Choosing the Annual Conference Venue – More than Just Palm Trees and Place Settings

Eric Lanke NFPA CEO
By Eric Lanke

Hopefully all NFPA members saw the announcement that our 2017 Annual Conference will be held February 8-10 at the Ritz Carlton Kapalua in Maui, Hawaii. One common question members ask me is how we go about picking venues for our conference, so I thought the following post, penned while I was on the site visit for what became the Hawaii conference, would be worth sharing.

Of course, we go to Hawaii fairly regularly. We usually go in IFPE years because the March trade show makes us push the Annual Conference back into February, and if we want warm weather (which we do) then Hawaii is the only U.S. state that can practically guarantee it in February.

But when it comes to picking a specific resort, I’m always looking for ones with sales managers who are inquisitive about our association and the people who comprise it. When they ask, I find myself summarizing the demographics and preferences of our attendees in some pretty broad brush strokes, but they really do drive the kind of venue we pick and the kind of conferences we run.

small group table discussionFor example, supply chain networking is key. We want people interacting with each other. There are so many opportunities for partnership and success among NFPA members, be they manufacturers, distributors, or suppliers, that a big reason people are attending is to bump into people they know or would like to know. We therefore want to create activities that draw people together.

And that’s simply easier to do at resorts that are right-sized for our group. Big, sprawling resorts, where NFPA is one of many groups in-house make for conferences where our members can feel lost in a sea of strangers. At the bar, at the pool, around the firepit—we want you sitting next to that old friend or that future business partner, not some ophthalmologist from Tacoma.

Another big change we’re dealing with in venue selection is the generational shift. In industry leadership positions, Generation X is taking over from the Baby Boomers. I often tell the story of how, eight years ago, when I started with NFPA, the Board was largely composed of folks nearing the end of their careers. Indeed, the first several Board chairs I worked with all retired shortly after their terms as chair.

Today the complexion of our leadership is quite different. Look at the ages of the folks on the Board and you’ll see leaders that will be in the industry for years to come. Unlike the older generation, they have spouses who work, kids in high school and college, and they have different expectations for the kind of experience they get at the NFPA conference.

Excellent service is always expected, but now so is outdoor fun, adventure and a chance to do things with kids and with a spouse. This makes adventure destinations even more key—with Hawaii fitting the bill to a tee.

There’s lots more I could say—there are about 60 variables I pay attention to when considering a place to take the conference to—but you get the idea.

What do you think? The more I hear from you about what you’re looking for, the better I’ll get at picking venues, and the more successful our conferences will be—for you and for NFPA.

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