WindyCon in Chicago was interesting. In general, I had a really good time, but that time was mostly because I use Windy as a chance to get down to Chicago and see friends. From a convention perspective, my experience was somewhat mildly less positive. Actually, 90% of my concerns with the convention can be directly traced back to one thing, the convention's relationship with the hotel was managed like shit.
It began when several weeks ago, we attempted to arrange for a suite in which to throw a party on behalf of Michigan conventions. I reserved a room and tried to find out how to obtain a suite. This was harder than it seems because emails sent through the website received no response. Actually, no form of communication received a response until I bitched about it via Twitter/Facebook/Buzz. I can only assume that somebody with a few less followers might have just found themselves fucked. Of course, by the time their hotel liaison finally got around to contacting me (several weeks after I began the process) all the suites were gone, so he arranged for a room with a pair of queen beds.1 Since it costs $150 dollars to remove a bed, we were told it would be more cost effective to move the bed ourselves (and you cannot imagine how close I was to moving it to someone's house for the weekend), so we opted to do just that.
When we arrived (at 4pm) we did not have a pair of queens but a single king. The front desk pointed out that they weren't allowed to change the reservation without the liaison's aid, but could not reach the liaison at all. After mucking about for a bit, I put on *my* liaison hat, spoke to a manager, found out that the problem was they were already oversold on queen rooms and were trying to solve this for me. I told them to put me in a king room and not to worry about it. They seemed relieved—the conversation that the folks at the front desk were having about the hotel liaison not-quite-quietly-enough more than made up for the modest inconvenience.
On Saturday, I spoke to the manager briefly because I wished to find out how one goes about obtaining a late checkout. As it turns out, such a thing wasn't accommodated by the con's contract, so the best she could do was ask me to call on Sunday, and if they weren't heavily booked for checkins, they would be happy to. Sunday, they were unable to do so—their booking numbers were middle-high.
Now, I try not to foist my opinions about event management off as fact too often, but in this case, it is a fact that the contract that WindyCon has with the Westin is either utter crap or is being managed like utter crap. Some specific thoughts:
- Late checkout: There are mitigating circumstances (Capricon had trouble with late checkouts when Sunday fell on Valentine's Day, once), but generally, if your event ends after checkout, you have failed if late checkout is impossible.
- Bed removal: Seriously, you couldn't talk to the hotel about $150 per bed? That's unfathomable.
- For real, you don't block all of the two-bed rooms in a hotel that you aren't fully booking?
- Room rates: Well, if you paid for a room, you already know. Ouch.
You see, the thing is, you can lose out in one of these areas—but to fail in every area is just sad. It means you have failed as a negotiator and a manager of the relationship. Even more appalling is to fail in Chicago; there are roughly eleventy-billion hotels that would make appropriate choices.
The rest of the con went well. I did not attend much programming, but the little that I did went well. Ger tried to attend a panel that time-shifted from what was shown in the program book, but I don't think I've ever been to a con at which this didn't happen, and the signage on the doors was sufficiently accurate to overcome it entirely. The party scene felt weak Friday night, but from all appearances it was much better on Saturday (although I was in the Michigan Conventions room party all night, because we were slammed…such a great problem to have, eh?) In general, I had a great time at the con, and I thank everyone there for making it so. There was one particularly amusing moment for me, though:
Early on, Ger and I stopped into the art auction to see Dawn's art pieces and Ger was stopped to check in her purse, which was handled in the usual way: a playing card was clothes-pinned to her bag and an identical card was handed to Ger for retrieval. We made our way past when I was stopped:
“Sir,” I heard, “You have to check your book…”
After a bit of confusion, it became apparent that the book I was to check was the program book for the convention that rolled up in my back pocket. I laughed, crossed half the distance between where I was standing and bag check, and threw the program into the trash can.
For the rest of the weekend, we played our version of a poker run in which we would wander down, check in our program book, and keep the card that was given as part of my new deck.
I ended up with three of a kind 3s.
1 Later on, I found out that the person who manages the hotel relationship is the same individual that was relatively unable to manage a room reservation last Penguicon, resulting in the need to jump through hoops in order to solve his problem, so I can't rule out the possibility that the poor handling was targeted as a fuck-you to me, but I cannot imagine that the entire shitty contract was.