Benny the Bull, the Chicago Bulls' red furry mascot, shook their hands, and player Randy Brown gave them autographs--just a few of the treats delegates experienced at the American Society of Association Executives' (ASAE) 77th annual meeting, July 26 to 29 at Chicago's newly expanded McCormick Place.

The meeting drew 5,484 attendees, including 2,562 association executives. Keynoter Steve Forbes, former U.S. presidential candidate and president and CEO of Forbes, Inc., celebrated the power of associations in his address, which was downlinked to seven Marriott hotels across the country.

Taking up that theme, David N. Parker, CAE, president of the Aluminum Association in Washington, DC, announced ambitious goals when he was installed as the new ASAE chairman of the board. While his priority is to select a search committee to find a replacement for current ASAE president R. William Taylor, CAE, who announced his resignation earlier this year, Parker also plans to convene three association leadership summits.

They will focus on the media, public policy, and technology. Another profile-raising project will be a campaign to establish an American Associations Day, to be a focus for events held by associations around the country. The purpose, said Parker, is to "demonstrate [associations'] messages, energize associations, and gain the attention of key leaders in the political arena."

A record-breaking 1,000 people attended the Convention Liaison Council's ninth annual Hall of Leaders Gala, which was held during ASAE. Seven industry leaders were inducted during the event. Before the party, CLC unveiled its permanent tribute, a new Hall of Leaders in the Grand Concourse at McCormick Place. The original Hall of Leaders, at the Washington, DC Convention Center, remains as a tribute as well.

Affordable Meetings In a Seller's Market A record 2,057 delegates attended the Hospitality Sales & Marketing Association International's Affordable Meetings Exposition and Conference, September 3 to 4 at the Washington, DC Convention Center. The general session, "Negotiating with Hotels in a Seller's Market," drew a standing-room-only crowd. Their most pressing question, attendees told moderator Joan L. Eisenstodt, president of the Washington, DCbased Eisenstodt Associates, was how to book local meetings that do not require sleeping rooms. Panelists offered the following strategies:

"Work with the CVBs," said Warren J. Breaux, vice president, business development for Hyatt Hotels Corporation in Chicago. "Find out when citywides are, because most hotel sleeping rooms will be sold out, and hotels are liable to be freer with their meeting space."

If you only need a few sleeping rooms, look for alternative meeting venues near the hotel, such as civic centers, auditoriums, movie theaters, and universities, suggested Kay Heder, vice president, director of corporate meeting sales, ITT Sheraton Marketing Corporation.

Whatever kind of meeting you are planning, be flexible with your dates. "What we love to see in an RFP is a big window of dates," said Richard Green, vice president of sales, Greater Boston & Visitors Bureau.

Are Hotel Taxes Funding the Right Projects? The funding of public stadiums through hotel room taxes is becoming more and more common--a trend that should trouble the meetings industry, says John Rosen, trends coordinator, PKF Consulting, a hotel consulting and real estate firm.

For instance, in Houston, a proposed baseball-stadium bill includes a possible $5 per room-night hotel occupancy tax. "The purpose of transient taxes has always been to promote tourism, and things like stadiums don't promote tourism," Jim Abrams, executive vice president, California Hotel & Motel Association, said in a recent issue of PKF's Trends.

The industry must take proactive measures to counter the trend, Rosen emphasizes. He points to Los Angeles as an example, where the hotel association backed a one percent occupancy tax increase and ensured that all revenues went to the CVB. That kind of creative approach, says Rosen, can prevent taxing that hurts rather helps the industry.

Disney's Coronado Springs an Affordable Option Under a shower of confetti spilling from a sun-shaped pinata, Coronado Springs Resort Convention Center officially opened in Florida's Walt Disney World on August 22. Disney's first convention property aimed at the "affordable market," the Spanish-themed resort hotel offers 1,967 guest rooms and suites and 95,000 square feet of meeting space, including the 60,214-square-foot Coronado Ballroom, the nation's largest. The convention center includes a Guest LAN (Local Area Network), available for the exclusive use of in-house groups; and one of three convention registration areas is equipped for remote check-in.

Many of the association meeting planners participating in the grand opening said they had already booked their annual meetings at the resort and were thrilled to have a Disney hotel where all events could take place under one roof--and at room rates ranging from $100 to $135 a night. Planners can take advantage of the Disney Institute, which specializes in professional development, to create group programs. The Institute is working with the American Society of Association Executives on its Creative Leadership Forum, scheduled for April 1998.

The opening of Coronado Springs is a culmination of Disney's efforts to become a major player in the meetings and convention market, said George Aguel, VP, Resort/Park Sales & Services, Walt Disney Attractions, Inc. When he came to Disney seven years ago, there was just 25,000 square feet of meeting space; there is now more than 300,000 square feet among five Disney properties.

Meeting delegates at Coronado are expected to pump attendance at Disney's newest theme park, Animal Kingdom, scheduled to open in May. "It will be five times the size of the Magic Kingdom, the largest Disney theme park in the world," Aguel said.