Interview by Susan C. Kahler
Q: Excitement is building for the AVMA's first convention in Hawaii, July 15-19, 2006 in Honolulu. When will you announce the opening of housing and convention registration?
David Little, AVMA convention manager and director of the AVMA Convention and Meeting Planning
A: We're planning to open registration and housing November 1st on the AVMA Annual Convention Web site, www.avmaconvention.org. The Hilton Hawaiian Village—one of Waikiki's premier beachfront resorts—will be the AVMA headquarters hotel. Seven hotels will be in our housing block. The Hawaii Convention Center is within walking distance of many of them. We will have shuttle service, however, from all the hotels except the Ala Moana Hotel, which is across the street from the convention center.
Also, we're putting together three postconvention continuing education packages to Kauai, Maui, and the island of Hawaii. Two CE courses of broad interest such as practice management and surgery will be given one day, followed by two free days to explore the island. Each of the three packages has room for up to 90 participants, plus their families or guests. We expect these packages to sell out fast.
Q: Does it matter whether attendees book their housing, airfare, and rental cars through the AVMA rather than an Internet service or travel agent?
A: Yes, it's very important for our members to go through the AVMA housing bureau to reserve their rooms, and through Travel Matters, the AVMA's travel service, to book their airfare and rental cars. They will be saving the Association money in the long run and helping to ensure the financial success of the AVMA convention.
Here is the reason. We typically contract with 10 to 15 hotels in a convention city and block a certain number of rooms at each hotel, usually for around eight to 10 days. In return, the hotel gives us a discounted group rate on the condition that we fill 80 to 85 percent of those rooms. If we don't, the Association is liable for the difference. If, for example, we reserve one hundred rooms and fill only 70, we would have to pay the hotel for the unfilled 10 or 15 rooms. In a lot of cities, such as Minneapolis, our room block represents the entire inventory of downtown hotel rooms, so this becomes less of an issue. But Honolulu is a big resort destination and has a lot of rooms in its total inventory. So in Minneapolis, we weren't in as much exposure of not filling those blocks of rooms as we are in Honolulu.
If a substantial percentage of our members go outside the hotel block and book rooms on the Internet or through another source, the AVMA could owe what is called "attrition penalties" to the hotels for those unfilled rooms below the guarantee. Eventually, if the AVMA has to pay enough penalties, the expense can come back to attendees in a couple possible ways to increase the costs to AVMA members—such as higher registration fees or fewer services offered.
On the other hand, people sometimes book hotel rooms in the AVMA housing block, especially at the headquarters hotel, to ensure that they have a room, but haven't really decided whether they are going to attend the convention. If the hotel fills up, that prevents a registered attendee from reserving a room there. Another issue is that some members of the veterinary groups that meet in conjunction with the AVMA do not register for our convention. While we certainly welcome and encourage their participation, we want to ensure that the attendees who have registered for the AVMA Annual Convention have first right to our hotel rooms. One way we combat these things is by requiring that in order to get a room in any of our blocked hotels, you have to be registered for the AVMA meeting.
Q: What is the AVMA doing to arrange the best possible hotel, airfare, and car rental rates for its convention attendees?
A: We have negotiated some very good hotel rates for Honolulu. Yes, flying to Honolulu is going to be a little more expensive than driving to Minneapolis, but the room volume we have works to our advantage in terms of the hotel prices. In Honolulu, most hotels have three tiers to their room rates. Depending on your choice of view, the costs go up incrementally, beginning with a city or garden view, a partial ocean or partial mountain view, or an ocean view. Our highest rate is the Hilton Hawaiian Village ocean view at $270 plus tax, but we also have rates below $200 per night at other properties available to our attendees.
Travel Matters can help our attendees find the lowest prices on airfare and rental cars. The AVMA generates benefits from pushing volume through Travel Matters, which helps to defray the costs for councils and committees meeting in Schaumburg and for speaker and staff travel to the convention. In a roundabout way, this benefits the membership by keeping down costs so that we can keep our registration fees to the point where they are right now—the second lowest in the industry.