ESA, “the most important annual conference anywhere in the world for the science of entomology [the study of insects],” according to the conference website. Rosina Romano, ESA’s director of meetings, expects 3,500 attendees, up from last year’s total of 3,000. The bones of the event are a plenary session and 108 symposiums, with sessions on such subjects as “Women in Entomology” and “Insect Illustration.”
Since the OCC is across the Willamette River from many of Portland’s downtown hotels, transportation was an early knot to unravel. “We’ll have our attendees on both sides [of the river], and they’ll have to take light rail,” Romano said. “But Travel Portland has been really wonderful in getting the word out, by offering complimentary light-rail passes and making us a custom map.” The city is proving to be a strong draw for ESA’s youngish attendee base: The original room blocks were selling swiftly by mid-summer, so ESA added new blocks.
Also, with so many international attendees, ESA has to be “proactive” with providing delegates early information for their visa applications. “Occasionally, we run into some payment-processing issues,” Romano said, “or last-minute ‘I can’t get a visa.’”
Facilitating visas is something with which ESA has deep experience: Every four years, the society hosts the International Congress of Entomology, a worldwide event that draws about triple the number of delegates. The next one will take place in Orlando in 2016, and planning has already begun.
Although ESA has provided on-site childcare in the past, Romano said, “it was not used at a rate that it [made sense for] us to do it.” Instead, this year the society has rolled out a childcare grant program that awards up to $400 to applicants who are primary caregivers, and gives preference to applicants “in the early stages of their careers and to those whose participation in the meeting is critical to their professional development,” according to the guidelines. It was modeled on a similar program that the American Civic Education Teachers offered at its meeting. “We didn’t launch it until late in the game,” Romano said, “but we just got our first application — from a male attendee.”
ESA is also adding social-media components — most notably Instagram — to its app, which is built by Core-apps. “They’re a great partner,” Romano said. “They help us brainstorm ideas.”
About a third of attendees will be graduate or undergraduate students, and Romano and her team plan a roster of special events targeting them — including an off-site reception with karaoke and ping-pong. Because under-30s in general are a huge part of the meeting, some of the ancillary events in Portland will have a Millennial-esque feel, such as an Urban Adventure Run that guides attendees on a scavenger hunt to collect raffle tickets at different points in the city. There’s also an off-site student reception at a bar called Punch Bowl Social. “Two years ago, we had a wonderful success doing a full buyout of a bar,” Romano said. “It’s a relaxed time [for students], and the food-and-beverage is a lot cheaper than at the convention center.”
Convene’s Pre-Con/Post-Con series asks meeting planners about their challenges and how they intend to address them (Pre-Con), and then circles back around after the meeting has occurred (Post-Con) to see how well they worked out.