RSNA to move meeting to Orlando due to Chicago’s hotel-room shortage

Make your reservations now for RSNA Orlando 2002It was no bluff. The Radiological Society of North America last week surprised the medical imaging industry by following through on its intention to move its annual meeting to Orlando, FL. Fans of

Make your reservations now for RSNA Orlando 2002

It was no bluff. The Radiological Society of North America last week surprised the medical imaging industry by following through on its intention to move its annual meeting to Orlando, FL. Fans of Chicago shouldn't be completely disappointed, however, as the society voted to alternate the meeting between Chicago and Orlando beginning in 2004.

The RSNA served notice last summer that it was seeking an alternative to Chicago, which has hosted the RSNA conference every year since 1984, when it was held in Washington, DC. For years prior to that, the conference took place in Chicago's Palmer House hotel.

The rapid growth of the radiology industry has resulted in strain between the society and Chicago, however, particularly with regard to the city's supply of hotel rooms. With attendance last year reaching 61,580, the RSNA show typically requires 90% of the hotel rooms available in downtown Chicago, according to Michael O'Connell, director of meetings and convention services for the Oak Brook, IL, society.

To alleviate the hotel-room dilemma, the RSNA last year began exploring alternatives to Chicago, with Orlando emerging as the lead candidate (SCAN 9/25/96). The society last summer visited the city and was impressed with its facilities, O'Connell said, in particular the newly expanded Orlando/Orange County Convention Center.

On Feb. 23, the RSNA's board of directors heard a final pitch from Chicago authorities, who urged the society to remain in the Windy City. It may have worked: While the board ultimately approved the move to Orlando, they voted to hold the meeting in Chicago every other year.

Due to contractual obligations with Chicago, the first Orlando RSNA show will not take place until 2002, with the meeting the year after that held in Orlando as well. The 2004 conference will be held in Chicago, the 2005 meeting in Orlando, and so on. The RSNA plans to hold the conference the week before Thanksgiving in Orlando, while retaining the traditional post-Thanksgiving-weekend time slot when in Chicago.

The RSNA chose the rotating schedule to foster competition between the cities, according to O'Connell. The society had found that Chicago's commitment to the meeting began to lag several years into multiyear agreements. For example, hotel operators in the city often failed to reserve enough hotel rooms for the RSNA's housing block, or did not provide rooms at affordable rates.

"The meeting grew probably at a greater rate than anyone had anticipated, and the hotel inventory wasn't increasing in Chicago," O'Connell said. "After three or four years, we were having more and more difficulty accommodating the needs of our exhibitors and our attendees."

Orlando should be a different story, if only because the city's burgeoning hotel stock is more than adequate to house RSNA attendees. Orlando has some 80,000 hotel rooms available, compared with 67,000 rooms available now in the metropolitan Chicago area. Orlando's convention center has been recently expanded, and now has 1.1 million square feet of exhibit space and 350,000 square feet of meeting space.

Despite Orlando's advantages, few believed that the RSNA was willing to go through with its threat to move the meeting, which contributed an estimated $93 million to the Chicago economy last year. Many industry observers believed that the society was using Orlando as leverage to wring concessions from Chicago. Not so, according to O'Connell.

"That was never the case," he said. "Unfortunately, we have been seriously considering this move for the last four or five years. I don't think we would have put the people in Orlando through the paces we put them through to earn this business were it simply a bargaining chip."