phi (totient) wrote,

why I'm supporting Spokane in 2015

As you may know there are two groups bidding for the right to host the World Science Fiction convention in 2015. It has been quite a while since there was a contested Worldcon site selection, and it's nice to see multiple bids. And in fact the Orlando folks have a really, really good idea.

Worldcons of late have mostly been just large enough that they're mostly sited in convention centers instead of hotels. What this means depends on where they are held, but since hotels vary in size too it seems to be true nearly anywhere -- a Canadian Worldcon of 3500 members or so won't fit into any hotel in Canada, and while a convention that size would fit handily into any of three different hotels in Boston, Boston Worldcons are typically more like 6000 members so they wind up in convention centers too. This is an accessibility nightmare on two fronts. First of all, convention centers are expensive, but the con being only barely large enough to require one means that the cost is split among far fewer members than it could be. This drives up membership rates to the point where many people who might like to attend can't afford it -- further exacerbating the problem of convention center expense. One of the most compelling reasons to hold Worldcon in a different location every year is so that fans who can't afford to fly to a Worldcon can still attend from time to time. If we're not reaching those people, we're doing it wrong.

But there is a bigger accessibility issue from being in a convention center, which is probably best illustrated by the situation at Anticipation in Montreal. Convention centers being designed for large events tend to have a few large rooms which can be divided up, and they typically put the largest of those rooms in the middle of the con. Worldcons use the biggest room for the Hugos and Masquerade, which is to say only for a few hours of the whole weekend. And then they divide up the remaining rooms, which typically means access to them is from the perimeter and getting from one to the other requires walking around the edge. Finally, convention centers typically close at night, which means late night events wind up in a distant hotel. So there is a *lot* of walking at a Worldcon. It's not just that the headquarters hotel was a quarter-mile from the convention center. It's that once you're inside the convention center you might have a quarter-mile walk from one function room to another.

If you have any doubt about the impact of this, consider some evidence. Arisia, which approaches the size of a Worldcon in attendance but is held in a hotel instead of a convention center, makes arrangements for mobies for its attendees as necessary. In some years we have needed as many as two mobies; usually it is zero or one. Anticipation, which as a relatively small Worldcon was only a little larger than this most recent Arisia, got every rental moby in Montreal, which was 20, and it was not enough.

There are a very few places on Earth where the hotels are enough larger than the increase in demand for a Worldcon that one will fit in the hotels there. Specifically, this is Las Vegas, Chicago (in which a Worldcon will be held this coming September), New York, and Orlando. And the Orlando people are bidding one of the hotels in question.

On the face of it, this is brilliant. No convention center rental or decorator expense. Fantastically easy travel. This is a Worldcon that could have a $0 conversion from voting to attending, and a $100 at-door membership. Having a $0 attending conversion lets them subsequently sell supporting memberships for less than the voting fee, which would fix an acknowledged problem. At those rates (and with their excellent room rates) they could bring in an entire generation of new fans who've been priced out of Worldcon before, and grow the con to 8,000 or 10,000 attendees. It'd be fantastic.

Except for two things.

One, they are bidding Labor Day Weekend. 409 miles from the Atlanta Marriott Marquis. 409 miles *south* of the Atlanta Marriott Marquis, meaning there aren't many people within a day's drive who aren't also within a day's drive of DragonCon. None of those next generation of fans are going to be there.

Two, their hotel may be a single administrative entity, but it's more spread out than Anticipation. It consists of over a dozen buildings. The one with the function space in it is on a single floor, which sounds great but means the thing is further across than the Palais de Congres in Montreal. Once again it has only one possible place for the Hugos and Masquerade, and that room is smack in the middle. The function rooms will all be accessed from the perimeter, as in Montreal. And the guest rooms are further, on average, from the convention center than Anticipation's guest rooms were -- with a lake in the middle to boot. This hotel is so large that people with rental cars will be driving them from their guest rooms to the lobby.

The Spokane people are bidding for a much more compact site. Their convention center has the most likely Hugo/Masquerade location off to one side. Breakout rooms are accessed from the center, not the perimeter, even when they are all the way subdivided. The headquarters hotel is right in the middle of everything, *in between* parts of the convention center, and even so the walk from one function room to another is not much worse than it is at Arisia. The whole thing is in the middle of a city, with scores of restaurants right at your doorstep. Oh, and they have a much larger and, on the whole, more capable committee.

So don't vote for Orlando just because there aren't any non-stop flights from where you live to Spokane and instead you have to take a one-stop (with no change of plane, if you live in Boston). Don't even vote for Orlando because you like the committee's crazy ideas -- I certainly do. Take a look at whether they can make their ideas work.

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