Authors: Regan Mandryk (CHI Steering Committee Chair), Philippe Palanque (CHI Site Selection Director)
- Selecting a location and venue for CHI is a long and involved process that involves multiple groups and is led by the CHI SC, but involves the SIGCHI EC, the ACM, and our logistics contractor, Executive Events (EE).
- Conference locations are chosen and secured 4 years in advance of the conference, and before General Chairs are selected.
- As per SIGCHI EC decision, we rotate the conference location through Asia, Eastern North America, Europe, Western North America, and a wildcard year intended to reach new communities.
- The venue must support the presentation of CHI’s various types of research contributions and the exchange of ideas among attendees.
- Selecting a location and venue for CHI is an exercise in compromise. We aim to move the conference around the world, ensure an accessible venue, choose a location that welcomes all our attendees, keep registration rates low, and provide a great conference experience for all. Locations, venues, and dates will invariably cause problems for some; while we aim to be resilient in the face of the compromises we must make, we also aspire not to be making the same compromises year after year.
Who selects the CHI locations and venues?
The site selection process for CHI is a complicated and long one, involving the CHI Steering Committee (SC), SIGCHI Executive Committee (EC), the ACM, and our logistics contractor, Executive Events (EE). Although all members of the SC and EC discuss site selection, take part in the entire process of narrowing down cities based on their bids and the site visits, and vote on final venues and locations, the process is led by the SC Site Selection Director (currently Philippe Palanque) and SC Chair (currentlyRegan Mandryk) with support from EE (currently Roxane Rose) and the ACM (John Otero, Sade Rodriguez). Contracts are approved by the SIGCHI VP for Conferences (currently Andrew Kun).
What is the process for selecting locations and venues?
There is a rotating pattern of general locations that has been agreed upon by the EC and SC. We follow these general guidelines, choosing locations in Asia, Eastern North America (NA), Europe, Western NA, and then Wildcard. In the wildcard year, the SIGCHI EC and SC can make a strategic decision about reaching out to new areas globally or going to a specific location. In 2019, the EC and SC voted to hold the next available wildcard conference in an area other than NA, Europe, or East Asia (e.g., South America, South Asia, Australia).
Why is CHI held in NA twice as often as in Europe or Asia?
Although we would like to see a more equitable distribution, this is a decision that was driven by finances. In NA, convention centres have pricing models that charge for the space based on the amount of food and beverage (F&B) charges made by the event. For CHI, our F&B budget generally exceeds $500,000*, meaning that the convention centre can, depending on the city, be free. The cost of renting a venue in Europe depends on the city, but generally starts around $500,000 for CHI. In East Asia (e.g., Japan, Korea, Singapore), this rental fee is even higher. And these costs are just for the space. The audiovisual (AV) equipment, wifi, booths, furniture, signage, and labour costs are all in addition to this fee**. Many cities that may seem like a great choice for CHI due to their role as a global transportation hub (e.g., Singapore, Frankfurt, New York) are simply not financially viable, given the cost of the convention centre.
To keep registration fees low—and unchanged since 2008—we host the conference in NA every other year. This allows SIGCHI to save enough money when in NA to afford hosting a conference in Europe or Asia each alternating year. We aim to keep registration costs consistent, and not tie the cost of attending CHI to the city where we have chosen to locate in a given year***.
* This seems like a lot of money, and everyone who has attended CHI knows that the food, while appreciated, is not *that* extraordinary. But what is not known to most attendees is that the cost of food at event centres is not what the cost of food is at stores, or even hotels. Prices vary dramatically by location, but a single cookie for coffee break runs around $5 USD, a can of pop $7, and it costs about $100 to fill up a water cooler. A box lunch with a sad sandwich, apple, cookie, and bottle of water will cost $30 to $50. A self-serve buffet lunch will start at $50 for the cheapest option. And venues do not allow you to bring in your own food; there is no option for restaurant delivery at a convention centre. This is true for convention centres all around the world.
** And like with food costs, these are more than you can imagine. Wifi access will cost between $50,000 and $100,000. Audiovisual between $250,000 and $500,000.
