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ASAP Annual National Training Conference March 6-9, 2011 Harrah’s Hotel – Las Vegas, Nevada Why Choose a Location like “Sin City?” It sure does sound like a Boondoggle! – By Claire Shanley, Executive Director Well, as Executive Director of ASAP for over 20 years, I can avow that when it comes to ASAP training conferences, nothing could be further from the truth. There was a point in time when the ASAP Board of Directors felt that any gaming city would be perceived as a boondoggle. For the first 11 years of the National Training Conference (NTC), formerly titled Western Regional Training Conference (WRTC), we avoided Las Vegas and Reno for this exact reason. However, it did not go unnoticed that many federal, state and local government agencies were meeting in Las Vegas simply because it was cost- effective. The Board kept an open mind and continued to monitor the benefits of meeting in Las Vegas: there are very reasonable flights, per diem expenses are typically lower than other meeting locales, and there is an abundance of affordable sleeping and dining options available. ASAP training conferences require a tremendous amount of support services. Federal per diem rooms for 400-500+ attendees, multiple (simultaneous) meeting rooms, a business center, IT support, full meal services, and other requirements frequently eliminate smaller facilities from consideration. When many other cities cannot offer affordable venues, Las Vegas hotels have been willing to meet our needs. In 2002 the ASAP Board decided to hold the NTC (formerly the Western Regional Training Conference, WRTC) in Las Vegas at the Stardust Hotel. That year broke the record for paid registration attendance at 346. Not only was the training well-attended, each of the sessions was at capacity, including early morning sessions as well as late afternoon sessions. The ASAP attendees proved to be very dedicated to their education and appreciative of the opportunity to meet and learn with their peers. This has been the standard for ASAP meetings whether they are in Washington, D.C., Cleveland, Ohio or Las Vegas, Nevada. Based on the success of the 2002 program, ASAP returned to Las Vegas at Harrah’s Hotel in 2005. Although we did not exceed our 2002 numbers, this training conference held the record for our second highest paid attendance at 341 attendees. At the conclusion of the 2005 program, Harrah’s was willing to commit to hosting ASAP in 2006 or 2007. This is highly unusual for a hotel to commit to this type of business requiring a federal government per diem rate that far out. The benefits to ASAP for being able to secure a hotel more than one year out are well worth considering – and as a result, the Board voted to come back in 2007. We are proud to say that the 2007 training conference smashed our previous attendance record with 437 attendees. Once again, Harrah’s was willing to extend a contract to ASAP for 2009. For the same good reasons, ASAP went back to Harrah’s and the proof is in the numbers. The 2009 ASAP NTC set a new attendance record of 610 attendees! It’s hard to argue with success and as history repeats itself, ASAP and Harrah’s contracted for 2011. The NTC offers over 40 educational sessions over three FULL days. Each day has four or five tracks of concurrent sessions. It is a lot of information for the attendees to absorb, and at the end of the day, they are more than ready for a deserved break. As mentioned, the educational sessions are very well-attended throughout the entire event. Attendees can receive presentation materials for ALL of the sessions – even if they did not attend that particular session. It is ASAP’s practice to disseminate as much information as possible to all participants. We expect the attendees to use these materials as a reference tool when they return to their offices. Simply put, to think of the ASAP training conference as a boondoggle, wherever it is held, is a misconception. For all of the hurdles involved with planning ASAP training events (see below), the entire ASAP staff is sure of one thing. It is a pleasure and an honor to work with so many dedicated access professionals. We admire your commitment to education and professionalism and enjoy working with each and every one of you! The Facts Behind ASAP Meeting Site Selection ASAP is a non-profit, professional, membership Society. It is not a government agency. Therefore, ASAP does not qualify for discounted rates that are sometimes afforded to government entities. Many years ago, the FOI and Privacy Act Officers made it very clear that training programs needed to go beyond the Washington, D.C. beltway. There were many access professionals outside of the D.C. metropolitan area who needed training but per diem travel costs for the Washington, D.C. area were prohibitive. Hence, the Western Regional Training Conference (WRTC) was born in 1991. In recent years, attendee demographics showed that many attendees are also coming from the East. Airline deals along with attractive per diems in other cities made it feasible to widen the rotation for the WRTC. As a result, the training conference was rebranded as the National Training Conference and held in Orlando, Florida in 2008. The conference had 427 attendees, which ranked it as one of the top attended ASAP training programs. Due to the expansive meeting requirements for the NTC, ASAP is usually very limited in its site choices. 1) ASAP requires hotels to honor the federal government per diem rate for our registrants (or less, if possible). Many hotels will not even bid on ASAP conferences because they do not want to give up so many sleeping rooms at the government rate. Quite frankly, they can afford to wait for a “better piece of business.” Some hotels make counter offers that would require ASAP to meet on the weekend or over major holidays. 2) Most hotels will not consider committing to a government per diem more than one year out. This is fairly standard practice. In fact, many will not consider it more than 3-6 months out. This is why you rarely see the training dates and sites announced early. We know it is frustrating for agencies trying to budget and plan training, but the circumstances are dictated by the market and are beyond our control. 3) The NTC requires a lot of meeting space which means that ASAP needs hotels that are geared to “large group meeting” business. Typically, these hotels service a different clientele and usually have a choice of more profitable business. 4) All hotels require ASAP to guarantee a certain number of sleeping rooms. If ASAP fails to meet this number, then financial penalties are invoked. Many times meeting room rental costs are waived based on the number of sleeping rooms used. If ASAP fails to meet that number, then in addition to attrition penalties, meeting room costs can be assessed. 5) ASAP tries to meet in cities that are airline hubs or offer convenient connections. 6) Virtually all hotels require ASAP to meet a minimum of food and beverage (F&B) revenue. For the NTC and depending upon the city, this amount is usually somewhere between $45,000 and $90,000. Since the hotels have to provide the federal government per diem sleeping room rate, they offset this loss in revenue by the food and beverage amounts. This is why ASAP provides lunches and coffee breaks at its conferences. Without a guarantee for food and beverage revenue, hotels simply will not bid on ASAP business. 7) ASAP has looked at various convention and conference centers. In most cases, the convention centers have even more restrictive policies, including the right to bump contracted business for a more profitable piece of business. This uncertainty is simply something that ASAP cannot live with. Further, the costs at many of these centers can be prohibitive for ASAP. Without any sleeping room revenue, the centers tend to have very high food, audio visual and meeting room costs. There are also logistical issues in negotiating and coordinating with all of the center providers (separate caterer, separate A/V company, etc.) as opposed to a hotel “one-stop-shopping” environment. Many times our members offer suggestions about available/affordable hotels and cities. In every case we have found that the hotels are too small or will not offer the government per diem to ASAP during our conference time. Admittedly, it is true that we could find a good deal in the Southwest during August, but we suspect that the attendance would not even cover our meeting costs! Thank you for taking the time to read through this information. We look forward to seeing you at our next ASAP NTC!
"Why Las Vegas"