By Kristine McCusker
Why does the OHA choose a specific conference site? What’s a food and beverage budget? Why can’t we hold our conference in Tennessee (or Alabama or Mississippi or Iowa)?
After each conference, we get suggestions regarding where to hold our next conference, and I thought it might be useful for the Executive Office to describe how we go about choosing our conference sites.
First, we work with a meetings procurement organization called Helms Briscoe. Our representative, Katherine, knows our organization well and works hard to find us places that we can both afford and that we might enjoy visiting.
Second, we look for hotel/conference spaces that have food and beverage (F/B) budgets within our budget. The Council recently approved an increase in the amount we are required to spend on food and beverage from $20,000 to $30,000. To give you some comparison, the Organization of American Historians’ F/B budget is anywhere from $65,000 to $85,000 for a Tier 1 city like San Francisco, Seattle, Philadelphia or New York City.
Third, this minimum F/B then waives any room fees the hotel might charge for the various social spaces and breakout rooms for presentations. We are also required to sell a certain number of hotel rooms, and so we appreciate it when members stay at the conference hotel whenever possible.
Third, we look for spaces that are interesting and are walkable. Our membership likes to walk, so we look for cities that are fun to walk around and have lots of local restaurants.
Fourth, we cannot hold conferences in 11 states that have passed absurd bathroom bills or similar anti-LGBTQ laws. Beyond being an offense to our members and potentially dangerous to LGBTQ scholars (the most important consideration here), several states, including California, will not reimburse state employees who travel to conferences in these states. Together, the states with such travel bans constitute more than 20% of our membership. The banned states include the ones mentioned above as well as South Dakota, South Carolina, North Carolina, West Virginia, Texas and Kansas.
Have other questions about conference site selection? Have ideas for us to consider when searching sites? Feel free to contact me at Kristine.Mccusker@mtsu.edu or my co-Executive Director, Louis Kyriakoudes at Louis.Kyriakoudes@mtsu.edu. We’d love to hear from you.