|Future of MidWinter Meetings|
The Future of our Mid-Winter Meeting
For most of us, our association and involvement with the ARO peaks each February at the Mid-Winter Meeting. This is our chance to present and hear great science, catch up with old friends, and make new ones. An integral component of the success and enjoyment of the MWM is its location. As some of you will remember, and probably more of you will have heard about, the first MWMs were held over 30 years ago in St. Pete Beach on Florida’s gulf coast, first at the Happy Dolphin and then, for a long time, at the Trade Winds Hotel. While I wasn’t there at the beginning, I’ve been told that the allure of a warm beach in the dead of winter was a motivating factor for the timing and location selection. As time passed, and the size of the MWM increased, we outgrew the Trade Winds and St. Pete Beach. In the subsequent years, the MWM moved around somewhat before settling, about 10 years ago on an alternating east coast/west coast schedule featuring the Baltimore Marriott Waterfront and the Manchester Grand Hyatt. Overall, our exit surveys indicate that attendees are largely happy with the east coast/west coast schedule and with the facilities in both Baltimore and San Diego. However, the weather in Baltimore in February, especially in the last few years, has provided a stark reminder of the reasons for holding the MWM in a location where snow is not a concern.
With this in mind, the ARO Council considered our options for meeting venues once our current contract with the Baltimore Marriott ends following the 2019 MWM. Exit surveys and anecdotal conversations with attendees suggested support for a return to the warm embrace of the Florida winter. Therefore, with the help of our wonderful management team at Talley, we searched for a new Florida venue. For those of you who are not aware of how this process works, Talley submits a request for proposals to the Convention Bureaus and Hotel National Sales Representatives that gauges interest from hotels in different regions for hosting our conference given a set of criteria including number of attendees, amount of meeting space, price of rooms, etc. So only those hotels willing to work within our parameters will respond to the RFP. Based on those criteria, the only Florida hotels that submitted proposals were all located in Orlando. I know some of you are groaning about now, but please read on. Orlando provides a major international airport with easy access from both within and outside of the United States and while its emergence as a major conference city was directly tied to theme park development, the area now features multiple 4 star restaurants and a number of museums. What ensued was a thorough vetting process of more than six different Orlando locations including multiple site visits and meetings with hotel personnel. Following our final site visit, the selection committee unanimously voted to nominate the Renaissance Orlando Hotel as the location for the 2021 MWM. While this hotel is not on the beach, we believe that it has many features that make it ideal for our meeting. First, ARO will be the only conference in the hotel. In fact, we will occupy approximately 80% of the rooms in the hotel, meaning that if an ARO member wanders into the bar or onto the pool deck, they will most likely spot someone they know. It also means that the atmosphere throughout the hotel will be set by us. The conference facilities are first rate and the podium and poster rooms are located on the same level with a transit time of less than 1 minute, making it easy to move between the two. The hotel has four restaurants on site with several other options fairly close by. In addition, a local circulator trolley offers easy and cheap access to a large number of restaurants and activities along International Drive. The staff at the Hotel is outstanding with a strong retention rate and, because we will occupy such a large percentage of the rooms, they will be dedicated to meeting our needs.
While there are always risks and unknowns with any new venue, the ARO Council and I believe that returning to Florida will evoke nostalgic memories of our first meetings on St. Pete Beach (the main restaurant at the Renaissance hotel is even named the Trade Winds), while also generating enthusiasm and increased attendance through the appeal of both the climate and local attractions. I hope that I’ve been able to convey some of the excitement that we feel for this new location and a return to our roots in the Sunshine State. While it’s still over four years away, I look forward to seeing you all in Orlando in 2021.