Right about now, if Isaac hadn’t interfered, I’d be arriving in New Orleans to enjoy its local food and cocktail culture for a few days.
I was going to tag along as my boyfriend attended a conference that was to start Tuesday. Late last night, the conference was postponed, so there’s a good chance I’ll get to have my New Orleans adventure another time, most likely with better weather. But the members of the American Political Science Association aren’t so lucky.
On Sunday while watching Isaac’s westerly turn toward New Orleans, I noticed some #apsa2012 tweets in the #nola stream. The tweets were about the cancellation of their Wednesday pre-conference sessions. What a mess, I thought. Making the decision to cancel my boyfriend’s conference was a no-brainer since it was scheduled to run the day before, during, and after Isaac. But what would APSA do?
As I mourned my missed vacation, I checked the #nola stream earlier today. A slew of WTF-type tweets from #aspa2012 registrants dominated the stream. “Make a decision!” was the most common plea. People were wondering if they should get on the plane or cancel their plans. They kept asking APSA for information but nothing was forthcoming.
If APSA had taken the time to address or ask about people’s concerns, they may have stemmed some of the negativity that took over the conference hashtag.
Finally, the announcement came: the conference would start on Thursday as scheduled. If your flight to New Orleans was canceled, you could apply for a registration refund, but questions about that policy went unanswered.
Some of the tweets took the decision in stride, focusing on short lines in bars, but most of them leaned negative. Some wondered whether their concerns about traveling to the eye of the storm were even taken into consideration.
APSA’s in a tight spot. Imagine the hotel liability, and lost exhibition, sponsorship, and advertising revenue if they were to cancel. What do you do with the members and exhibitors who are flying less cooperative airlines than my full-credit-on-canceled-flights Southwest? Ask them to pay for another flight to the conference when it’s rescheduled?
What about members and speakers who can’t make it? Did they try to find out who would be able to come and use that data in their decision-making? What kind of experience will attendees have if many of the attendees and speakers can’t make it?
Imagine attendees getting to New Orleans on Thursday, the earliest they’ll be able to arrive, in what shape will the city be?
We can say to ourselves, “Man, I’m glad that’s not my association,” and the obvious, “Why would you ever schedule a conference during hurricane season in New Orleans?” Well, because I bet you can get some good deals, ask my boyfriend’s company.
Associations must consider dozens of factors when making a decision to either hold a conference during a hurricane, or postpone or cancel it. It’s a revenue question, I know that, but you can’t forget your mission. Is leadership making an expedient short-term decision or do they have the capacity (and the balls) to make the right decision?
I don’t know anything about APSA’s situation so I’m not suggesting this is a bad decision, although their members on Twitter seem to think it is. They’re a vocal minority, but do they represent the views of the majority of attendees?
Poor APSA gives the rest of us in the association community the opportunity to watch and learn.
Update: Tuesday afternoon and the conference is still on despite signs of weak attendance by members and exhibitors. Check out the comments on this blog post, Are You Going to APSA?
Update #2: Tuesday, 5:49pm APSA made the conference cancellation announcement on their website, later followed by a tweet. News of the cancellation leaked to Twitter about 20 minutes earlier. They announced, “In light of revised information we have from local officials about the trajectory of Isaac, we now anticipate the potential for sustained rain, flooding, power outages and severely restricted transportation into the city on Thursday.” I hate to say it, but after watching The Weather Channel Jim and I were anticipating those conditions when our trip and his conference were cancelled on Sunday. One of APSA’s members agrees.