The ICAS Convention: A Look Behind the Curtain

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Every year, during and after our convention, ICAS surveys extensively to solicit feedback from delegates on what they liked, what they didn’t like, and what improvements can be made to the event to make it better, more productive and more enjoyable.

ICAS leadership and staff review the information generated by the survey very closely. In most cases, the changes that delegates see from year to year are a direct reflection of comments generated by the previous convention. And at least half of the new education session topics each year are the result of suggestions made by past convention delegates.

But, because the respondents’ comments are anonymous and we don’t have an opportunity to answer their questions, I thought it might be useful to respond here to some of the most common questions and concerns.

Why is the ICAS Convention so expensive?

We recognize that the total cost of attending the ICAS Convention (airfare, registration fee, hotel costs, booth fees, etc.) can be very expensive. And that is factored into every money-related decision we make. For instance, we hold the convention in a hotel rather than a convention center because it is much less expensive…both for ICAS and the individual delegates. We settled on Las Vegas as the semi-permanent home of the ICAS Convention because we researched airline prices and we know that it is one of the easiest and least expensive cities to travel to. We work very hard to attract convention sponsors as a way of deferring a portion – a growing portion, incidentally – of the expenses related to the convention. We have negotiated multi-year contracts with our host hotels to get prices and concessions that reduce the overall cost of the convention and, therefore, keep us from having to raise registration rates. Like many air shows, we also offer significant discounts for people who commit early to attending the event. In 2017, an ICAS member could save as much as $115 by registering for the convention early.

And many ICAS members who do not attend other meetings and conventions are likely not aware that our convention is in line with or less expensive than similar conventions. The International Festivals and Events Association holds their annual convention in September or October each year. It is similar in size to ICAS and caters to the individuals and organizations that put on music festivals, community fairs, parades and similar large-scale events, as well as the insurance, concessions, audio-visual, and other support organizations involved in the events industry. The International Association of Fairs and Expositions holds its annual convention in late November or early December and principally serves the organizers of county and state fairs and 4-H-type expositions. ICAS Convention fees are comparable to the registration and booth fees charged by these organizations (See Chart A).

Finally, when adjusted for inflation, the cost of the ICAS Convention is actually lower than it was in 1995. Back then, the early bird registration fee was $325 per person. If that fee had simply kept up with inflation during the intervening 22 years, it would have been $530 last year; but our published early bird discounted rate for 2017 – a rate that hundreds of ICAS members took advantage of – was $475 (including the $100 gift card provided to delegates who stayed within our ICAS room block at the Paris Hotel)…$55 or 10.4% less than it would have been if the 1995 rate had simply kept pace with inflation.

Why is the ICAS Convention always held in Las Vegas?

In its earliest days, when attendance was 200-400, the convention was held in different cities throughout North America: New Orleans in 1981, Orlando in 1982, El Paso in 1983, Monterey in 1984, and Ft. Worth in 1985, as examples.

Beginning in 1986, as the convention became larger and our space requirements increased, Las Vegas became the semi-permanent home of the convention for more than a decade. Then, in 1999, ICAS experimented with holding the convention outside of Las Vegas in alternate years: Nashville in 1999, followed by Orlando in 2001, Dallas in 2003, and Orlando again in 2005. These non-Vegas locations proved to be very unpopular with the majority of delegates. Attendance and revenue dropped. Members expressed their strong preference to return the convention to Las Vegas and leave it there. At the same time, hoteliers in Vegas began making multi-year convention proposals that were considerably better than those offered to ICAS in the past and those offered by other cities.

Today, the Rio and Paris Hotels offer a combination of meeting space, sleeping room rates and miscellaneous financial and logistical concessions that are simply not available anywhere else in North America. Moreover, although some have expressed an interest in moving the convention to other cities periodically (including board members and staff), the vast majority of members have made it clear that they prefer Las Vegas.

Why is the ICAS Convention always held at the same time in December?

With the bulk of the shows beginning in mid-March and running through early November, there is a very small window of time for ICAS to conduct its annual convention. We could not and would not schedule the convention until the North American air show season has concluded on the second weekend in November. Nor would we schedule the convention at a time when it would conflict with Thanksgiving Day in the U.S. or the Christmas/New Year’s holidays at the end of December. Some have suggested that we hold the convention in mid-January, but that would further reduce an already quick turnaround for the earliest shows of the new year in February, March and April. We hold the convention in the first week of December or very early in the second week of December because – when the overall needs of the entire air show community are considered – it is the time of year that is most convenient and helpful for the largest percentage of prospective participants.

Why can’t I get into the hall during non-exhibit hours?

