Message #136
From: AzTeC SW Archaeology SIG
To:   "'Matthias Giessler'" 

Date: Tue, 14 April 1998
Subject: Cost Of SAA Meetings

[ SASIG Ed. Note -- I contacted the SAA to ask if they might 
have a response to Teresa's thread, but it is too soon to 
hear from them, I suppose. The issue of local taxes and fees 
we cannot solve, but where we meet is within our control.  
We can do many things electronically, but it is our nature 
to prefer the personal; 'face time' is still the most 
important means of communication. Which personal strategies 
do you employ to reduce costs and what suggestions are there 
for positive organizational change regarding the SAA meeting 
costs? On a side note, I have received  advertisements for 
the SAA affinity credit card. I am incredulous at what a bad 
deal the SAA offers it's members when there are available so 
many other less expensive credit cards. Comments ?? ] 

From: Teresa Paglione

Who besides me is getting a little tired of SAA's costly 
decisions? There doesn't seem to be much negotiating for 
reasonable rates at associated motels/hotels/car rentals.

I applied for govt rate as soon as possible, but only a 
small block of discounted rooms was allowed at the host 
motel. I paid 123 a nite, plus 14 for garage use, 131 for a 
car (I wasn't at Sheraton), plus 10 percent for a rental car 
at the airport (even' though pick-up and drop off was a 
shuttle ride 2 miles from the airport), plus 10 per cent 
charge by Seattle for rental. (My total cost exceeds 2 grand 
- and I skipped meals every day) Guess what - govt rates 
don't even approach covering that kind of money (without 
approval from the very top of the Dept). And that doesn't 
count the meal $$$..(which is not upgraded to cover actual 
cost). The only reason some of us govt archeos can attend ? 
- we hold multiple meetings before, during, and after SAA at 
the host city to justify the cost. Anyone else with me? I 
think we need to let SAA negotiating team know that they 
will be losing "customers" unless they take into account the 
cost of doing business when not all of us can afford to get 
there or stay there (place empties out on Sat. and Sunday 
even though there are sessions on Sunday). Better deals on 
rates  should be made...

From: Leslie Mouriquand

I, too, attended the SAA meeting in Seattle. I stayed at the 
Sheraton at $163.00 plus bed tax each night, $150 for car 
rental, $436 for air fare, $15 each night for garage, and 
about $100 a day for meals for two people. I also asked for 
the gov't rate. I work for a local gov't that was only 
willing to allow me two paid days off from work and paid for 
the registration fee, so the rest came out of my pocket. At 
least I didn't have to take vacation time to attend. 
Something must be done to make the annual meetings for 
affordable. How about holding the meetings at a university 
or college campus, and stay in the campus housing at a time 
of year when students are not there, say- summer or winter 
break time.  This is often done at some of the California 
schools. Or, how about a retreat or conference center owned 
by a church or  social organization where there is lodging 
available and facilities for meetings. Many such places 
exist in California. Any other suggestions?

From: Neal Ackerly

All of the previous commentary is straight on the mark.  The 
costs of attending SAA meetings have gotten prohibitive. 
That is why I only go when they're in New Orleans (which in 
my opinion they should be every year) so at least the food 
offsets the cost of attending.

From: Sharon Urban

Think my total stay at the conference was closer to $500.  
Unlike you I do not get any backing from my institution so 
had to foot the whole bill myself. Did not stay at the 
conference hotel either, but one two blocks away for only 
$59 a night. It was an older hotel but very confortable.
Staying at the conference hotel is out of the question and 
has been for years, especially for those of us without help. 
I would be up for cheaper registration, but then I guess 
putting the whole thing on costs and charges are not getting 
cheaper. If costs could be cut that would be great!!!!

From: Miranda Warburton

Some fairly obvious alternatives include sharing a room with 
a friend, so that the cost of a $125 room is reduced to $63 
- covered by government rates, or doing a slight amount of 
personal research on the internet or over the phone to 
whatever city's Chamber of Commerce to find a cheap 
alternative within walking or bus distance. The joys of 
having our national meetings in a place like Seattle or 
where ever is that it gives us a chance to go to Museums, 
Galleries, Restaurants (cheap or pricey), not to mention 
having us all in a central location for the actual meetings. 
We have gotten so large that accommodating us all is a 
difficult task. I think the SAA has done a great job in 
finding places (with the exception of Nashville) that allow 
us to seek out more reasonable options in how much we want 
to spend at the meetings. We certainly have sufficient 
advance notice to look for cheap plane fares, to seek out 
alternate accommodations, or to arrange for a roommate. The 
only suggestion might be to post a list of people who 
haven't been able to find a roommate prior to the meetings 
and would be willing to share. I commend the SAA and look 
forward to our meetings in Chicago in 1999.

