The Center for Association Leadership (ASAE) started its 100th-year celebration by bringing 5,476 people to Greater Columbus Convention Center for the organization’s Annual Meeting and Exposition—28 percent as first-time attendees. That number included 1,866 exhibitors. Some 600 local volunteers were on hand to help everyone find their way to the sessions and vendors.
Interim ASAE President and CEO Susan Robertson said leaving the city better off was one of the group’s mandates. “Our attendees love volunteerism and love getting involved with community,” Robertson said. Volunteers worked with veteran groups and raised more than $30,000 for family support and health agencies facilitated through The Columbus Foundation.
ASAE Foundation’s fundraiser to support research and programs, The Classic, featured Ohio native John Legend and drew the highest attendance and revenue in the history of the event—in fact, it sold out before the doors even opened.
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Because 86 percent of attendees had never put on an event in Columbus, Robertson predicted that at least 20 percent of them would return with programs in the coming years, now that they have seen all the great infrastructure in place and the new projects on the way.
A Canopy by Hilton Columbus Downtown Short North opened across the street from Greater Columbus Convention Center with 167 guest rooms days before the event. During the gathering, Hilton Columbus Downtown, which is connected to the convention center, broke ground on a 468-room tower that will bring the total number of rooms at the property to 1,000. Also in the pipeline are the 171-room The Graduate Columbus, set to open in September; Moxy Columbus Short North, with 116 guest rooms, in September; and AC Hotel at 511 Park St. with 160 guest rooms, in 2021.
In addition to all the content on the main stage, Robertson saw ASAE events as a model that could inspire association event professionals for their own programs—in fact, the staff offered behind-the-scenes tours to talk about everything from registration software to small bites on conveyor belts so that attendees could create their own custom box lunches.
She pointed the group’s XDP program, which has been retooled to be built with components that even small groups could implement. “We are very transparent about what went into setting up the parallel learning labs, with the headphones and the pay-what-you-want offer,” she said.
To help planners—and all of those who work in associations—ASAE is launching a 2020 Centennial Research Initiative project that will collect stories and data to show the scope of the work they do. “I hope it will give people a sense of pride in our industry,” she said. “This is important work and we especially want younger people to see the impact of the career.”
ASAE also deliberately made social issues—inclusion and diversity—a central part of the event as an extension of the “Power of A” advocacy work they do. “Associations are uniquely positioned to promote and practice civil discourse. Associations represent all points of view, but are all about people coming together,” she said.
ASAE has been working with associations all over the world, and each country grapples with different challenges. Outside the United States, there is a struggle to separate the economic impact of business events from tourism. Dubai Association Centre is supporting groups in the United Arab Emirates and has a program with professionals that draws an international audience. Canada hosts an annual ASAE leadership forum. That will continue to expand, Robertson said.
The finale for the yearlong celebration will be Aug. 8–11, 2020, at Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino, Las Vegas.