Every year, at least one person writes on the conference evaluation that we should move the conference to a new location. This year, one attendee wrote “MUST CHANGE LOCATIONS! There are so many other possibilities.”
So why don’t we do it? Personally, there are still about a dozen states I haven’t visited, and I’d love to use the trip to Southwest Fox to work on that list.
But there are a number of good business reasons why we stay put.
First and perhaps most important is that moving would be very expensive for us, both in time and money. In order to move the conference, first, we’d have to decide where to go, or make a short list of possible locations. Then, we’d have to identify hotels in those locations that have the appropriate facilities for us.
Then, one or more of us would have to visit whatever city (or cities) we were considering, and inspect the possible sites. Assuming we found what we needed, we’d then have to negotiate a deal that keeps the conference affordable.
In fact, finding appropriate facilities isn’t that simple. One of the great things about our current location is that we are a “big fish” there. We’re one of the largest conferences they hold every year, and the last two years, we’ve pretty much filled the hotel. Being able to do that makes us really valued customers, and gets us some very nice price breaks. (As we’ve written in the past, food is the single largest expense for any conference.)
Finding a hotel small enough that our group would be VIPs, but with a large enough conference facility to host our group is a non-trivial task. We know that because we’ve done it twice before.
When we first took over Southwest Fox, Rick spent about 80 hours identifying and visiting hotels. Then, when our original location went under in 2010 and we needed a new location fast, he spent about 60 more. In addition, Rick spent a week in Texas a few years ago, looking at options.
Once we chose a new facility and negotiated a contract, we’d still have to put in more hours to ensure that the facility understood our needs. That leads to the second big reason for not moving.
We’ve developed a strong relationship with the DoubleTree/Elegante personnel and we’ve worked with them to make things better each year. Both little things and big things.
The first year we were there, I was very unhappy because all the carafes used to provide hot water for tea had previously been used to serve coffee. As any tea drinker knows, that’s no way to make a cup of tea; the coffee flavor seeps into the carafe and the hot water pulls that flavor out. The water is brownish and tastes like coffee. At our closing meeting with the hotel (yes, we sit down with hotel representatives before the conference to preview what will happen and make sure they have it all right, and afterward, to review and discuss any issues), we reported the problem, and they promised to fix it. Sure enough, they bought a set of carafes in a different color that are used only for hot water.
They’ve worked with us on bigger problems, too. One of them is WiFi. Not surprisingly, our group taxes the hotel’s and conference center’s WiFi like pretty much no other group. We’ve worked with them each year to resolve the problem, but it kept getting harder, as more and more of us came with multiple devices that wanted WiFi. Finally, this year, they replaced the entire WiFi set-up for both buildings with a new one, with much greater capacity. For the first time since we’ve been running Southwest Fox, there were no complaints about WiFi capacity.
No question that this year’s biggest issue was the temperature in the meeting rooms. It swung wildly between way too cold and unpleasantly warm. Many people commented on it, both at the event and on their evaluations. We were glad to hear at our closing meeting that this is a planned focus for the coming year. The system will be reviewed and changes made as needed.
If we move, we start all over, dealing with issues like these. And if we move every year, as some would like, we have no leverage to solve this kind of problem. While moving would solve whatever problems one facility has, we’d have no way of knowing what problems the next facility would have.
There are other, less significant, reasons we don’t move. If we move out of the southwestern US, we have two issues. First, we’d have to re-brand the conferences. It’s hard to call a conference “Southwest” anything if you hold it in Boston or Atlanta.
On a related note, weather in other parts of the US is somewhat unpredictable in October. The Northeast and Midwest can be rainy and cold, while the Southeast is still in hurricane season. Frankly, the three of us all live in places where winter is dark and cold and we enjoy the chance to visit the desert before that kicks in.
The ease of getting to Phoenix is also a consideration. For almost everyone, it’s no more than two flights, and prices tend to be reasonable.
The bottom line is that we already put hundreds of non-billable hours into Southwest Fox and Southwest Xbase++, and there would have to be a real benefit to moving, for us to invest the additional time and money it would cost. We know that disappoints some of you, but we hope it won’t keep you from joining us next year.