3 Reasons for Ending EdTech Conferences in Orlando

A call to gather in dense / walkable cities.

December 10, 2013

This is an argument that we should stop having our edtech conferences in Orlando.

Some caveats:

First, everyone should still go to EDUCAUSE 2014 in Orlando. I’m going. You should too.

Second, I totally understand why my (wonderful, generous, smart) colleagues at EDUCAUSE keep choosing Orlando for the annual conference. There are not that many convention and hotel venues that can accommodate a conference the size of EDUCAUSE.  The Orlando airport boasts lots of connections.

Orlando is an affordable and convenient place to hold a conference.

Third, I am not trying to say anything negative about the Orlando area as a place to live or visit. I have some colleagues whom I greatly respect who live in the Orlando area, and they report that the quality of life is very high.

So why should EDUCAUSE, and all other edtech conferences, stop going to Orlando?  3 reasons:

Reason #1. A Conference Orlando Lack a Sense of Place:

I’ve spent the last few days accompanying my partner to her hematology conference in New Orleans.  This trip has given me plenty of time to wonder the stress of the city.  To check out the restaurants, shops, and cultural attractions. To experience some of the street life of New Orleans.

New Orleans is a great city. Conferences should be in cities. Cities that we can explore in the early morning, between sessions, and in the evenings. Cities that are walkable. Cities where we can have experiences unique to the culture of that particular city.   

Have you ever noticed that Orlando conferences tend to blend together? It is very difficult to associate anything specific to Orlando with a given conference in a given year. Orlando provides a homogenous conference going experience.   

But a conference in a big city provides opportunities to have experiences that can only be found in that city. A conference in a big walkable city provides opportunities to learn new things about the place. Experience sites and people and food that can only be found in that particular locale.

Reason #2. A Conference in Orlando Does Not Contribute Enough to the Local Economy:

Should local economic development be a goal of our edtech conferences?

While in New Orleans for my wife’s conference this weekend we have pumped a good deal of money in to local restaurants (and yes, maybe some local bars). We are staying at a locally owned Bed and Breakfast.   

I don’t know the actual figures, but my strong suspicion is that most conference spending in Orlando goes into multinational corporate coffers. Yes, some money will stay local (some local restaurants, services and taxes), but much less than in a city that is dense and walkable.

Can anyone point to any numbers about how much money a conference brings into hands of local business people in a city like Boston, Philadelphia, DC, Chicago, Denver, San Francisco, New York, Atlanta, or Seattle?  What dense, walkable cities (with adequate conference and hotel facilities) am I missing?

Does Disney really need our edtech conference goers money?

Reason #3. A Conference in Orlando Is No Fun for Runners, Walkers and Explorers:

I hate running around the Orlando Convention Center and convention hotels. There is really nowhere to go. Nothing interesting to see. The fast cars scare me.  

What a joy it is go for a morning run during a conference held in the middle of a dense city. There is no better way to tour the neighborhoods than in an early morning or late afternoon run (or long walk if that is your style).

My home campus happens to be in a fairly rural area. (Our motto is "Vox clamantis in deserto,” which translates as “the voice of one crying out in the wilderness.”). Running in the woods is great, but I depend on my conferences to see some city sites during morning runs.   

Am I alone in this? How many of you look forward to a good conference run or long walk?  How many of you want to spend at least some conference time exploring on foot?

Can we start a movement to only hold our edtech conferences in dense, walkable cities?

Would you be willing to pay a bit more for flight and hotels in return for city conferences?

What is your favorite conference city?


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