From the Executive Director

Where did you want to be on March 8 to 11?

The AASV Annual Meeting was held in San Diego, California, over those days in March. By all accounts it was a successful meeting. We had great weather, good attendance (including spouses and families), excellent speakers, and ample opportunities to socialize. Did I mention great weather? The days of March 8 to 11 present an interesting contrast of what could have been and what actually happened. It is also an example that sometimes a tremendous blessing arises from a time of trial.

The 2008 annual meeting was originally contracted to be held in Columbus, Ohio, over those dates. Due to the hotel’s desire to host another group, it canceled our contract in 2006, less than 2 years before our meeting was to happen. A hotel canceling a contract with a group like ours is a rare event. It does not happen very often, but it happened to us. To say the least, I was upset by the hotel’s action. My distress was somewhat lessened by the fact that our contract included a cancellation clause that required the hotel to pay us $80,000.

The fact remained that we had no site contracted for our 2008 annual meeting, that was less than 2 years away. It was a scramble to search for an appropriate site for a group our size. At the end of the search, the AASV District Directors were presented with a choice between Indianapolis and San Diego. They chose San Diego. I have to say that meteorologically speaking, it had to be one of the best choices ever made by our directors.

Flash back to the weather in Columbus over the days of March 8 to 11. It was snowing – hard. The wind was blowing. Travel by motor vehicle was not recommended, even prohibited in certain areas. Airports were closed. It is an understatement to say that travel was difficult due to the 10 inches of snow and blizzard conditions. This was what AASV would have experienced if the hotel had not canceled our contract. Our meeting would have been severely compromised due to the inability of attendees to get to Columbus. Nothing kills a meeting faster than the double whammy of no audience and no speakers! It is an executive director’s worst nightmare: What if you hold a meeting and nobody comes?

The risk to the association from our annual meeting is due to the contractual guarantees we make to the hotel for a certain number of lodging rooms and a certain amount that will be spent on food and beverage. If our meeting does not meet the specified guarantees due to low attendance, then the AASV must pay the difference. Depending on the size of the difference, profitability of the meeting will suffer. If the difference is large enough, then a loss occurs. The board has chosen to maintain sufficient reserve funds to cover the financial risk of an annual meeting. This type of self-insurance is used rather than buying meeting insurance, which is very costly.

The contrast between Columbus and San Diego highlights a risk mitigation strategy for the AASV annual meeting. By taking the meeting out of the snow belt, we avoid the risk of that specific site becoming compromised by the weather. There still may be an issue with bad weather in a certain area from which our attendees are departing, but this will affect a smaller number of our group. It typically will not affect every attendee, as would happen with bad weather at the site of the annual meeting.

The common belief within the AASV a few years ago was that the annual meeting had to be in the Midwest on a routine basis. At the time, it was a fact that these meetings attracted more members because of proximity. The industry and profession has changed since then, and I believe that proximity is no longer a primary concern today. Over the years, our membership has attended meetings farther and farther from the Midwest: Denver, Nashville, and Orlando. The 2008 annual meeting serves as proof that our members will attend a meeting a long way from home as long as you continue to create value through the educational and social components of the meeting.

There is, however, one significant disadvantage of a meeting in a place like San Diego versus Des Moines. Profitability of the annual meeting suffers when we use sites outside of the Midwest. A meeting in Des Moines is very inexpensive and provides a level of profit that supports AASV activities all year round. A meeting in San Diego reduces our level of profitability. This is a brutal fact that must be fully acknowledged and dealt with accordingly through careful budgeting and planning. Ultimately, profitability is not our primary goal. The AASV mission is increasing the knowledge of swine veterinarians. The annual meeting is one of the linchpin events that accomplish this mission.

I mean no disrespect to the fine city of Columbus, but in my humble opinion, the sun of San Diego trumps the snow of Ohio any day! My condolences go out to the group that replaced us in Columbus. I hope their meeting went well despite the snow. My sincere thanks go out to the hotel that canceled our contract. I hope it was worth the $80,000, but I suspect we got the best end of that deal!

-- Tom Burkgren, DVM