Is It the Locations? (WMaCG series)

Wesley’s first question in the “What Makes a Conference Great?” series – respond here with a comment or visit Linked in to respond.

An interesting question this one, as it posits the importance of an element that is external (literally!) to the conference itself. In the strictest sense, therefore, I would be inclined to say no. However, reality tells us that this does play a part – for those of you who want to spend a little extra time in the area pre- or post-conference, this can matter a great deal. Wollongong has an industrial heritage, and retains significant industrial capacity (and style), but also boasts some gorgeous beaches, including several top-notch surfing locations. The Novotel itself sits right behind the beach and just one block away from Stuart Park, which is a major destination for parachutists and paragliders coming off the escarpment just to the west. The city also forms part of the Illawarra region, which provides many great touring possibilities including Kiama and Shellharbour, the Grand Pacific Drive for the petrol heads among us, oh, and the Five Islands Brewery is awfully good, though I know none of our delegates are drinkers…

At a more general level, we have some criteria we use when scouting locations:

  1. Outside the city centre – we do not like to be ‘downtown’ (though sometimes it can’t be helped). It is a valuable psychological break from the office if you are far enough away to not have the temptation to pop in to deal with ‘just one little thing’. At the same time, this goes for a boss not feeling like they can call you back in either!
  2. Away from home (even for the locals) – We want people to feel like they have ‘left’ home and ‘arrived’ somewhere. It helps to reset the mind to RTC mode ;-) and it encourages them to stay and participate in the social side of the conference.
  3. Variation – I think many people like having the opportunity to experience different places, and moving the conference around provides the opportunity (read as ‘excuse’) to do this.
  4. Variation – yep, twice… Many people who have not previously attended an RTC event are likely to do so when the ‘circus comes to town’. This gives us an opportunity to demonstrate the value of attendance to people when they have the lowest possible outlay for attendance, and show them why it is worth continuing to attend even when it is not nearby.
  5. Decent accessibility – this is always a difficult juggling act… we try to ensure the venue is within an hour or so (though we do debate whether that is based on my driving, or Heidi’s) of a major transport hub. While Wollongong does fit this criteria, note that we are also, for the first time, offering transfers to and from the city and airport.

So, to me, location is less about the specifics, and more about setting up an environment that fosters an attitude and commitment to openness, sharing (and caring!), and community.

Do you agree? Disagree? Love chocolate?

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