Cybercafés are a welcome service but, for the event planner, they're a major addition to the convention to-do list. Even if you outsource, as many planners do, you'll still need to provide direction to your cybercafé supplier. Here are some things to consider.

Computer Computations

How many computers? Plan on a bare minimum of one computer per 400 to 500 attendees for large association events. Then consider the variables. The more high-tech your audience, the more computers you'll need. And smaller groups are likely to have a higher ratio, for impact if for nothing else.

One key factor is the break time between conferences, for lunch, or before the show: the more break time — i.e., high-usage cybercafé time — you have, the more PCs you'll need.

“We aim for a minimum of 10 or 12 computers at a show, for a visual presence,” says Anne Abbott, president of Tradeshow Multimedia Inc., Mayfield Village, Ohio, a provider of cybercafés as well as other interactive products.

Another consideration is how the computers are being used. If it's just an attendee benefit for checking e-mail, that's one thing. But if you have personal schedulers, product locators, floor plans, and other convention services, these will add to the time that people spend online, meaning that you'll need a higher ratio of computers to attendees.

“People monitor themselves very well. They're not going to park at the computer and ignore your meeting.”
— Melissa Kelly

When you have those added components, you'll also need printers — and don't forget the paper! Figure on one printer for every seven or eight computers, so attendees can print out information on sessions or exhibitors to take with them. Include more printers if you want to make sure to keep people moving, not waiting.

No Parking, No Surfing

The next decision is whether or not to offer connections for attendees' laptops in addition to the cybercafé computers. While attendees typically use cybercafé computers just to check e-mail, letting them hook up laptops will have the effect of encouraging people to log on for long periods of time, say some show organizers.

Melissa Kelly, a producer with Jack Rouse Associates, a meeting design and production firm based in Cincinnati, however, takes a different view: “People monitor themselves very well. They're not going to park at the computer and ignore your meeting.”

Your software choices also help control usage. To minimize usage, takes a conservative stance. Don't allow people to surf the Web, and don't provide any software that allows them to spend more time. You can also discourage long stays via design, such as making yours a stand-up café.

Location, Location

Cybercafés are usually in the registration area, on the exhibit floor, or both. There are pros and cons regarding cybercafés in the exhibit hall. Yes, you do want to keep people there. And it's easy for them to head over to exhibitors whose names they print out. The downside is that the floor space might otherwise be sold to exhibitors. Be sure to have an area exclusively for computers and printers. Unless you're setting up in an area that already has suitable counters, you'll have to arrange for your service contractor to provide tables or countertops.

Control the e-Costs

Connectivity is a big issue. Ask lots of questions about the facility infrastructure — and all the attendant costs. Avoid unpleasant surprises: Make sure to get all those numbers in advance.

You can accomplish a cybercafé with up to 10 systems on ISDN or DSL, say experts. For more than that, you'd want either a shared T1 or a T3. Abbott adds that “ISDN is still an option, especially in hotels.” But she cautions that with ISDN, “You're at the mercy of a phone line that could go down.”

Michael Tydings, director of sales for TEC Communications, Centerville, Md., an application service provider for the convention and meetings industry, says a T1 ranges from $800 to $1,500, depending on the market and the facility. Up to 255 computers can connect to a full T1 line, Tydings says, but each computer also needs an IP address, for which convention centers charge $150 to $200 per computer. In addition, there are PC rental costs.

While you're asking connectivity questions, ask if they have actual phone lines or if you need to bring in a phone company. And ask if they supply cables and hubs. If they don't, your supplier can do that.

Cybercafé 911

With thousands of people of varying computer literacy in and out of the cybercafé, someone is bound to have a problem. Then what? You must specify on-site tech support, not a 24-hour help line to call.