By Connie Pool, F140306, National President
This month I thought I’d devote my column to offering an in-depth look at one of FMCA’s departments. Since we’re holding our 79th International Convention this month in Pomona, California, I thought it would be timely to take you into the Convention/Commercial Services Department, which is responsible for the planning of the association’s conventions. I even decided to offer it in a format that might be of special interest to all the cooks out there.
Irresistible International Conventions
Preparation time: Two years
Number of servings: Approximately 3,000 to 6,000 families
1 Facility, preferably a fairground, that will accommodate families living in motorhomes, a marketplace for exhibitors, educational seminars, and lively entertainment
150 Acres (approximate) needed to park family coaches
230 Minimum acres overall at a facility to make a convention work
10-12 Seminar rooms, varying in size from craft rooms for 30 people at tables to a few 1,000-person seminar rooms
1,800 Hotel rooms reserved for exhibitors, service technicians, entertainers, and support personnel
10,000 Seats desired for evening entertainment, preferably indoors
100,000 Square feet of indoor exhibit space
1,000,000 Square feet of motorhome exhibit space
18,000 Doughnuts served at coffee hour over a three-day period
480 Gallons of coffee and hot chocolate to wash down the doughnuts
Find a location to accommodate 3,000 to 6,000 families in motorhomes. Carefully check the laws and regulations of the state as they pertain to displays, sales, and taxation of motorhomes sold by in-state and out-of-state dealers. Embark on a minimum of two visits to the site to formulate plan for parking, seminars, entertainment, displays, and special events. Drive routes to ensure families will arrive safely at the convention location. Meet with local police, fire, and emergency response officials so everyone is prepared for what may be in store when this city of motorhomes assembles. Search for quality family-oriented evening entertainment and secure local entertainment for the daytime hours. Obtain commitments from commercial members to exhibit at the convention. Seek sponsorships to underwrite many of the convention-related activities.
Combine optional sight-seeing tours, local daytime entertainment, wonderful family-appropriate evening entertainment, and an exciting youth program, all of which results in fun and fellowship for FMCA families.
With the holidays behind us, many of us have spent a considerable amount of time preparing special dishes for family gatherings. We tend to look at some of our popular and trusted recipes that the family has always loved and, in trying to make them a little better, we have either modified a recipe or two to reflect our own tastes or added a few secret ingredients to make them extra special. In a way, that is exactly what FMCA’s convention department does in assembling an event that can appeal to the novice motorhoming family as well as to the most experienced traveler. With nearly two years of planning for each international convention, the convention department strives to attract trusted seminar presenters, programs, and events treasured by our members, while carefully incorporating some new elements that will keep families coming back.
Safer Motorhoming Through Education
Education is one of the major reasons to attend an FMCA convention, with its popular technical seminars, health-related lectures, craft-making sessions, and general-interest presentations. More than 120 seminars are scheduled during each convention, appealing to a wide variety of interests. One of the most popular seminars is the RV Driving Safety Program. This seminar, co-sponsored by the Recreation Vehicle Safety & Education Foundation (RVSEF) and FMCA, provides members with helpful driving information and tips.
New seminars of interest to members are constantly being explored. Seminars relating to computers, health, and maintenance and upkeep of motorhomes have been popular among members. As is fitting for a convention in California, a seminar is being planned in Pomona on how to select the right wine for any occasion. Another seminar focuses on an activity gaining popularity among members “” geocaching.
Crafts have also proven to be a popular activity with members, as they focus on things such as festive holiday decorations; fancy sweaters and scarves; and, in a lighthearted vein, purses made from bras.
Exhibits . . . Shop ‘Til You Drop
Of course, the motorhome displays and the supplier and component exhibits serve as a major attraction at the convention. On average, more than 600 motorhomes are on display or are available to test drive during the convention from every major manufacturer, as well as from several local and national dealers. Nearly 300 indoor exhibitors take up 100,000 square feet of space to show the latest accessories and components to enhance the motorhome lifestyle. Exhibitors begin to contract for exhibit space nearly six months prior to a convention. FMCA conventions would not be as successful or attractive without the tremendous support of our commercial members. We thank them for their participation and dedication to our association.
