Over the years I have been asked why and how we choose a particular city and property for our reunions. I will admit the process has changed quite a bit over the 25 years that I have been involved with our reunions but this is an accounting of the road to BNA.
The Central Region:
As most of you know, we rotate East-Central-West for our reunions. We are on the central cycle for 2018.
We Hear You:
We read the posts on FB, your emails, messages, and yes, we pay attention to what you have to say at our reunions. After each reunion, the board, reunion committee and advisers discuss potential cities based on all of the above. We try to narrow it down to four or five potential sites but for 2018 we started with seven.
What were the seven?
Albuquerque, Austin, Nashville, New Orleans, Kansas City, Minneapolis, Chicago.
The Polling process:
We send out a poll via Constant Contact to both members of the ISB Network and non-member alumni who attended the previous reunion. For the 2018 poll close to 600 people were sent the reunion poll. We asked questions about the previous reunion, the amount you are willing to spend on a room and registration fees, what is important to you in a reunion location, and then list your order of preference for the 2018 reunion city.
Who Sees the Poll Results?
The complete results of the poll are shared amongst the board members, the reunion committee, and the advisers, which totaled 26 people for this reunion cycle.
After we closed the poll we studied all of the data. In the case of the 2018 site, Kansas City, Minneapolis and Chicago received a sum total of 10% of the vote, so that quickly narrowed the search to Albuquerque, Austin, Nashville, and New Orleans.
Once we narrowed the search down, we contacted the four CVB’s (Convention & Visitors Bureau) with a RFP (request for proposal) that also included a long list of our criteria. The information we send to the CVB and ultimately the hotels is based on a snapshot of our group needs/desires and dates.
We Are Still Listening:
Through the long process of weeding through RFP’s from hotels, which often did not pay attention to our needs, we also listen to your suggestions. A classic example of this was the Daytona 2016 property. We were focused on several properties in North Carolina, Virginia, Maryland, and Florida for the 2016 reunion when one of you sent me a link suggesting the Hilton in Daytona. I contacted the Hilton for a RFP. They responded and were ultimately rewarded our business. We did not have the Daytona Hilton, or Daytona for that matter, on our radar until one of you suggested it. Of course, we always get suggestions that are not always practical; for example, I want the reunion on the Mississippi Gulf Coast because I can come to that one, or let’s have the reunion where marijuana is legal, and other such nonsense!
We requested either mid-June, the last three weekends in July, or the first weekend in August with the last two weekends in July being our best case scenario.
We ended up with four properties in Austin. One of these was way out of our price range. One dropped out a few days after offering. One would not offer except mid to late August, but The Georgetown Sheraton appeared to really want us and offered our preferred date range of the last three weekends in July. We loved the property and I felt it was the spot for us. Plus, all of our archives, AV equipment and the Shack merchandise are stored here in Austin, and of course, I live in the area as well. Logistically, this was a win-win, for us.
Initially we had only one offer in Nashville, The Opryland Gaylord offered September at $205.00 per night. Again, they just didn’t read our criteria. I had worked shows at The Music City Sheraton and the mother of my children had hosted a family reunion there, so I spoke to the CVB and asked if the Music City Sheraton had been sent our RFP and they said yes. I then contacted them directly but was not impressed, so I set it aside and continued massaging the Georgetown Sheraton.
New Orleans $119.00
New Orleans offered two properties, The Hotel Monteleone and The Crown Plaza Airport. I visited New Orleans for a convention and went to both properties. The Monteleone was a really old hotel and just would not work for our group. It would have been a great place to celebrate a wedding anniversary but not a reunion. I then took an Uber to the Crown Plaza and loved the sales girl but this hotel was a little tired, the pool area was small but doable, but the banquet space could only seat a maximum of 425 with a stage. We have learned from history that we need to be able to comfortably seat 5-600, but we didn’t toss them out and did negotiate with them.
I contacted Kate Johnson as well as the CVB for Albuquerque. Kate loved the idea and suggested a great hotel and reminded me of a place I stayed some years ago while on tour with Restless Heart. I sent out RFP’s directly to the hotels Kate suggested as well as through the CVB. We did not receive an offer from either property but did receive one offer from the MCM Elegante. The Elegante featured a small indoor pool and honestly the hotel was just not us.
Time To Load the Truck:
I have learned in my short time on this earth that at some point you have to load the truck and go do the show. I have also learned that sometimes you have to punt…
With three offers in hand, Austin, Nashville and New Orleans, we started really focusing on Austin as it seemed they really wanted us BUT there were issues. The initial issue was, no possibility of pool hours being extended unless we occupied 200 rooms on the peak nights and then the pool hours would be extended for Friday and Saturday only. Our president Kate Boslet flew here and I took her to the Georgetown Sheraton. Valerie Vogt Sills and I had already visited the Georgetown Sheraton and we both loved it, but I needed someone outside of us locals to give her opinion. Kate loved it too but the distance to the Austin airport was just under an hour and the price was $75.00 RT. We met with the hotel and then began brainstorming how to market the distance and expense and how we could offset the expense. We did extensive research with Southwest Airlines and found the flights from 48 markets were very reasonable. In fact we did the same research for Nashville, New Orleans and Albuquerque. Austin and Nashville were pretty much neck and neck, with New Orleans not too far behind but Albuquerque was an expensive market. While meeting with the hotel, and quite by accident, it was discovered that there was a local blue law for Georgetown and alcohol could not be served after midnight Sunday-Friday and Saturday at 1:00am. This was deflating to say the least and sent me in to a tailspin. We left the meeting discouraged knowing that this property was out unless they could figure a way to wiggle around the blue law. Their F&B (food and beverage) minimum of $66,000 was much higher than any of the other properties. This meant our reunion fee would be close to $200.00.
