Vern Byrd, Operations Manager, Andrews University Center for Youth Evangelism, General Conference, Seventh-Day Adventist Church, Berrien Springs, Mich. The economy really dictates what people can do nowadays, whether it's traveling to conferences by plane or automobile, or staying at a hotel or guest housing.

With air travel, I'm starting to see better deals, especially departing from bigger cities. Prices from the major hubs have been getting cheaper, from what I've seen recently, while the prices at the smaller airports seem to be getting more expensive. This may have to do with airlines pulling out of smaller cities. I'm not sure. But prices are dictating how people travel and whether they drive or fly.

For us, location makes a critical difference. We'll meet in Chicago because it's one of the major U.S. air hubs and it's cheap. We can use a hotel nearby with free airport shuttles.

While the hotel rates are starting to move up, there are still a lot of good deals out there. And everything is negotiable. There has to be a give and take. You've got to really push the other end for concessions, but then they are going to turn around and ask for something else. One of my pet peeves is getting charged for parking at a hotel that owns the property. I'll try to negotiate away parking fees, but they may try to charge more for food and beverage.

We'll try to piggyback our meetings with other meetings that the church holds. [Byrd runs International Pathfinders Camporee, a youth event for the Seventh-day Adventist Church.] We try to meet pre- or post- the directors' meeting, and that saves us money on lodging and airfares, since many of the directors attend both.

We'll also look at guest housing, especially university housing. University housing is starting to be a big thing in my opinion because it's cheap, they have plenty of seminar rooms, and they are looking for the business. I've gotten a couple of dozen calls from campuses in the last two or three months from convention services managers saying, “Hey we just remodeled and we're ready to hold your convention.” And they are a half or a third less than hotel room rates.”


Next year looks as though it will be a year of stabilizing. While attendance has been declining steadily every year since 2008, I am seeing a surge in travel and attendance for 2011. We are very hopeful that 2011 will start to show a positive uplift.


One of the things that we have been conscious of is trying to watch the numbers and be good stewards of the money that the church has because that comes from someone's hard-earned dollars, and those hard-earned dollars have been affected over the last couple of years.

However, because the market is starting to go back up, I'm encouraging my groups to book future events and take advantage of the buying cycle right now. The deals are still out there, but those deals are going to go away pretty quickly once corporate travel starts moving and leisure travel starts picking up steam.

While we have been cautious with our budgets over the last two years, we're starting to see attendance numbers increase, which means we have to plan for a little more attendance. Even though we've had to cut back the last couple of years, we need to make sure that we prepare our budgets accordingly for the turn in the market.

One of the advantages we have at Experient is that we get a good sense of coming trends because we work with so many different groups.