Once members arrive at the convention site, the discovery begins. Many are interested in walking around the grounds in order to familiarize themselves with seminar locations, entertainment venues, display areas, and the Information Center “” the location to pick up mail, check e-mails, and to sign up for crafts and tours. Others are interested in going on one of the many optional sight-seeing tours planned by a local tour operator in conjunction with FMCA. Some tours are planned exclusively for FMCA and feature elements that may not be available for the general public. At the Pomona convention, quilters may have the opportunity to meet Eleanor Burns, the “Queen of Quilting,” on the “Quilt in a Day” Shop Visit tour.
Beginning approximately six months prior to the convention, evening entertainers are selected based upon member feedback, interest, cost, entertainment value, and appropriateness for a diverse audience. FMCA members love country, variety, and wholesome, family-oriented comedy. Daytime entertainment focuses on highlighting the local talent of the area. In Pomona, variety will be the key, as the daytime and evening hours will be filled with Broadway tunes, hits from the 1960s and 1970s, country, jazz, flamenco, and much more.
Gotta Get There!
After all the initial plans have been made for the convention, many details must be fine-tuned. The planning committee identifies seminar rooms, and a schedule is assembled to show times for each seminar and craft session. Maps showing the overall footprint of the convention location, with parking areas, seminar rooms, tram routing, entertainment locations, and display areas are created. Routes are driven during the first planning visit and given to local law enforcement agencies for their review and comment. Directions are made to reduce the number of left-hand turns, as well as to avoid having exhibit coaches, caravans, and family members arrive at the same gate.
The staff also handles other details, including the rental of trams, wheelchairs, portable toilets, cars, golf carts, audiovisual equipment, and office equipment. They also secure septic service, a printing service, caterers, hotel contracts, and temporary staff. Safety issues and first-aid procedures are addressed as well.
The FMCA national office staff works with the host area vice president in recruiting and confirming volunteers. As you saw in the recipe, nearly 1,000 FMCA members volunteer at each convention in positions such as security; greeters; seminar monitors; information center personnel; coffee and doughnut servers; ice cream social servers; handicap member assistants; and FMCA Store, computer help desk, and tram volunteers. FMCA is very fortunate to have such dedicated volunteers for each convention, and we all sincerely appreciate the efforts given.
Another important volunteer group is the “member staff” or the “advance crew.” These individuals arrive nearly one week prior to the beginning of the convention to prepare the grounds for the arrival of families. The advance crew consists of groups dedicated to parking, safety, security, handicap, welcome bag distribution, and trams.
Registration for the international convention normally begins four months prior to the event. Confirmation materials are prepared and assembled by the national office staff. Maps are created by FMCA’s talented graphic artists, who also design the convention theme art, among other materials. Family registrations are received through the Internet, fax, mail, or via telephone. Parking is divided into five equal arrival times: Saturday morning and afternoon; Sunday morning and afternoon; and Monday morning. Members registering early receive the earlier parking times.
Who Made The Doughnuts?
No, the doughnuts are not made onsite (years back this actually was the case); however, many convention personnel do get up early and stay late at night to assure the convention is running as smoothly as possible. Convention staff can be seen on grounds as early as 5:00 a.m., helping to set up for the morning coffee hour, or as late as midnight, as the last temporary personnel shift of the day is logged out and the overnight skeleton crew takes over. The reward for the long hours is seeing members enjoying themselves and meeting new and lasting friends. And, by the way, did you know that each of the Krispy Kreme doughnuts frequently served at conventions has 200 calories? That means 3 million calories are consumed at coffee hour over a three-day period! You’d better visit the million square feet of motorhome displays so you can walk off all those calories.
Is That All?
I have only briefly touched on all the responsibilities the convention department assumes for each event. A three-page job list has hundreds of tasks that the people in the convention department and national office must do for each convention.
When not in convention mode, responsibilities of the staff in this department include working with the motorhome industry in promoting the RV lifestyle; monitoring legislative actions by states; assisting with customer service issues; investigating potential sites for future conventions; and evaluating seminars and other convention-related programs for future events. The convention evaluations that members complete are reviewed, and suggestions are taken into consideration.
So, are you hungry to attend an FMCA international convention? There is still time to register for the convention in Pomona. If you decide at the last minute to join us, we would love to have you. You can register when you arrive.
If you have attended a convention before, we invite you to come back for seconds, thirds, fourths, etc. As I count back, I believe Pomona 2008 will be the 31st convention my husband, Corbett, and I have attended!
Peace, and may all your travels be safe and trouble-free.