I decided that we should reach back out to the Omni in Broomfield and see if they might want us back. They wanted us but were only able to offer $179.00 in August, so that was pretty much out. I still planned to try to visit the Music City Sheraton but again, I just wasn’t feeling the love and we seemed to be at an impasse at $154.00 per night and early pool hours. Originally the room price was $169.00, but after beating on them, it was lowered to $154.00, but they still weren’t budging on extended pool hours, or so it seemed. I called the MCS and gave them two dates I could come for a site visit. The sales manager offered one of those dates for a visit, and to my relief, she said she would be on vacation but assured me that her counterpart would do an excellent job.
Last Minute Offer From ABQ:
The day before I was to fly to Nashville a last minute offer came through from the Marriott Pyramid N. I got really excited because Peppy Doggett, Kate Boslet, Kate Johnson and myself had really wanted Albuquerque to work. I told the sales manager it was pretty late in the selection process, so she needed to come back with a great rate and F&B proposal ASAP. She responded with $124 and a fairly high F&B minimum but eventually did lower the amount. I agreed to drive there the following weekend for a site visit. It then hit me that maybe Kate Johnson could do this on my behalf. I contacted her and she agreed and did an outstanding job with her presentation to us all.
Off to Guitar City:
I flew to Nashville Sunday morning and caught the free airport shuttle to The MCS. From the moment I stepped inside of the lobby I sensed that this was home. I was told the presidential suite would not be ready till later that afternoon, so I requested a standard room. The look on the face of the front counter girl was priceless. I assured her I was fine with it and actually preferred a standard room, so I could get a better feel for the hotel. I spent the afternoon eating at the restaurant and quietly slipping around the entire property without any outside influences. The next morning I met with the sales staff and just loved them. Everything that the sales manager I had been dealing with was not, these people were. We toured the entire complex and I met with a convention services manager, the sales and marketing director, and the banquet manager. After the tour we sat down and she began to ask all the right questions about our group and our needs. Finally the question was posed, what do we need to do to get your business? I knew I had found a possible chink in their armor, so I outlined several points that I felt might sway the decision. She listened intently and took lots of notes and asked if I would meet with her again before I departed for the airport and of course I agreed. She called me at 2:00pm and asked if I would meet her in the lobby and so I did. She had met with the upper management and arranged a room rate of $144.00 and had gotten permission to extend the pool hours provided there were not too many complaints. I thanked her and left with a refreshed view of Nashville and the MCS.
Everyone who serves on the board, reunion committee, and advisory committee deserve to be recognized for their efforts. I appreciate each and every one of you. But to this point I have failed to mention several very important people who were key components in the process of finding the perfect spot for our reunion.
We are so blessed to have a hospitality industry professional in Teresa Martin, our F&B Queen. Teresa was with me every step of the way and assisted me as we tag teamed the sales managers and putting up with my OCD mania.
We are equally blessed in have an accounting professional in Nicole Petschulat who keeps us in check with her budget prowess and advice.
And finally, Kathlyne Boslet, who has able to talk me down from jumping on more than one occasion, and has always been there early morning and late, late nights to listen to me whine. There is usually wine involved too!!
Teresa, Nicole, and Kate, you are the Heroes in my story.
Back To ABQ and AUS:
In my heart I still had hopes for Austin/Georgetown and a renewed excitement for the possibility of an Albuquerque reunion. Teresa began working directly with both AUS and ABQ trying to get the F&B minimum reduced. She was able to get ABQ to reduce but AUS stood firm. AUS did come came back with a plan to wiggle around the blue law but it would be fairly complicated in the execution of the plan. We felt that is was time to present the four properties to the board, committee, and advisors and draw this to a close.
Too Much Information:
The 25 people (comprised of the BOD, reunion committee, and advisory panel) who would vote on the destination received videos and pictures of all the properties, as well as detailed Google Doc’s of the four offers.
Nashville came out as the landslide victor with 21 votes.
Not Without A Hitch – The Contract
We began the contract process that took several weeks. Teresa, Nicole, Kate Boslet, and I dissected it line by line and I marked it up in red early and often. This went back and forth for two weeks taking two steps forward and one step back each time. I was so frustrated at one point that I contacted the Daytona Hilton to see if they would take us back if I could get the board to agree to change the process. We had done this once before when we skipped the central region and went from Williamsburg R2K to Phoenix 2002. The Hilton Daytona wanted us but could only offer late August.
We persevered and on the eleventh hour, they threw another major curve ball. Teresa stepped in once again and using her hospitality professional prowess was able to get the hotel to agree to allow me to strike the troubling language. I was driving to MS to sit with my aunt who was hospitalized but had sent the contract, my email password, and my signature to Kate Boslet via email, so she could edit on my behalf if necessary. I got the word from Teresa that I could strike the language and Kate edited, dropped my signature on it and emailed it from my account.
We received the signed contract back several hours later and the announcement was made.
It Takes a Village:
Thank you to all of the fine people below, who helped with the decision to land in Nashville 2018. When you see them at the reunion, please hug their necks!!
Valerie Vogt Sills
Cricket Fluker Lanza