Association Meetings
Feature / August 01, 2014

Atypical Associations Raise Unique Planning Challenges

by Kelly Crumrin

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Site selection. Registration and logistics. Driving attendance. These are topics familiar to all meeting planners, no matter what brings their groups together. However, some associations are nontraditional and raise special challenges for planners.

Here's a look at five associations that are a bit outside of the norm, their unique needs, and how planners account for them.

American Pyrotechnics Association
The American Pyrotechnics Association (APA) is a trade association representing the fireworks industry. The APA holds two national events each year.

At the annual convention, held each autumn, members elect the board of directors, receive updates on regulatory changes and socialize with one another. Each winter, there is an educational conference that offers the latest safety training. The association’s events draw between 300 to 550 attendees, who are pyrotechnics professionals, fireworks manufacturers and regulatory officials.

Julie L. Heckman, executive director at APA, has planned both annual meetings since 1998. She pointed out that local regulations and politics are key factors when selecting a destination.

“We look for fireworks-friendly cities,” Heckman says. “There are four states where consumer fireworks are prohibited, and we won’t take our business to those states. One of the draws for us to go to [Scottsdale] Arizona last year was that they’d recently changed fireworks laws there, and it was an opportunity to do outreach and education with local officials about fireworks safety.”

Fireworks-friendliness is also a litmus test for venues. The APA frequently holds events at Hyatt properties due to their open-mindedness regarding pyrotechnic displays—even indoors.

“We ask hotels if they can accommodate fireworks,” Heckman explains. “We’ll do an indoor pyro over breakfast, and one or two nights of dinner accompanied by fireworks. The Hyatt Regency in Miami, which is hosting us in October, is accommodating a close-proximity pyro show.”

American Association for Nude Recreation
According to its website, the mission of the American Association for Nude Recreation (AANR) is “to advocate nudity and nude recreation in appropriate settings while educating and informing society of [its] value and enjoyment.” The association has more than 200,000 members throughout North America.

This year is William J. Schroer’s first as both executive director and planner of AANR’s national convention. The event serves as a board meeting and a chance for attendees to contribute their input to the organization. It is attended by approximately 200 people each year. AANR generally chooses venues from among 260 nudist resorts across the country. However, this limiting factor creates its own headaches.

“Finding a nudist resort large enough with enough accommodations and technology for our meeting is a challenge,” Schroer says. “My sense as a newcomer to the planning process is that nudist resorts are really not geared to business conferences. They don’t have the proper setup, the electronics, the food service. They are too often patching things together.”

Property managers and developers take note: There is an unmet need in the meetings market! In the meantime, AANR members have learned to be flexible with the facilities they have.

“Nudists aren’t used to demanding the kind of professional services and setups that are provided at conference centers or resorts,” Schroer remarks. “They make it work.”

Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies
Devoted to scientific research and public education about beneficial uses of marijuana and psychedelic drugs such as LSD, MDMA and ketamine (known colloquially as acid, ecstasy and Special K), the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS) hopes to legitimize contexts for careful use of these substances.

Every three years or so, when sufficient new research has accumulated, MAPS hosts a conference entitled Psychedelic Science. Always located in the San Francisco Bay Area, the conference attracts approximately 2,000 scientists and researchers from all over the world to share their findings on the risks and benefits of psychedelic substances in the realms of psychotherapy, neuroscience, spirituality and art.

Virginia Wright, director of development for MAPS, has planned the event since 2010. It was last held in 2013. Apart from scientific presentations and workshops, Psychedelic Science also offers attendees a marketplace area, live music and off-site entertainment.

Due to the nature of the organization’s research, MAPS encounters misunderstanding from both sides of the law. Some vendors and venues are uncomfortable being involved at first.

“People outside of our work can be suspicious of our intent,” Wright comments. “We support scientific research, but the drugs we research are illegal.”

The event also unavoidably draws a certain number of drug enthusiasts, and MAPS tries to walk the line between discouraging on-site drug use and creating a safe space for those who indulge.

“We do recognize that some people attracted to our events will take drugs,” Wright says. “So we make a ‘smoking’ area, which some people use for marijuana at night, and we ask people not to partake of drugs during the conference.”

International Association of Pet Cemeteries and Crematories
Each year at its annual conference, around 130 members of the International Association of Pet Cemeteries and Crematories (IAOPCC) gather to further their education and relationships.

The organization offers seminars for pet bereavement specialists, pet funeral directors and crematory operators. Attendees can also work toward their Pet Bereavement Specialist Certification (PBSC) at the event.

Donna Shugart-Bethune, executive administrator at the IAOPCC, has been involved in planning the event for the past five years. She explained that her industry is one that places great pride in personal attention and detailed service, which she also looks for in venues. Moreover, since most members are part of family-owned and -operated businesses, many can’t get away for meetings.

“Location and logistics are key factors for us,” Shugart-Bethune says. “We alternate across the country as we try to accommodate our members who may not be able to leave their family business for several days at a time each year to attend the conferences. Our conferences must be held close to a member pet cemetery or crematorium as we always tour a local member’s facility. It gives [them] an opportunity to see other pet aftercare facilities and how they operate and provides a wonderful up-close education for our members.”

American Society of Dowsers
The preamble to the bylaws of the American Society of Dowsers (ASD) defines dowsing as “a faculty employed with intent to expand the perceptive abilities of its practitioner beyond three-dimensional limitations.”

Dowsing is familiar to some people, especially in rural areas, as a means to pinpoint underground water sources and decide where wells should be dug. However, dowsers can also search for missing people and objects, information or energy, according to proponents.

Blair Wolston, operations manager for the ASD, planned this year’s National Dowsing Convention. The event is held each year at Lyndon State College in Lyndonville, Vt. There are approximately 500 attendees, as well as more than 60 speakers and 40 vendors.

While the college is affordable and provides a beautiful, forested backdrop for the event and a quick commute for the ASD office staff, its remote location necessitates a long drive for many attendees. In some ways, that brings people together.

“The individuals attending are truly dedicated to being there, which equates to an amazing, supportive crowd with positive energy flowing everywhere,” Wolston says. “We make sure each and every participant knows how special they are to us.”

And if the time ever comes to find a new venue, no doubt the dowsers will easily locate the perfect place.

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