From: Linda S. Cummings

Sure, I'll jump into this discussion. I've thought for years 
that we (archaeologists in general) have been had (prices) 
at our meetings. I talked with a group of engineers while in 
Nevada for meetings many years ago.  Their group was having 
a conference in the hotel at the same time as an 
archaeological group. Their group (about the size of the SHA 
meetings, not as large as the SAA meetings) got:  free 
welcome reception from the hotel, rooms at half our cost 
(about $50 a night if ours were about $100/night) and free 
meeting rooms -- yes, absolutely FREE meeting rooms, no 
charge. The engineers had a professional meeting negotiator 
(they contracted with a company that does this full time 
rather than hire a single individual for their 
organization). Apparently, there are companies that contract 
to negotiate with hotels and get the very best rates. I have 
talked with the meeting planner at a hotel about why our 
meeting (Plains Conference that time) got such great rates 
and how to negotiate similar rates again. She told me that 
since archaeologists are documented as having large bar 
bills and eating in the hotel that the hotel would make 
plenty of money in those areas and could afford to be 
generous in the area of room costs -- specifically to 
encourage more of the archaeologists to stay in the hotel 
(and eat their food and drink their beverages -- smart 
lady!!). It worked -- and this hotel did not run out of beer 
or spirits (she listened to the local arrangement 
archaeologists and believed them). Her motivation included 
the reasoning that if the conference participants got good 
rates, they would request to return to that city and hotel. 
Besides, all this information (including what the last hotel 
extracted from this group) is available as a file that is 
distributed between hotels that host meetings. Think about 
it. There is a file out there that says (basically) 
"archaeologists will pay what you want" -- no hard 
negotiating. Now for the bad news. My husband and I have 
approached the executive committee of both SHA and SAA with 
this information and neither was interested in knowing more. 
In fairness, I should say that was before the change in 
administration at SAA. I'd sure like to see a turn around on 
costs of the SAA meetings. I filled out my comment form for 
the SAA with complaints about the cost and sent it in. I 
recommend that all of you who feel the cost is too great do 
the same (at a minimum). Anyone interested in an organized 
drive to contact the SAA via e-mail and express our 
displeasure???? BTW, as I recall the engineers did shell out 
several thousand $ to the contract negotiators to get the 
good rates. I really don't know the exact cost. I'd also 
like to respond to the suggestion of holding the meetings on 
a university or college campus. I've given up on attending 
meetings held on a university campus. It's difficult to get 
around. Networking is extremely difficult.  It may be cheap, 
butleaves me flat.

From: M. Steven Shackley shackley@qal.Berkeley.EDU

Well, Teresa, many of us have tried.  My answer was (you'll 
love this) is that the meetings are a big money maker for 
the SAA. So, scheduling the same themed sessions at the same 
time (I was scheduled to give two papers on Thursday at 
about the same time), choosing silly venues like Disneyland 
and Opryland (SAA said San Francisco was too expensive), and 
the PC mythology of inclusion are all not to serve the 
members, but to make more money. I was on the Program 
Committee two years ago and papers that I rejected as 
stinkers, got into the program anyway! So 2600 papers, 1/2 
to 2/3 just site reports and better presented at regional 
meetings that are all accepted, cause us to endure meetings 
with little hope of actually meeting friends or more 
importantly listening to papers on similar subjects because 
they're all scheduled at once. I suggest actually screening 
papers (the Program Committee is a sham), accepting only 
those related to the meeting theme and extending them to 20 
minutes, scheduling similar themed symposia at DIFFERENT 
times, and have special sessions just for students so they 
get a chance too. This is what nearly all other major North 
American societies do, and it works quite effectively (i.e. 
GSA, Amer. Studies Assoc.). In addition raise the price of 
membership somewhat so that the pressure is not to "make 
money" with the meetings. This is insidious. I find them 
less than enjoyable anymore and find myself attending the 
GSA meetings more frequently and can't wait for the 
Archaeometry Symposium every two years. I'm beginning to 
wonder if the SAA Executive Committee is becoming a club 
that perpetuates itself. And Brian, I wonder what the cut is 
from the MBNA credit card? 