***We also have a mechanism of charging the CHI budget $150,000 for the venue each year (with SIGCHI covering the rest of the cost, if any), to make it possible for General Chairs to operate with similar conference budgets each year, regardless of the real cost of the convention centre.
How does the process unfold once a general region is chosen?
Site selection is a complex process; there is a really large flowchart to describe it (see Figures 1 and 2). But to summarize, the SC prepares a request for proposals (RFP) with input from EE and the ACM. The RFP gives specifications on the timing (usually a 6-week window in April/May), the needed space (number and size of rooms), the hotel needs (which include a range of pricing to accommodate restricted budgets), and our wifi and AV needs. The ACM then sends out the RFP with a request to cities for ‘bids’ to come in within a time window. This RFP goes out to specific cities that were chosen in discussions of the SC with the larger HCI Community, but also to regions, which are free to submit bids for cities that were not targeted. These bids include information on the convention centre, the city itself, the region, hotels, transportation, and other relevant information. The SC evaluates these bids, does some internet digging, and reaches out to locals (from the SIGCHI community) in the area for more information. The bids are then grouped into those with potential, a second tier of potentials, and not suitable, and sent to the EC for approval. Once the EC provides their input on the short list, the ACM and the SC work together to arrange site visits for the top three or four venues.
The site selection visits are conducted by the SC Site Selection Director, the SC Chair, the logistics support person from EE, and an accessibility expert. This small group tours the convention centre, meets with the centre’s AV director, technical director, F&B director, and others to discuss logistics, pricing and fit with respect to the RFP. The team then prepares a report on the locations and presents the findings back to the SC, who discuss the tradeoffs in each venue. The SC votes on the top choice and second choice. The SC Chair then presents the report and the result of the SC vote to the EC, who discuss and vote on the top choice and second choice.
What aspects of the report are discussed and used for decision making?
The report focuses on all aspects of the conference. It covers things like the location of the city, access to it, transportation within it, is the city barrier-free, the physical accessibility of the venue, how well the venue fits our program, the envisioned flow of attendees inside the venue, the hotel options in the area, the pricing of hotels, the pricing of the convention centre and the costs (e.g., AV, wifi, F&B), how configurable the space is, the cost and timing for reconfiguring rooms (e.g., moving walls, changing from banquet tables to lecture hall chairs), available dates, other events in the city, safety of the city/area, and other relevant information. There are a lot of different aspects that are considered.
Space: CHI is unique in its need for space. Most larger conferences require either a few large rooms or many small rooms, but CHI requires both. In its present format, CHI needs a plenary room for 5000, parallel rooms for 13 paper sessions (with at least 5 of these rooms that fit 500), another 13 parallel rooms for other technical sessions (e.g., panels, SIGs, courses), logistics space (e.g., Student Volunteer lounge, conference office, registration space), and a large exhibit hall for posters, exhibitors, interactivity, and space for F&B during coffee breaks and receptions. As it turns out, there are very few convention centres worldwide that can accommodate this format. They either have large meeting spaces, or many small ones, but not configurable space that allows us to have an opening plenary for 5000, followed by a coffee break for the same, and then 25 parallel rooms that we break into and accommodate different formats—all before lunch, which by the way, also needs to happen within 1 to 2 hours for 4000+ attendees with varying mobility and financial capacities!
Dates: Because CHI is booking its conferences only 4 years in advance (to allow for flexibility and agility in the format moving forward) the venues have little availability. If we booked 8 to 9 years in advance, we would have our choice of dates; however, we would not be able to adapt to changing contexts in our global community, and decisions on format changes would not be able to take effect for 8 years. With 4 years of lead time, we are often presented with only a single week of availability, or none at all. Given a choice in dates, we do our best to consider major holidays that we should avoid. The conference generally happens in April or early May, which in 2021 and 2022, overlaps with Ramadan and Eid-al-Fitr. In 2022, given our set of constraints, there was a single city and a single date that was available for us to consider. However, at that selection time, our constraints unfortunately did not include the need to avoid any public or religious holidays. As a result, for 2022 there is this significant overlap with Ramadan and Eid-al-Fitr. We apologize for this. Moving forward, we have updated the CHI site selection process to consider the SIGCHI Holidays Calendar (which was created in response to this overlap in 2021) with a goal of accommodating as many constraints as possible. Furthermore, the 2021 and 2022 organizing teams are aware of this overlap and have plans to accommodate as much as possible; come to the CHI 2021 Townhall to hear more about how the 2022 team will support members of our community who observe Ramadan.
