RSNA officials visit Orlando, ponder moving Chicago meeting

Decision on move may come in early 1997Do radiology and Mickey Mouse mix? The medical imaging industrymay get a chance to find out. Officials with the RadiologicalSociety of North America are investigating a plan to move radiology'spremier

Decision on move may come in early 1997

Do radiology and Mickey Mouse mix? The medical imaging industrymay get a chance to find out. Officials with the RadiologicalSociety of North America are investigating a plan to move radiology'spremier showcase from Chicago's McCormick Place to Orlando, FL.

To those in the radiology industry, traveling to Chicago forthe RSNA conference has become a Thanksgiving weekend traditionas hallowed as turkey and stuffing. The show has been held inChicago every year since 1984, when it took place in Washington,DC. Before that, it was held for years in Chicago's Palmer Househotel.

The meeting's popularity has caused growing pains, however. Over60,000 registrants and exhibitors attended the conference lastyear, putting an enormous strain on the city's hotel resources.The scenario has been repeated this year: Many would-be RSNA attendeeshave reported difficulties in finding rooms near the city's downtown.

Due in large measure to the hotel-room dilemma, the RSNA's boardhas been investigating the possibility of holding the meetingin another city. Orlando has emerged as the front-runner, andRSNA officials visited the city in July, according to MichaelO'Connell, director of meetings and convention services for theOak Brook, IL, society. The board was impressed with the city'sfacilities, in particular its recently expanded Orlando/OrangeCounty Convention Center, he said.

"The new sections of the convention center are truly state-of-the-artin terms of telecommunications capability, which is very important,whether it's videoconferencing or the extensive networking wedo," O'Connell said. "The exhibit halls are outfittedsimilarly to what exists in Chicago."

The convention center has about 1.2 million square feet ofexhibit space, compared with 2.2 million at McCormick Place, afigure that includes the new South Building addition scheduledto open early next year. Not including the South Building, McCormickhas 1.4 million square feet available.

Orlando ranks number two in the nation, after Las Vegas, in totalnumber of hotel rooms, with 84,500 available rooms. Las Vegasis not a viable option for the RSNA meeting, however, becausemost attendees arrive on Saturday, and the city's hotel industryprefers to keep weekend hotel rooms available for gambling visitors,O'Connell said.

Chicago has 67,000 rooms in the metropolitan area, an inventorythat is taxed to the limit every year. The RSNA meeting has grownso big that it requires 90% of the hotel rooms in the downtownarea, according to O'Connell.

"There are a number of hotels we use just because of theirgeographic convenience in Chicago," he said. "In Orlando,we have three times the number of hotel rooms. Therefore, we havea much greater choice in the hotels we use."

A spokesperson for the Orlando/Orange County Convention andVisitors Bureau said that the weekend after Thanksgiving is typicallyone of the slowest times of the year for the city's hotel industry.

"It's a ghost town around here between Thanksgiving andChristmas vacation," the spokesperson said.

The RSNA would probably retain its Thanksgiving-weekend timeframe if a move took place, O'Connell said. The society enjoyslower costs because the weekend is traditionally a slow time ofyear for the convention industry.

In addition to attractions like Disney World and a somewhat milderwinter climate than Chicago, Orlando has the air connections necessaryfor the RSNA meeting's international attendees, who make up one-thirdof registrants.

Another issue involved in the RSNA's search for a new city isexhibiting costs. The society cited rising costs as a reason foran increase in exhibiting rates that drew the ire of vendors earlierthis year (SCAN 8/28/96).

Labor costs in Orlando are far lower than Chicago, but vendorsmay not realize much savings because Chicago's unionized workforce is far more adept at handling the large exhibits commonat shows like the RSNA meeting.

"Chicago has an advantage in that (the city) is still theconvention and trade show capital of the world," O'Connellsaid. "The people in this industry work every day. As a resultthey develop the skills needed to move large exhibits in and outof large facilities very quickly."

Some conventions in lower priced locales have even broughtin labor from Chicago and other union cities to help with moves,an occurrence that might take place at an Orlando RSNA show.

The RSNA board will probably vote on a move sometime in early1997, O'Connell said. Even if they vote in favor of an Orlandomeeting, RSNA attendees will still have the opportunity to enjoyfive more winters in Chicago: Due to contractual obligations,an Orlando RSNA meeting could not be held until 2002 at the earliest.