From: Bill Lipe

I'm no longer an officer of the SAA, so I don't pretend to 
speak for the organization. I'll make a couple of comments, 
however, about the costs of meeting attendance, based on my 
own experience and understanding of how these meetings get 
put together. The SAA annual meetings have long outgrown the 
options for meeting on college campuses and in small cities. 
There were over 3000 registrants at the Seattle meeting, and 
other popular cities such as New Orleans also attract 
numbers in this same range. The fact that increasing 
percentages of the SAA membership choose to attend the 
annual meeting suggests that members find it worthwhile. 
Also, SAA members have repeatedly expressed a desire to have 
the meetings be focused on a single hotel so that it would 
be easy to find friends and network between and after the 
formal paper sessions. Because of the size of the Seattle  
meeting, SAA could not find a single hotel that could 
accommodate all the sessions, so took the option of having 
the sessions in the Seattle Convention Center, with most 
attendees staying at one of the hotels located close to the 
Center. Some of the committee meetings, forums, etc. were 
also held at the Sheraton, which I think was more or less 
the "official" convention hotel. The upshot of this is that 
SAA is increasingly constrained to have its annual meeting 
in large cities and to focus on single large hotels or a 
combination of a convention center and adjacent large 
hotels. All of these factors work to keep the price of rooms 
high. Undoubtedly, Chicago (1999) will also have pretty 
expensive housing, but it seems likely to me that for most 
people, transportation costs to Chicago will be less than 
the were for Seattle, simply because Chicago is located more 
central to the U.S. and Canada. SAA makes its arrangements 
for annual meetings about five years ahead of time, and is 
in competition with many other groups to find suitable 
venues. Meeting in smaller cities might (though I am not 
sure of this) lower the housing costs for members, but would 
require a great reduction in the size of the meeting, which 
could only be accomplished by having far fewer papers, 
committee meetings, forums, etc. And, as I recall, the 
annual meeting has not been small enough to be accommodated 
on a college campus since about 1971 (U. of Oklahoma). With 
regard to preferential housing rates for government 
employees and students, members need to keep in mind that 
these always involve a tradeoff between the discounted rate 
and the full rate. That is, SAA negotiates rates with the 
host hotel or hotels; an average rate is arrived at, based 
on an estimate of how many rooms the convention attendees 
are likely to fill. Because SAA can bring in 2500 or 3000 
registrants, it has more leverage to keep the average room 
rate down than would a smaller convention scheduling into a 
large city. When it comes to offering discounted room rates, 
these have to be "paid for" out of higher rates on the 
"regular" rooms. Although there are incentives for SAA to 
offer discounted rates, especially to students, there also 
are incentives to keep the number of discounted rooms 
relatively low so as not to drive up the prices of the 
regular rooms. SAA, like any other organization, also has to 
guarantee that a certain minimum number of rooms will be 
sold at the hotels it chooses as convention hotels. If that 
minimum is not reached, there is a financial penalty, that 
has to be paid out of SAA's general budget. So there is a 
built-in incentive for SAA to help market the contracted 
hotels to its members. I think that one of our problems is 
that archaeology is a relatively poorly funded profession, 
compared to say, accountants or medical doctors. Yet we are 
in competition with more affluent groups for convention 
space in cities that people like to visit. Most of us pay a 
significant part of the costs of attending annual SAA 
meetings out of our own pockets--in my university 
department, for example, the annual per capita travel 
allocation for faculty is about $300, and there are no 
travel funds for students at all. So there is a great 
incentive for the SAA executive staff, who arrange these 
meetings, to get the best deal possible. In my observations, 
they do a good job, considering the various tradeoffs that 
are involved among size of meeting, variety of program 
offerings, location of meeting, choice of hotel/convention 
center venue, etc. However, SAA members need to keep letting 
the SAA staff and officers know what their views are on 
these tradeoffs, which is what this current thread is about.


