Why is SHARE in This City?
By Marty Zimelis, SHARE Deputy Director, Conference Operations
As a member of SHARE’s leadership, I’ve been asked “Why did SHARE go to abc city?” numerous times over the years. I’ve also been asked “Why doesn’t SHARE go to xyz city?” These are good questions, and I’d like to take this opportunity to answer them.
There are a myriad of considerations that must be taken into account when choosing a venue for a SHARE event. However, they break down into five major categories:
- Is there sufficient meeting space?
- Are there hotels conveniently located near to the meeting space?
- Can SHARE and our attendees afford the venue?
- Is the location convenient to travel to?
- Are there convenient and affordable places to eat?
Let’s explore each of these considerations.
Meeting Space Requirements
SHARE requires a relatively large number of meeting rooms for its size. In addition to the large meeting rooms required for the keynote sessions and the receptions, we need at least 17 smaller rooms for breakout sessions, the hands-on lab, SHARE Live!, and vendor sessions. We also need an exhibit hall for the SHARE Technology Exchange as well as a few additional rooms for infrastructure (headquarters staff, storage and the like).
Location of Hotels
If our primary meeting space is not in a hotel (for example, in Orlando we were entirely located in the WDW Dolphin Resort; in San Antonio, our meeting space is in the Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center), the primary hotel must be conveniently located near the meeting space — adjacent, or even attached, is best. Many hotels are not large enough to accommodate our entire attendee base (conference attendees, SHARE staff and exhibitors), so we may also require one or more secondary hotels. These should be within a block or two of the main meeting space. We recently evaluated one city, which had a convention center located on one side of a river and the nearest hotels located on the other side of the river and at least a quarter mile away. This would require our attendees to spend too much time commuting between the hotel and the meeting space.
Furthermore, there are venues not interested in hosting a SHARE event because we don’t fill enough sleeping rooms to offset the number of meeting rooms we require.
There are two primary issues here: First, we need to find hotels that are sufficient quality that our attendees are happy to stay at and whose room rates are in the range that the attendees (and their employers) are willing to pay. Second, we need a meeting venue whose charges are in a range that SHARE is willing and able to pay for meeting space and for food and beverage. These are two separate charges. “Food and beverage” includes everything we spend for receptions and breaks, plus a few other smaller expenses. During one of our searches, we found a hotel that had meeting space that met our requirements but demanded a minimum spend of $275,000 for food and beverage. At the time, that was roughly three times what we were willing to guarantee. On another search, we found an 1,100-room hotel in a downtown location with its own meeting space. Unfortunately, they were asking $289 per night for sleeping rooms.
One question we often get as we near the date of an event is “Why is the SHARE hotel rate $X dollars? I can book a room at the same hotel online for less.” This is a tough one. We book SHARE conferences two to three years in advance in order to reserve the number of meeting and sleeping rooms we need on the dates we desire. Sometimes, as the dates of our event approach, a hotel finds that it has more rooms available than it anticipated and it tries to fill those rooms by temporarily dropping the rate it charges. Once we have a contract with a hotel, we’re obligated to offer the rooms at the contracted rate or be in breach of our contract.
This consideration is also called “air lift.” How convenient (or inconvenient) is the city to travel to? A city may have everything else going for it, but if it takes two or three flights for most attendees to get to it or it’s a two hour bus or van ride from the nearest major airport, we’re probably not going to schedule an event at that location.
Restaurants and Attractions
A consideration that is sometimes overlooked when identifying a suitable location for a SHARE event is the availability of affordable places to eat. We look for dining places that are convenient (within a 15-minute walk), interesting (not just chain restaurants or fast food outlets) and at a variety of price points. (Not everyone can afford to indulge in a fancy steak house dinner every night.) This generally means looking for a downtown location rather than an isolated resort.
The requirements for breakfast and lunch places are typically tighter than those for dinner venues. They must be closer to the meeting space and the diner must be able to get in and out more quickly. Having a variety of cuisines is less of a priority.
Finally, while not listed in the five categories outlined above, it is important to know that we listen to the feedback provided by our attendees. We pay attention to what they like and don’t like about each of our venues, and we take that information under consideration when making decisions about future site searches.
There are a lot more moving parts than what I’ve covered here, but I hope I’ve given you a taste of what goes into the decision-making process for choosing a venue for a SHARE event.
Marty Zimelis has been a SHARE volunteer since 1992 and a member of the Board of Directors since 2007. He has developed a reputation as a foodie and has provided online restaurant maps for most of the recent SHARE events.