Posts Tagged ‘Baltimore’

Convention/fan relations? You’re doing it wrong.

February 19th, 2009

Previously I I blogged about FaerieCon and my experiences there as a vendor/attendee for the past two years. I was aware that the venue, the Pennsylvania Convention Center, had more than its fair share of problems as far as the con organizers, vendors, and attendees were concerned. It certainly wasn’t especially “fae” in atmosphere, and being a union facility everything from setting up your booth to running a single line of electricity could become quite expensive.

But that said, it did have some advantages location-wise, at least for those from and/or familiar with the Philadelphia area. It was no more than a block or two’s walk from the Greyhound bus station (and numerous Chinatown bus routes). A block or two from multiple subway and regional rail routes (including the route that serves the airport–an under $6 fare). Under a $10 cab fare from 30th Street Station. For those reliant on public transit (or who use it whenever possible for convenience/environmental/cost factors), it was great. Also being smack-dab in the middle of Chinatown, and near Reading Terminal Market, cheap and good food was in quick, easy walking distance. Yes, the “host hotel” rates were expensive, but the city itself is full of lodging choices for any budget, again within easy public transit reach to the convention center. The nearby Trocadero theater made for a fabulous location for the Good and Bad Faerie Balls.

Nevertheless, I had heard talk of moving the convention, and did agree that it might be a necessary choice. Even being in the heart of the city, it seemed attendance was never in the range that it could or should have been to make the PACC location profitable (for anyone). A different location — say a hotel convention facility in the area, even the nearby ‘burbs — should provide cheaper facilities, and I had imagined might provide cheaper prices for exhibitors, hence I was actually considering trying to work the show again this year as the fees for it were my primary reason not for returning.

But then last night I received an update email, which made me rule out the possibility of going back entirely.

Because the convention is now going to take place in Hunt Valley, Maryland (oh, they say it’s Baltimore, but I’ll get to that in a moment) at the good old Marriott Hunt Valley Inn. And let’s take a look at how they “promote” this change of venue on their website (the same as the email), which manages to be both highly insulting to Philadelphia and its resident fen, but inaccurate in many ways as well…

LOCATION: Baltimore, MD
- Easier Access for all of our Fans
- A Safer and more Hospitable City

First off, Hunt Valley is NOT Baltimore. It is, by YahooMaps 17.5 miles (approximately 22 minutes by car) away. This might be easier access to some with cars, but it is not easier access “for all”. I know from a great deal of experience that it is about a $40+ cab ride from the train station in Baltimore to that hotel. It is 45 minutes away from Baltimore by light rail and an awkward walk (especially if you have any luggage) involving crossing a 6-lane high-traffic road (with no pedestrian sidewalks as this is commuter suburbia).

And let’s talk about “safer and more hospitable”. What a way to insult Philadelphia and its residents. We can examine some actual statistics from 2005 that ranked Baltimore the #2 most dangerous city with population over 500,000 in the U.S.; Philadelphia was ranked #6. Baltimore is noted for its consistently higher than average crime rates.

Oh, but that’s right, the con isn’t really in Baltimore anyway. It’s in Hunt Valley, which probably doesn’t have that much crime given it’s mostly full of business and industrial parks. Except perhaps pedestrians getting hit trying to cross those roadways!

DATE: November 6-8
- No Ren Faire Date Conflicts
- The perfect Holiday Gift Shopping Event

It’s nice it doesn’t conflict with any Ren Faire. But the new later date puts it two weeks before Philcon, meaning again that many Philadelphia-area fans are less likely to attend for budget/scheduling reasons.

And as someone who has worked retail for many years, nothing truly becomes “holiday shopping” in earnest until Thanksgiving weekend onward.

VENUE – Marriott Hunt Valley
- Just 10 Minutes from Downtown Baltimore!

Ten minutes perhaps by helicopter.

- A modern, beautiful hotel.

I guess they’ve missed how many of us have laughed our heads off at the rather hideous remodeling of the hotel from several years ago, with the nausea-inducing carpet patterns, odd lighting choices, etc.

- FaerieCon owns the WHOLE Hotel for the Weekend!
- After hours, you can party all night!
- FaerieCon Special Rate Rooms are just $99.00 a night;
that’s 50% off Philadelphia rates!

I also know that hotel tends to fill up pretty quick for conventions. Nearby overflow choices are somewhat limited and generally in the $130+ range.

- Free Parking on Site! – saving you up to $40 a day from Philly

Again, good for the car people. For the rest of us, not so much…

- All Activities – including the Masquerade Balls – take place in the Hotel!

I’ll miss the Troc.

- Hunt Valley is an Experienced Convention Host – Balticon and others are held there.

I’ll grant them this is true. But I will say it has very limited – and expensive – dining choices. Their snack bar is similar to Aramarks’ at the PACC in terms of selection and price. The hotel’s main restaurant, the Cinnamon Tree, is overpriced and inconsistent at best in quality. There are numerous chain and other restaurants in driving distance, but it’s been my experience that being suburbia, they are mob scenes Friday & Saturday nights — especially when you throw a convention into the mix.

- Full Guest Facilities: Bar, Restaurants, Gym, Outdoor Areas, etc.

OK, I just have to laugh at the outdoor areas bit. The outdoor areas basically consist of the lawn around the parking lot. The most I’ve generally ever seen people use these outdoor areas for during conventions is a smoke break.

And let’s also talk about the fact that their exhibitor prices have only gone up, not down. At a non-union facility, now which has a much more limited capacity for bodies on premises than the PACC did. This to me is the final insult upon injury. Even with all my personal beefs about the location, I can still afford (and profit on) working a convention like Shore Leave at that hotel — because a vendor’s space can be had for under $300. Even if I have upwards of $400 in travel, lodging, and food expenses, I can still make a profit when my expenses are under $700. Here, FaerieCon is charging just about DragonCon-level pricing for space, for an event that will not possibly get that kind of turnout.

I really have to wonder what is up with how they think they can justify that. And I will wait and see if I can get any answers from the event staff to explain it all…

It’s a shame, too, because I had been considering even just attending this year, without vending. I really enjoyed the craftwork, the music, and the atmosphere of the convention in the past. But at the considerably higher cost for me to now even attend (let alone exhibit), given the state of the economy currently it’s just not something I have the budget for, even if I wasn’t insulted by the way this change was announced.

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