As a former SAA Program Chair who pays some attention to 
meetings, I'd like to comment on the two email messages 
about the cost of the SAA Annual Meeting. Because of our 
success and growth, the meetings are very large (Seattle has 
3200 registrants) and we are limited to the places we can 
hold meetings. The SAA hasn't been able to meet at a college 
campus since about 1968 or so. The Executive Board and 
Executive Director (who negotiates meeting contracts) are 
well aware of the high cost of meetings. Some argue that the 
obvious solution is limit the number of participants. But 
think about it. Do we want meetings that are as inclusive as 
possible? Do you want your submission rejected (although 
most who argue that we should reduce the size of the 
meetings can't imagine that their paper would be rejected). 
The SAA is so large that even a 30% reduction in the size of 
the meeting would still limit us to major cities with 
sufficient convention infrastructure.  The Executive 
Director is happy to talk to members about the SAA and its 
activities.  You can reach Tobi Brimsek at; 
contact her with your comments and suggestions.

From: Teresa Paglione

Actually, Mike Kaczor did approach SAA rep (?) about meeting 
costs - and how feds and everyone else was getting hit hard 
by prices. There seemed to be a little sympathy - but/ no 
action can be made since the meeting places are 5 years 
ahead.../Mike did ask if they could try for conference rates 
and more govt rates before and after SAA. Personally - I 
shared a room with an AL archeo - who really couldn't afford 
the cost of lodging and car - but was giving a paper. And - 
breakfast and snacks and one dinner consisted mainly of Wash 
State apples (free at the front desk basket!)I was the only 
CRS that had a car (not being at the Sheraton), so we mostly 
walked to nearby restaurants for lunch/dinner. (and a few 
people rented them for the day from the Sheraton) I know the 
hotels and cities for SAA conference be in have to be large 
- and that is a problem, but Jeepers! That ought to be an 
advantage, too! At the very least, SAA should think about 
all the extras the cities are tacking on - my car quote was 
131 for week. After all add-ons (taxes and fees-not gas), it 
was $221. NOT including garage fees. I really was just 
wondering - how many people don't go because of the extreme 
cost?  Yes, it is once a year, but 2 grand for a week!? I 
also wonder - what group attends in biggest numbers... I 
know Forest Service was at Seattle - but they met off-site - 
and most left as SAA was starting....  So did about half the 
NRCS folks... Maybe I will put a bug in some ears (Mike 
Kaczor-NRCS, Kent Schneider- USFS, Bruce Eberle- FHA) to see 
what their view is. I do know we (NRCS CRSs) are considering 
having our annual meeting elsewhere (not at SAA conference). 
Anyhow - thanks for letting me vent... I have seen the SAA 
plastic money - you are right - it is no deal.... 

From: Mickie Murin

I sympathize with Teresa Paglione. I was unable to attend 
this year's SAA because I spent over $1,000 on last year's 
meetings. I made my room reservations at the Opry Land Hotel 
in December, but even that early I couldn't get a "student's 
room" because they were already booked. Turns out the hotel 
reserved a total of two (2) rooms for this purpose! So much 
for their "block" of discounted rooms!!

From: Deb Dosh

I have to put in my two cents worth on the subject of SAA
costs. First, I stayed at the Sheritan, got the cheapest
flight I could out of Phoenix, did not rent a car (what
for with the great and free public transit in Seattle),
took the cheap shuttle to and from the airport, etc. My
total costs were around $1200.00, including registration
fees. Next year I will be a student so my costs will go
down.  I have already made reservations. Was it worth it?
I thought it was FANTASTIC, besides the numerous papers,
most of which were quite interesting and informative, I
got to see friends from all over the country, many of
which I have not seen in 20 years, I saw Seattle, ate
great food, and generally had an exciting experience which
I will never forget. (It was also fun to get away from
kids and staff for five days). It was well worth the time
and expense (I paid for half and my company paid for half).
I would like to comment, however, on the motel rates,
especially at the Sheritan. First they were booked solid.
Second, I had lunch on Sat. at the Sheritan Bar and Grill
and they told me that they did over $16,000 in food and
booze at the one bar and restaurant on Friday between
4:00 and 9:00 alone. They also said that the Hilton had
already called them and told them what to expect from the
SAA Conference (evidently they had run out of booze and did
not have enough staff the year before), so the Sheritan
knew what to expect in advance. I think they could have
come down on their prices a lot more than they did.
Negotiations for rates could probably be much better,
especially given the amount of food and beverage they do
during the conference. I agree with Steve, they could
organize the symposia better. My main gripe is regarding
closed symposia and work shops. I don't think our
registration fees should be used to support space for
closed, special interest workshops (e.g., pithouses)
which we are not allowed to attend. Deb Dosh

From:  Teresa Paglione

I agree w/Dosh - meetings are good, informative and fun.
And necessary. BUT, with everything else SAA brings to
the local economy- 3200 people with enormous bar tabs
and appetites, prices/discounts could be better. Does
anyone know if SAA has done an SAA EIS (Economic Impact
Study!). What kind of bargaining power is used - other
than we can fill up several large hotels?

