As I mentioned in another article, the Australasian Federation of Family History Organisations (AFFHO) "Congress" is now finished. I was fortunate enough to be able to attend this five-day event in Auckland, New Zealand, and must say that I learned a lot. In fact, I think there were a few lessons here for all genealogy conference organizers.
I have written before about the skyrocketing of attending genealogy conferences. It seems every year in the United States we hold national conferences in expensive convention centers with attendees staying at nearby hotels that charge exorbitant prices for rooms and meals and then pile on even more fees for parking, Internet access, and whatever else "the traffic will bear." The organizers in Auckland took a different approach, one that I think we all can learn from.
First of all, the Auckland event was not cheap. Indeed, registration was $395 New Zealand dollars (about $200 in U.S. dollars) for those who registered in advance. I believe that nearly everyone registered in advance; very few registered for the higher price at the door. For that price, the attendees received four days of presentations. The welcoming ceremony with cocktail party and the banquet dinner on the last evening were both extra-cost. The conference price is roughly the same or slightly higher than the admittance fees at major U.S. four-day conferences.
What fascinated me was the venue, the accommodations, and the various miscellaneous fees. The Congress was held at King's College, a boarding school for 13-to-18-year-old boys. This location proved to be an excellent facility for a genealogy conference. The lecture halls all had overhead projectors bolted to the ceilings, excellent projection screens at exactly the proper distance from the projectors, high-speed wired Internet access, and more. Several of the lecture halls were built as "lecture theaters" with sloping floors and theater-style seating for attendees/students. All of the lecture halls had excellent acoustics, and many had comfortable seats, not the hard seats I have sat on so many times in poorly ventilated convention centers. These lecture halls were perfect for the presentations.
However, I was even more impressed by the accommodations. Attendees had the option of staying in the college dormitories at very modest fees (typically less than $140 New Zealand dollars per night, about $75 U.S. dollars per night). That price included four breakfasts, four lunches and two dinners in the dining hall. The food was rather good. In addition, each dormitory had a "group kitchenette" with refrigerators, suitable for snacks and light lunches.
Parking was free, high-speed wireless or "wi-fi" Internet access was free in the dormitories, and there were no significant other expenses.
I was pleased with the accommodations at King's College. The excellent classroom facilities along with modest prices for food, lodging, parking, and Internet access provided a "cost-effective" conference for all attendees.
Indeed, this is not the first time that I have seen a college campus used for a genealogy conference. In May of 2008 I enjoyed a very similar arrangement at the Ontario Genealogical Society's annual conference in London, Ontario, and some years ago I stayed at a similar facility at the New Brunswick Genealogical Society's annual conference held that year in Moncton. I believe that conferences in England are sometimes held at colleges or universities as well, although I have not had an opportunity to see those for myself.
If the Canadians and the New Zealanders can hold cost-effective genealogy conferences at first-class facilities in colleges and universities, why can't Americans do the same?