Past thefts. Not because we think you, personally, will take things that don’t belong to you, but because allowing one exhibitor in requires a policy that allows any exhibitor in and that creates security problems that we cannot permit.

At multiple past ICAS conventions, expensive and, in some cases, irreplaceable items were stolen from exhibit booths during non-exhibit hours. After conversations with hotel security personnel, other trade show organizers and our insurance company, ICAS determined many years ago that access to the exhibit hall must be limited during non-exhibit hours.

Some exhibitors have expressed the opinion that, “My booth is my office for the week that I am at the convention and I am entitled to access it whenever I need to.” Respectfully, this cannot be the case. Exhibit hall rules are very explicit on this: “Exhibitors may be admitted to the show floor during non-exhibit hours at the discretion of security personnel contracted by ICAS. Exhibitors will be permitted in the exhibit hall 30 minutes prior to each exhibit session.” From time to time, if an exhibitor has left an item in his/her booth and must go into the hall to retrieve it and immediately leave, we allow the security personnel to escort the individual to his/her booth and back out again. But unfettered access is not possible outside of exhibit hours.

“There were too many exhibit hours.” “There weren’t enough exhibit hours.”

Fine-tuning the number of exhibit hours we offer during the ICAS Convention is something that never stops. In 2017, almost exactly two-thirds (66.9%) of all delegates responding to our post-convention survey said that the convention included “the correct number of exhibit hours.” Of the remaining survey respondents, twice as many said we had too many exhibit hours as compared to those who said we did not have enough. This suggests that we need to dial back the number of exhibit hours slightly. For 2018, we will probably reduce the total exhibit time by 45 minutes or an hour, shortening the long afternoon exhibit session on the second day of the convention. And, inevitably, we will need to make additional adjustments at some point in the future. And that, in part, is why we survey member opinions so regularly.

Why does ICAS schedule interesting and important education sessions at the same time as other interesting and important education sessions?

We pack as much convention substance into the three and a half days of our convention as possible. We do everything we can to not schedule one marketing-related session at the same time as another marketing-related session. And we schedule must-attend events like the performer safety de-brief at times when there are no other performer-related sessions that might force our pilots to make difficult decisions. But some conflict is inevitable. Indeed, at some level, assuming that we make our best effort to avoid obvious conflicts, we want delegates to be presented with so many excellent educational programming choices that they have a difficult time deciding which session to attend.

More generally, we schedule different types of programming into every available minute during the convention: exhibit hall sessions, education, networking opportunities, meetings. We sometimes are criticized for creating a schedule that obligates attendees to begin at 7:30 a.m. and not finish until 6:30 or 7:00 p.m. at night. Frankly, that’s exactly the kind of criticism we want to hear and it tells us that we have built a convention schedule that represents an excellent return on your investment of time and money.

Can you please do something about the cigarette smoke in the hotel?

Unfortunately, we can’t do much. Although we would gladly move the convention to a non-smoking Las Vegas hotel, no such venue exists. And, even if one of the casino owners decides to make one of their properties non-smoking, that hotel is not likely to be able to accommodate our extensive meeting space requirements.

Nevada law prohibits smoking in the convention areas of the hotels we use and that has reduced the cigarette smoke problem as compared to several years ago. But it is unlikely that the casino areas of Vegas hotels will be designated as non-smoking areas anytime in the near future and that means the smoke issue will be with us for some time to come.

What was wrong with the Convention mobile app?

The ICAS Convention has used increasingly sophisticated smart phone mobile apps during the last five years. At our 2017 ICAS Convention, some delegates had difficulty using the app, principally as it related to logging onto the app. We are exploring other platforms this winter and will ensure that, at our 2018 ICAS Convention, the app will perform seamlessly as the critical logistical and information tool that it must be to make your convention experience as productive and successful as possible.

Summary

Over the last half-century, ICAS was built around our annual convention. It is our biggest, most important and most visible program. Planning for the event never stops. Indeed, we were already making preliminary plans for the 2018 ICAS Convention on the plane ride home from the 2017 ICAS Convention. Your input on our event is not just welcome; it is critical to what we do and has helped shape what the event has become during the last 50 years. We welcome all input, positive and negative. And we offer you our assurances that we will take any suggestion you have into consideration as we continue working to make sure the event is an even better, more productive, more enjoyable planning and business event for you and your air show colleagues.

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John Cudahy
John Cudahy, ICAS President. | John Cudahy first joined ICAS as the organization's president in June of 1997. He has worked his entire 36-year professional career in association management, including more than two decades as the chief executive officer of ICAS. A graduate of the University of Virginia, Cudahy holds a private pilot certificate and is married with two adult children.