Greetings to all of my Fellows,
Anita and I thank those of you who attended the summer meeting in Quebec. We had a record attendance for a summer meeting of the College. Quebec was a wonderful venue not only to conduct our professional meetings, but also to enjoy the history, culture, and ambience of the city that once was the capital of the greater part of what is now the United States. Anita and I were particularly pleased with the large number of spouses, children, and guests who attended. The College’s national meeting schedule does not always accommodate participation by the families of our Fellows, but ACTEC is very much a family, and we want to include our own family members whenever it is feasible.
Why did we choose Quebec? How did we make the meeting arrangements? You might find it interesting what leads up to a national meeting, and what happens behind the scenes.
When I was nominated to be the next secretary of the College in October 2010, I immediately began to get questions about where “my meetings” would be held. All of us, me included, want to know where an incoming officer plans to hold her or his national meetings. And we aren’t shy in asking the nominee, either. So I traveled to the ACTEC offices in Washington in early December 2010 to meet with our Executive Director Deb McKinnon and the rest of our staff. I met with Deb and our meeting planners Dylah Wallenius and Virna Tavarez for an hour at the end of the day to start the process of planning three national meetings for the 2015-2016 year.
Deb, Dylah, and Virna wanted to know what cities were of interest to Anita and me. I told them that we wanted to have one of our meetings in Quebec. Why Quebec? We had driven there after the ACTEC 1999 summer meeting in Montreal, during Hanson Reynolds’ year as president. We were struck by the beauty and charm of the city, and the friendliness of its people. Quebec was an easy choice for Anita and me. The difficult part was for Dylah and Virna to find a way to make it work.
Deb, Dylah, Anita and I flew to Montreal on May 31, 2011. Our staff wisely advised us to consider both Montreal and Quebec to have more options. We spent the first three nights in Montreal, and the next two nights in Quebec. We looked at three hotels in Montreal, and three in Quebec. This was not a vacation. We stayed in a different hotel each night, so we couldn’t unpack. Upon arrival, we would check into our room, and then almost immediately go downstairs to meet with hotel senior management and the sales staff, followed by a meal at a local restaurant (lunch or dinner) to see local dining options. All the hotels really wanted our business, so a constant barrage of food and drink was offered us at each hotel. (The wise traveler learns how to taste and sip so as not to offend, but not to consume everything either.)
We would start each day at 8 a.m. with a breakfast meeting attended by representatives from the hotel’s meeting and catering operations. Then a hotel representative would walk us through the hotel to look at sleeping rooms of all categories, and then on to see all of the meeting space. Seeing each hotel’s meeting space in person was critically important. Would there be enough meeting rooms of the right size to accommodate our many committees? Would the space work for our sponsors – would there be a sufficient flow of traffic for them? It was especially amazing to me to watch Dylah and Virna at work in those moments. Each has an uncanny ability to walk into a meeting room of any size, and immediately “see” spatially how many people can fit in that room in various seating configurations, and visualize the flow of people from one meeting room to another over the period of several days.
After completing the inspection of one hotel in the morning, it was time to move on to the next hotel at midday, and repeat the process again, ending with yet another late night dinner with hotel sales representatives. Sandwiched in among all of this were meetings with local tourism convention representatives to get a feel for local attractions and activities. This process was completed six times in four days in two cities.
At the end of those four exhausting days, we knew what we had thought all along: Quebec was meant to be the city for our meeting, and the Chateau Frontenac was meant to be our hotel. But that was just the beginning. We then had to negotiate a contract with the hotel. How many rooms could we afford to commit under the contract? The price quoted in 2011 Canadian dollars, although locked in for 2015, seemed high at the time. (Fortunately the 20% or so decline of the Canadian dollar compared to the US dollar by 2015 worked to the advantage of our US Fellows.) Furthermore, would you, our Fellows, come to the meeting? Would you travel to a foreign country? How would you get there? Quebec is a destination, not a hub. Would the airline connections that were available in 2011 still be there in 2015? Would we have any sponsors sign up for a meeting outside the US? How would we handle the financial shortfall if we didn’t attract our usual number of sponsors?
Our contract with the Fairmont Le Chateau Frontenac was signed on September 27, 2011. After a contract has been signed with the host hotel, there are two site visits by the president and the president’s spouse, accompanied by Dylah and Virna. The first site visit is approximately one year before the meeting, when tour and dining options are identified, with the assistance of a local destination management company (DMC) representative. The hotel facilities are closely examined again to make sure everything is still in good order. The second and final site visit occurs approximately six months before the meeting. Each visit lasts for several days. Our first post-contract site visit to Quebec was in May 2014, and our final visit was in March of this year (when the temperature was between zero and ten degrees for most of the three days we were there). At that time we met with the hotel chef and catering staff, and made the final selections for the food and beverages to be served at the cocktail receptions, dinners, and committee lunches. We met with the DMC representative again to finalize the tours to be offered.
After all of this work has been done, our staff members work with the president and the president’s spouse to finalize the meeting brochure and to get the meeting registration process underway. There is also the complex process of setting the schedule for committee meetings. This involves a matrix of variables such as the size of committees, whether a committee is administrative or substantive (priority is given to administrative committees governing things such as finance), the number and size of meeting rooms at the hotel (obviously this varies from meeting to meeting), and the scheduling conflicts that arise from overlapping committee memberships. Our meeting in Quebec ended at midday on Sunday, meaning that some committees had to meet on Sunday morning. The “batting order” is revised from meeting to meeting so that the same committees do not always meet first or last at each national meeting.
It’s a long process from start to finish. To you the process hopefully is seamless – but a lot of work and many hours spent by the ACTEC staff, the president, and the president’s spouse have led the way.
In addition to our extremely capable ACTEC staff, I want to thank the College’s Site Selection Committee for its guidance and advice all along the way. The committee consists of former presidents of the College (who have gone through this process) and two at-large members. The committee meets with the officers of the College at each national meeting to monitor the status of all the future meetings that are in the pipeline.
Finally, I want to thank our sponsors. Without them, we would not be able to have our meetings in such splendid cities and hotels at the lower level of registration charges all of us Fellows (including your president) pay. Our meetings are not inexpensive (that will be the topic of another newsletter from me), but they are most certainly a great value for the price we do pay – and that is because of our sponsors. While our sponsors are officially designated for specific events and functions, please know that our sponsors do not get involved in any way in planning those events and functions. They have no contact with the hotel or catering staff. They do not select the venue or format of the event (for example, a seated versus strolling dinner), nor do they select the food or the beverages that are served. In the end that responsibility rests solely with your president. So thank our wonderful sponsors and give them credit for making it possible for us to enjoy ourselves while we conduct the work of the College.
If you have any suggestions on how things can be done better at our upcoming meetings in Monterey and Las Vegas, I am the person responsible for that.
As I said in my first president’s message, if something isn’t right, or if it can be done better, please tell me. If there is anything that I personally can do to help you in the College, call me or write me. My contact information is in the roster.
Thanks to each of you for what you do for the College.