survey that we can use to measure participant satisfaction with the Conference. Theyll be doing some focus groups and other research identifying the factors that determine whether the Conference is a great experience for our members or a poor one, then preparing a survey that we can use to track participant satisfaction annually. This will help us as we plan the upcoming Conference and as we book conference facilities far into the future. If Jeff or Marcus ask for your input, please help them out. We also are at a point where we need to determine the locations for our 2007 and 2008 Conferences. During this past year, Steve Ashworth has done a terrific job creating an RFP that we can use to solicit proposals from facilities that will best meet our requirements. We believe this will help us obtain more competitive bids from hotels and cities interested in hosting us, and also help ensure that the contracts are as favorable as possible to SIOP. I hope to announce the 2007 and 2008 sites in the next issue of TIP.

Sleeping Rooms in Orlando

Now let me turn to the issue that, according to our recent Member Survey, is the number one complaint about the SIOP Conference year in and year outthe availability of sleeping rooms at or nearby the Conference hotel.

We thought we had that problem fixed in Toronto. We knew from the 2000 and 2001 SIOP Conferences that we need about 1,400 sleeping rooms on peak Conference nights to meet our member needs. So we reserved over 1,400 sleeping rooms on peak nights at the Sheraton Toronto, which was our Conference hotel, and across the street at the Toronto Hilton. We then added another 75 rooms at the nearby Marriott Eaton Centre as a backup. Based on our history at prior SIOP Conferences, this should have been adequate to meet our needs. But, as many of you know, the rooms sold out quickly, and a large number of members who wanted to stay at one of our Conference hotels had to book rooms elsewhere.

Then during the 4 days prior to the Conference, over 30% of the SIOP Conference room reservations at the Sheraton and Hilton were cancelled. Thats more than 400 lost sleeping rooms per night! Although weve seen more last-minute cancellations every year for the past three or four conferences, this was almost three times the rate of last-minute cancellations at the 2001 SIOP Conference in San Diego. The vast majority of the rooms that were cancelled were booked at least 9 months prior to the Conferences, likely before many individuals knew for certain whether they would truly be able to attend the Conference. We also discovered that many individuals were booking multiple sleeping rooms (up to 15!) for the Conference, presumably in case friends or colleagues needed a room at the last minute, then cancelling all but one or two rooms 1-2 days prior to the Conference. Because the cancellations were done so close to the Conference, we had no chance to let participants staying at other hotels know that space was available in the Sheraton and Hilton. We know that many who stayed at another hotel would gladly have shifted their reservation to the Sheraton, if they had known that space was available. These cancellations also meant that SIOP failed to meet the room guarantees we had made with the Sheraton and Hilton, and this cost SIOP US$60,000.

To ensure that we do not encounter the same problems in Orlando, we have asked our Conference hotels to require a one-night room deposit. This deposit is fully refundable for anyone who cancels their reservation at least 90 days prior to the first night of their scheduled stay. For anyone who cancels less than 90 days prior to the Conference, the deposit is nonrefundable. We looked at how other conferences such as APA manage hotel room cancellations and talked with hotel officials to get ideas on how we could do this in a way thats not a burden to our members, and this is what was recommended. We think this will help us avoid the problem of last-minute cancellations and unfilled sleeping rooms. It gives me confidence that we will have an adequate number of sleeping rooms in Orlando to meet our conference needs.

There are no financial benefits to SIOP from this arrangement, other than that we hope to avoid paying any room guarantee fees in Orlando. The hotel will keep any forfeited room depositsnone of this money will be given to SIOP. The purpose of this policy is to ensure that those of you attending the Conference have a convenient place to stayits not intended to enrich SIOP.

We have again booked over 1,400 sleeping rooms on peak nights in Orlando. And we have already begun discussions with other nearby hotels, in the event that we need additional rooms. If you know youre going to be attending the Conference in Orlando, Id encourage you to book your room now. Information is available on the SIOP Web site at http://www.siop.org/Conferences/03Con/orlandohotel.aspx. If youre not sure whether youre attending, there should be no problem waiting until January or February to book your room at a Conference hotel.

Feedback?

If you have questions, concerns, or other feedback concerning the Conference, please send me a note at jmchenry@microsoft.com or send suggestions to any member of the Conference Planning Committee. Were looking to make the 2003 Conference in Orlando our best Conference ever. Let us know what we can do!

 

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