2004 convention in Honolulu appears back on track after close call

By John Thomas, Associate Editor
May 1, 2002 - Last updated: May 31, 2011

Despite fears that holding a convention in Honolulu will be a money loser, the American Psychological Association (APA) appears to have decided to meet in Hawaii in 2004 as planned anyway.

Concerned about losing money and citing post-Sept. 11 concerns, the APA Board of Directors had directed the Bureau of Convention Affairs (BCA) to investigate the possibility of scrubbing Hawaii as the site of the 2004 convention, much to the consternation of the island’s psychologists and others who liked the idea of conducting the convention on the exotic island.

An already financially strapped APA is under a mandate from its Council of Representatives to stop the hemorrhaging of dollars and to present a balanced budget by 2004 with progress toward that goal evident by next year. Concern had mounted that a Honolulu convention would not draw attendance and not produce revenues matching Boston, Washington, Chicago or San Francisco.

Despite the misgivings, a consensus developed that a change in location at this juncture would have too many negative effects.

Ron Levant, Ph.D., a member of the Board of Directors, reported that APA will be looking for “ways we can economize on expenses and boost attendance in order to improve the financial outlook of this meeting.”

The issue of penalties ranging in the $500,000 area for aborting the convention venue in Hawaii along with the huge block of hotel rooms held in reserve years in advance became prominent in developing a position. Final action is expected when the APA Board of Directors meets in Washington, June 7-9.

Bill Howell, Ph.D., chair of the BCA cited several reasons the APA was questioning the viability of holding the 2004 convention in Hawaii, including the “events of 9/11 and its psychological aftermath: fear of flying, particularly outside the continental United States,” and the nation’s economic situation which “under normal circumstances would have prevented many students and less affluent members from attending.”

Howell also said it appeared unlikely that the airlines would provide much in the way of discounts given their reduced schedules and full flights.

Tom Glass, Ph.D., president of the Hawaii Psychological Association, and Kathleen Brown, Ph.D., of Hawaii disputed many of the reasons given by Howell for reconsidering holding the 2004 convention in Hawaii.

By the time word emerged that APA should bypass Hawaii in 2004, the economy was on the way to recovery, and the airline industry was reporting a more optimistic outlook.

“If we are doing this well just seven months after 9/11, just think where we will be by August 2004,” Glass said.

Glass added that many psychologists he had spoken to said that they were planning on attending the Hawaii convention “not in spite of its location, but specifically of Hawaii’s special uniqueness as a cultural, family vacation destination.”

As for fear of flying, Brown said that APA delegates will have to fly to any city where the convention is held and that “Honolulu is far lower on the threat scale than other mainland destinations.”

APA took a $5.5 million hit in 2001, partly as a result of the events of Sept. 11 when foreign governments cut back drastically on its subscriptions to APA publications. Many of the foreign governments reduced their subscriptions to free up money for internal security.

But despite APA’s shaky finances, Howell said he thinks the cost of changing convention sites now would outweigh whatever losses the APA will suffer by keeping the convention in Hawaii.

And APA Treasurer Levant said that more than money was at stake in determining whether the APA stayed with Hawaii or decided to move to another location. He said the damage to its reputation as an established and stable institution could suffer if the APA were to choose another site at such a late date.

During the last several years, Boston and San Francisco conventions have proved to be the biggest money-makers for the APA. Last year’s convention in San Francisco, for example, netted APA $347,500, while the convention in the same city in 1998 saw a profit of $310,994.

The 1999 Boston convention was the biggest money maker during the last several years at $438,394. The 2000 convention, which was held in Washington, D.C., netted the organization $268,762.

Other sites have been less rewarding, Rhea Farberman, APA communications director, said. The 1995 convention in New York City netted the APA only $28,655 and the 1997 convention in Chicago, where the APA convention will be held in August, saw a profit of $146,591.

The only recent money loser has been Toronto, where the APA is scheduled to hold its convention in 2003. The 1996 convention there lost $24,201.

Farberman said that the APA attempts to hold convention expenses to between $1.4 million and $1.9 million while hoping to raise revenues of between $1.8 million and $2 million from registrations and exhibitors’ fees.

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