How Annual Meetings Work
Each Annual Meeting represents the collaborative efforts of a number of people across several years. After consulting with the Board of Trustees about meeting locations, the SAA’s Executive Director contracts with a host hotel. In each area there is a Local Arrangements Committee that raises funds to underwrite the year’s Opening Reception, arranges special events, and advises on other conference activities. The year’s panel sessions, seminars, and workshops are developed by a Program Committee, whose work is reviewed by the Board of Trustees. SAA officers always welcome suggestions from the membership about meeting places and plans.
The SAA’s current registration fees are $150 for faculty members and postdoctoral scholars and $90 for dissertation candidates.
These fees cover real costs. For each $150 fee, we expend about $60 for the Annual Reception, $60 for the Annual Luncheon, $20 for coffee breaks, $20 for audio-visual equipment and internet access in panel sessions, and $20 for special events, miscellaneous administrative expenses, and subsidized fees for graduate students and travel grant winners.
The shortfall in fee coverage is borne by the colleges and universities that generously host each year’s meeting. In particular, theses schools underwrite the Annual Reception. Advertisements in the conference program pay for the program’s printing. Our principal funding challenge at this point is technological. All conferences are faced with rising expenses as computers, data projectors, and internet access become more necessary for conference work.
The most important criterion for the SAA conference is a hotel with the right combination of meeting spaces: a ballroom large enough for our plenary session and banquet luncheon, but also a number of smaller rooms for seminars and workshops. As the SAA has grown larger, so, too, has the number of its seminars. In 2008, the SAA recommitted itself to enrollment caps of no more than sixteen members per seminar. The result has been a steadily enlarging program: from 40 seminars and workshops for 2008 to 63 for 2016. Each seminar requires a meeting room, and more seminars mean more meeting rooms. The Fairmont Dallas Hotel, which was large enough for us in 2008, is not large enough for us in 2016.
In any town with more than one option for suitable meeting spaces—and often when choosing between towns, too—room rate is the deciding factor. The SAA works hard to maintain its history of affordable lodgings. Two out of three years we meet on Easter weekend. Because this is reliably a slow weekend in the travel and convention industry, hotels in top-tier cities are able to offer us rates that are $90 and $100 less per guest room per night than if we met on another weekend. Easter-weekend meetings are always our largest, meaning that the membership votes with its feet by attending these conferences in great number.
Our three-year rotation recognizes those with religious and family conflicts on Easter and, because the holidays often overlap, Passover. Every third year we have the difficult challenge of matching our Easter rates on a non-Easter weekend. Second- and even third-tier cities can be reluctant to meet our rate demands.
Our rate history is our best negotiating tool with conference hotels. Room rates are an especially urgent concern at present, as universities reduce travel support. The SAA maintained a flat rate for six years:
$130 for Washington, D.C. in 2009
$129 for Chicago in 2010
$130 for Bellevue in 2011
$129 for Boston in 2012
$130 for Toronto in 2013
$130 for St. Louis in 2014
$135 for Vancouver in 2015
$139 for New Orleans in 2016
$140 for Atlanta in 2017
With the recovery of the travel industry, hotels are making up for lost time and rates are rising accordingly.
From 2011 forward, the SAA has also negotiated for its conference hotels to provide in-room wired and wireless internet access at no additional charge.
For more on the site selection process, see the executive director’s report from November 2014.