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We actually are postponing Myrtle Beach to 2022! That doesn't mean we have to skip 2020 though. Postponing is nearly impossible given the current state of the pandemic and so many events postponing. Our Myrtle Beach Convention Center and Sheraton were extremely accommodating for us and while they had no 2021 dates available in our most desirable time frame, they agreed to push us to 2022 and by re-contracting for that, AORE did not incur any financial penalties for that contract. We were fortunate. Many associations and groups have cancelled or postponed and have been hit with charges and fees that are causing significant disruption; even event insurance does not cover this pandemic.
Right now, we do not have a clear answer. We know we will be in Myrtle Beach in 2022. As for 2021, we are already sifting through options ranging from another virtual event, to hybrid and regionalized events, to a typical in-person conference. The options are endless and we need to assess our 2020 experiences further. We need to see the toll this pandemic continues to have on our industry and our members. We need to see what our members need next year. Then we will create a plan to deliver that in the best way we can.
Professional development, when important to an individual, is worth the expense. If it is only worth it if the employer pays for it, what is the true value to the individual? If the content, quality and experience are important to you in your current career, studies or life experiences, then we know our conference will deliver and will be worth it. We do have justification letters to support you when asking your employer to pay or help pay [LINK TO JUSTIFICATION]. We also have payment plans available, scholarship options, and are offering reduced rates for early registrants. There are many ways to join us and we hope you will find your way to do so!
Regardless of how the question is asked, we know this question is asked! We understand that there are considerably less expenses when it comes to a virtual conference instead of in-person. This is true both for the association AND the attendee. The association does not have rental fees, food and beverage costs, printing and supply costs, shipping, exhibit hall setup, travel and accommodations, etc. The attendee also does not have additional meal costs, travel and accommodation costs. However, there ARE still costs to pulling together a conference with the quality AORE members are used to. From the platform we will use (again, this is NOT another Zoom webinar - specifically because we know you want quality networking and other serendipitous experiences), to the management of all of the presenters and remotely supporting them, to the online storage of all the content being delivered, to creating and crafting a full agenda, to the staff working hard behind the scenes to facilitate sessions and make it all happen. We reduced our expenses, we reduced our anticipated income significantly and we still reduced the registration fees for all attendees. Also, we are offering an extended package. While this package is significantly more expensive, it is built with groups in mind. We completely understand that one person may attend live and then share the resources with co-workers or students after the event for months on end with this package and we want that to happen. But storing and maintaining content for an extended period also comes at a cost. The conference is and always has been the association's primary source of income that supports the other services, membership benefits and programming throughout the rest of the year.
Right now, we are providing two basic models until we more completely understand the capabilities of the event software and how that will look for members and for our staff to access, maintain, etc. For organizations that typically bring students or emerging professionals, the registration price is much lower than our in-person event, which may allow some institutions and organizations engage more participants. There is also an extended registration package that allows for a year's worth of access - meaning one attendee experiences the virtual event live, then has access to the education sessions through the following year to share with students, emerging professionals and other colleagues (according to registration and sharing protocols).
AORE offers scholarship opportunities, presenter discounts and options for breaking payments into monthly installments. We are working on plans to offer volunteer discounts. Please stay tuned, stay connected and stay informed!
We do plan on doing a silent and/or live auction in one form or another - or multiple! We are starting on these logistics and look forward to sharing updates. Due to the nature of the NOBA (National Outdoor Book Awards) auction/sale, right now, we do NOT anticipate being able to offer this in 2020.
When the coronavirus pandemic began impacting the United States, AORE began exploring options. As the pandemic intensified, it was clear that a conference as large as ours would not be able to take place and our members were experiencing significant impacts that would prevent many from even attending. While we knew a virtual event was our best option, we wanted to gauge interest level and preconceived price ideas from members. The highlights from the survey are listed below:
Of the 181 respondents (as of 5/7/2020), 80% were professional members.
89% of respondents attended the conference at least once in the last five years; 26% of those individuals have attended seven (7) or more AORE annual conferences!
Prior to the pandemic situation, 77% of respondents claimed that they were likely attending the 2020 conference. Once the pandemic hit, of those 77%, at least half said they would be unlikely to attend in-person.
Of those originally interested in attending the in-person conference, 89% expressed some level of interest in attending our proposed virtual event. Bonus?? Of everyone that said they were unlikely to attend the Myrtle Beach 2020 conference from the start, at least a third explicitly marked their interest in the virtual conference!
To no surprise, education sessions were THE MOST important part of the conference to survey respondents, followed by keynote sessions and facilitated networking opportunities. The lowest ranked item, thankfully for our planning team, was social/happy hours! The virtual ones of those simply do not compare to the real thing!! We have some other fun things planned though and we look forward to delivering quite an experience all around.
Regarding the exhibit hall, the most important features were having 24/7 booth access and scheduled live presentations by exhibitors. Non-vendor respondents mentioned paying anywhere from $0-$200 to enter ONLY the exhibit hall.
To no surprise, the expected amount people felt they would pay for our described virtual programming ranged from free to $1,000! This was a completely open-ended question and ANY amount could be entered. The most commonly identified price points were $100-150 (47%) and $200-300 (28%).
When considering the professional and aspiring/student professionals that noted they are likely to attend the virtual conference and get the standard experience (two weeks of access to all sessions), a price point of $249 was not too expensive for most; a $349 price point was mostly split between starting to get expensive and too expensive.
When considering the professional and aspiring/student professionals that noted they are likely to attend the virtual conference and get the extended experience (access through June of 2021), a price point anywhere from $399-$599 was too expensive for most.
Many respondents provided comments at the end ranging from "don't do it" to "thank you so much for still pushing through". They shared thoughts on everything from the educational experience to the networking options. Details about professional and personal finances and challenges were shared. We know. We are in challenging situations as well, with our staff taking considerable pay cuts. We have weighed the options, discussed the pros and cons, re-worked the budget many times over. We are excited for the conference and hope you can join us!