Accessibility: The venue must be accessible to people with mobility impairments and allow for free movement through the contracted space. It must support good flow through the spaces for attendees with access needs as we move between sessions and breaks. Having access to elevators is not sufficient if these elevators are hidden in corners or are out of the way, making travel between sessions too onerous. There must be sufficient space to avoid crowds, particularly during breaks and session transitions. But the space cannot be so large that rooms are too far apart to move between. There must be onsite food options to support attendees with different dietary needs. There must be access to restrooms, quiet rooms, and a hotel for attendees who require a room nearby. Because of problems with the accessibility of venues in the past, the site selection team focuses heavily on accessibility issues during the physical site visits; this process started for venue selection for the 2020 conference, which occurred in 2016.
Why is selecting a city for CHI so difficult?
Finding a city with a venue that has availability to perfectly accommodate the format of CHI is like looking for a unicorn. A city and a venue that is a good fit for CHI satisfies a variety of constraints that relate to our core values.
- A venue must fit our unique conference format.
- A venue must to be accessible to people with mobility impairments and have sufficient elevator access to the different levels. This is often a deal-breaker on site visits.
- A city needs to be safe and welcoming to all of our attendees, regardless of their nationality, race, gender, sexual orientation, religion, wealth, age, physical ability, or other aspects of their identity. Already, this is impossible to ensure, given visa requirements for different regions; however, we want to ensure that marginalized groups are not discriminated against in accessing the city and the venue.
- A city needs to be in an easily accessible location, which is impossible when serving a global community; someone will have to travel a long way, and we hope to move the conference through the world to ensure it isn’t the same people who are always traveling far.
- A venue must be financially possible for us to host an event without drastically raising registration rates. This is becoming increasingly hard as we have not raised rates since 2008, but the costs of hosting events have risen dramatically since that time.
No city perfectly satisfies each of these constraints. While we aim to be resilient in the face of the compromises we must make, we also aspire not to be making the same compromises year after year.
What happens once the city is chosen and approved?
At this point, there are contract negotiations between the ACM and the CC, which involve the SC, the VP Conferences for SIGCHI, and the SIGCHI President. Signing the contract is the end of the site selection process, but just the beginning of the work needed to plan CHI. The SC then moves into the General Chair Selection Process and the ACM starts to secure hotel space. General Chairs are chosen after the location has been chosen. They are not involved in site selection and have no control over the location or the dates. As the conference date comes closer, the contracted space is often adjusted and conference chairs get involved in those decisions. The remaining contracts (e.g., AV, F&B, wifi) all happen closer to the event itself and conference chairs may get involved in those as well.
Because of the time involved in selecting a venue, the CHI SC is managing site selection for multiple years at the same time. We just signed contracts for 2023, are working on final decisions for 2024, have selected 2025, and are starting the process for 2026. We try to remain flexible and agile, but also need to plan ahead. And as noted, choosing the venue is just the first step—it’s after signing the contracts for the venues that the detailed planning of the annual CHI conference really kicks off!
Selecting a location and venue for CHI is a long and involved process that involves multiple groups and is managed by the CHI SC, the SIGCHI EC, the ACM, and EE. Selecting a location and venue for CHI is an exercise in compromise. There is no location that will be convenient for all, no venue that fully meets our needs, and no dates that will not cause problems for some. We aim to move the conference around the world, ensure an accessible venue, choose a location that welcomes all our attendees, keep registration rates low, and provide a great conference experience for all. We continue to revise our processes with an aim of better serving the global CHI Community to gather each year at our annual flagship event.
Figure 1. Site selection process up to site visits.
Figure 2. Site selection process after site visits.