WHEN THE TIME CAME FOR SUE DAVIS, DIRECTOR OF SPECIAL PROJECTS, to plan the 2005 annual meeting for SPIE—The International Society for Optical Engineering— the future was crystal clear. San Diego had hosted SPIE’s annual meeting for 33 of the last 36 years, and the experienced planner was not interested in tampering with success.

“All of our members love San Diego, and we intend to stay there for the foreseeable future,” says Davis.

In fact, SPIE has signed letters of agreement through 2012 for the Optics and Photonic event. For the 6,000 members attending the 2005 meeting, Davis booked rooms at the San Diego Marriott Hotel & Marina, the Omni San Diego Hotel, and other downtown hotels.

Meeting and exhibit space was booked at the Marriott as well as the San Diego Convention Center, which offers 615,701 square feet of exhibit space; 204,114 square feet of meeting space; 284,494 square feet of prefunction, lobby, and registration space; and the 90,000-square-foot Sails Pavilion for exhibits, receptions, and special events.

In early 2005, the convention center announced changes designed to enhance the satisfaction of planners and attendees. The center now manages an in-house team of convention services managers and is responsible for registration and information services.

Davis says an opening reception at the city's new baseball stadium was a hit with attendees. “PETCO Park is a gorgeous facility, and the convenience of walking out the front door of the convention center or across the sky bridge from the Omni was remarkable.”

Davis acknowledges that the city’s popularity necessitates booking well in advance, but says the payoff is worth it. “Returning to the same city has made our meetings more cost-efficient. We have wonderful relationships with the San Diego CVB, the convention center, and the Marriott property. The physical plant in San Diego is as good as it gets.” The Omni Hotel also scored high marks with SPIE. “The Omni was built to a wonderful human scale that offers a surprisingly cozy ambience.”

Davis says that SPIE's members are vocal about their preference for San Diego. “I think the reasons our attendees love San Diego are the great weather, convenience, and many attractions. Seaport Village is right next door, which is fabulous for spouses and children, while the attractions of Tijuana and Mission Valley are reached via a trolley that stops in front of the hotel.”

Her list of what makes the city desirable for association planners is almost as long as SPIE’s meeting history in San Diego. “The airport is just 10 minutes from the convention center, and the wide variety of free services provided by the convention bureau virtually eliminates the need to contract with a DMC. The CVB will provide pre-convention links on a Web site, help promote the event, and send material to meeting planners for your attendees.”

The CVB's iService allows planners to receive customized destination information at specified intervals using criteria that is pre-selected by the planner. Another program, iLead, provides an interactive connection among meeting planners, hotels, and the bureau, allowing leads and proposals to be managed efficiently.