From: Bill Lipe

My guess is that SAA gets about the same kind of deal on 
convention hotel rates and the like as do other conventions 
of comparable size in the same cities at the same times of 
year (hotel costs vary greatly depending on season, of 
course).  If anybody has comparable cost figures  
(especially registration fees and costs of rooms at the main 
convention hotel) from recent meetings of other societies, 
they ought to put them out on this list and also send a copy 
to SAA Executive Director Tobi Brimsek. I agree that costs 
could probably be brought down if the annual meeting were 
radically downsized, perhaps to a half or third the size it 
is now. However, the last time the program committee 
rejected a sizeable number of symposia (on the order of 10 
or 15 percent of submissions) there was all holy hell raised 
by the members whose papers were rejected, and charges of 
nefarious conspiracies were rampant.  The CRM people thought 
they were being discriminated against by the academics, the 
academics thought they had been left out to make room for 
CRM topics, the Marxists thought they were being 
discriminated against by everybody else, etc., etc. Having 
attended SAA meetings for about 35 years, I must say that 
overall, the quality of papers keeps going up, rather than 
down.  Most of my memories of truly dreadful papers come 
from the "good old days" when the meetings were small and 
were held on college campuses.  So I don't think that having 
a low rejection rate has really damaged the scholarly 
quality of the individual papers and symposia.  Are the 
meetings too big to be effective?  Maybe--although we are 
still pretty small potatoes (or is it potatos) by national 
standards.  I think that the issue of how size relates to 
quality of experience is important, but it probably needs to 
be separated from the issue of cost. I don't think there is 
much of a relationship there unless we want to return to a 
MUCH smaller kind of meeting. A move that WOULD save money 
would be to schedule the meeting at an "unpopular" time of 
year, but there are reasons that these times are unpopular.  
The Archaeological Institute of America, for example, saves 
money on hotel costs by holding its annual meeting between 
Christmas and New Years. In general, I think that the SAA 
board and staff have favored a larger, more diversified 
annual meeting because the membership has responded 
positively to the gradual enlargement and diversification 
that has taken place over the past six or seven years.  
There were far more different kinds of symposia, forums, 
workshops, exhibits, etc. in 1998 than there were in 1991, 
and many more associated meetings by federal agencies, etc.   
The easiest-to-read data on members' reactions to such 
changes come from counting how many of them show up at the 
meeting.  There has been a strong growth in total 
registrations over the last six or seven years, and I think 
that the proportion of SAA members who choose to attend the 
annual meeting has also increased.  So on this basis, it 
looks as if there is overall membership support for the 
changes that have been made in recent years, including 
having a larger meeting. With regard to the annual meeting 
as a money-maker for SAA, it does and should make a small 
"profit" most years from member registrations plus fees paid 
by exhibitors plus advertising in the program. (The last two 
"outside" sources of income help keep member registration 
fees down.) If meeting-generated income did not cover 
meeting costs, annual membership dues would have to go up, 
and therefore members who do not attend the annual meeting 
would have to subsidize those who do.  The SAA does not have 
an endowment of any size, so it must fund its annual 
activities primarily from membership dues, sales of 
publications, meeting registrations, rental of exhibit 
booths at the annual meeting, and advertising in 
publications and the meeting program.  If any of these falls 
short, SAA activities have to be cut back. It appears to me 
that most members think that the principal benefits of SAA 
membership include not only receiving SAA publications, 
having a government affairs program, etc.,  but being able 
to attend the annual meeting.  Nearly half the membership 
came to Seattle this year.  The meeting is hence a very 
important part of what SAA offers its members, and it needs 
to be set up and managed in a way that fits the interests 
and needs of the majority of members. So it is important to 
let SAA Executive Director Tobi Brimsek and President Vin 
Steponaitis know what you think of the meeting. I can 
guarantee that they are reading what has shown up on this 
list so far. But you need to keep in mind the variables and 
tradeoffs that go into making the meeting what it is.
Best, Bill Lipe (SAA past president)