As assistant secretary, secretary, then program chair for the NFA, I’ve seen multiple sides of the convention site selection process. People often have questions about how the convention cities and hotels are chosen, so whether you are curious or have a specific question, I hope this post will provide some answers.
How are convention sites chosen?
Convention locations rotate annually, with a certain region selected for each year. Three to five years before a convention, the NFA’s convention director does an analysis of city and hotel options within the region selected for that year’s convention. The NFA’s biggest challenge is finding a hotel/convention site that is big enough to accommodate approximately 2,500 flutists and has enough spaces for sessions and performances. Potential locations are vetted for factors including availability of space on our preferred dates, ease of access via car or air travel, the hotel room price that attendees will pay, availability of food and drink nearby, location safety, accessibility for attendees with disabilities, and exhibit hall configuration. Potential sites are then presented to the board of directors for final approval. All this is done well in advance; for example, for the 2022 Convention in Chicago, the hotel contract was signed in 2017.
What happens if the NFA cancels the convention hotel contract?
Once a contract is signed, the NFA is liable for a cancellation fee based on the details of the contract. The cancelation of the 2020 and 2021 live conventions resulted in two fees of about $500,000 each. (The fees were ultimately dropped following extensive work by the NFA's lawyer.) For 2022 in Chicago, the cancellation liability is $477,790 until December 1, 2021; after that, the liability rises to $597,054.
Why is it important to stay in the convention hotel?
When entering into a contract with a hotel, the NFA commits to a certain number of nightly room reservations for the duration of the convention. The more nights the organization commits to, the more performance and event spaces are included in the contract, and the lower the hotel price is for members. The combined number of guest rooms is known as the room block. When this room block is not met—not enough room reservations are made—the organization must pay tens of thousands of dollars in fines. (In 2019 in Salt Lake City, the room block was not met, and the NFA paid $80,000.) With the rise of Airbnb and alternative lodging options, attendees are more likely to stay elsewhere, but cutting the room block commitment would mean losing performance and presentation spaces or a higher price for those who do choose to stay in the convention hotel, so this negotiation is complicated.
Those who choose to stay at the convention hotel experience other perks. Networking happens naturally, the shorter distance from the hotel to the convention space improves accessibility, and attendees can store their belongings in their own rooms and rest when it’s time for a convention break. Safety and security of attendees is also improved.
What determines the prices of rooms reserved through the NFA room block?
The nightly hotel room price is negotiated in the contract mentioned above three to five years before the convention. The NFA has a policy of not choosing cities where rooms would cost more than $200 a night, which keeps prices more reasonable for people who choose to share. Additionally, every effort is made to stay below this maximum price. (The hotel for 2022’s Chicago convention has the advantage of having 400 rooms with two beds and two bathrooms for ease of sharing!) This means some cities are eliminated, because it’s not always possible to get the kind of space we need within the price range the organization and its members can afford.
What happens if the room block sells out?
If the room block sells out early enough in the year, the NFA can sometimes add rooms to the block at the lower attendee price. This does mean, however, that if people cancel their reservations at the last minute, the NFA can incur large financial penalties.
Does the program chair have anything to do with the hotels?
The convention program chair for each year has many responsibilities, but negotiating the hotel contract is not one of them. Anything to do with logistical arrangements and contracts is led by the NFA’s staff and finalized by the executive director and/or the board of directors as required for each situation.
Have other questions? We’d be happy to try and answer them. Though there are positives and negatives associated with every convention site and hotel, we do take all the survey information into account each year and work that data into planning for the future.
The next blog post in this series, a dive into the function of the NFA’s endowment, will be published this Thursday, September 23.