By Kevin Henry, Editor
After 24 years at the Washington State Convention Center, the Pacific Northwest Dental Conference (PNDC) is moving to a new location in 2013. I talked to Amanda Tran, assistant executive director of the Washington State Dental Association, about the move and the show's new attitude that is part of its new address.
Kevin Henry: What brought about the move from Seattle to Bellevue?
Amanda Tran: Historically, the PNDC has been held in July — sometimes it was at the beginning of the month and sometimes it was toward the end of the month. We preferred the middle of July. In the last few years, it has become more difficult to secure preferable dates for the PNDC at the Washington State Convention Center. We have exhausted all efforts to successfully negotiate with the Seattle Convention Bureau to keep the meeting in Seattle on consistent dates. For them, the bottom line is economics. PNDC is a regional meeting, and it does not generate enough revenue in the City of Seattle, specifically for hotel rooms. Several years ago, we hired a contractor to audit the room night counts, and it was proven that we hit over 1,000 room nights; but this was still not enough — the battle to keep consistent meeting dates was ongoing.
Three years ago, when Microsoft brought their Tech Expo into town and wanted the July dates, PNDC was moved to June. We spent a lot of resources on marketing the meeting in June, and at the end, the feedback from attendees and exhibitors was positive — everyone wanted to keep the meeting in June. Again, we started a dialogue with the Convention Bureau about keeping the meeting in June, and again that was not favorable. They wanted to move us back to July. We cannot produce a meeting where we are not wanted; so we started exploring the Bellevue option.
Henry: Talk about the move to Bellevue.
Tran: Change is always hard. The Pacific Northwest Dental Conference has a solid reputation in the Pacific Northwest of offering quality continuing dental education.
We view leaving Seattle as an opportunity to refresh the meeting and provide attendees with a quality, technological, diverse program. There will be some challenges in planning for two venues, required to accommodate the meeting, but we experienced that before in 2009 when the meeting was held at the Convention Center and the Sheraton Hotel. With proper planning and communication, we do not foresee any problems. We will also provide shuttle service between the two venues.
Henry: What changes are you looking to make to your show when you move to Bellevue?
Tran: One of the major changes will be the exhibit hall. We'll be scaling down the hall so vendors will have more face time with their buyers. With a smaller hall, we'll not be able to accommodate ancillary vendors — it will be a true dental show. Again, the change in location will allow us to turn the meeting into more of a boutique dental meeting.
We met with the vendors at this year's show and began a dialogue about the move to Bellevue, so we can proactively address any concerns about the change.
Henry: What were the concerns?
Tran: The concerns were about the exhibitor selection process and the flow of traffic through two venues. We are developing the exhibitor selection process and will have it finalized by the time of the prospectus mailing.
We take exhibitor feedback seriously, and we'll use all resources to produce a great meeting for all — they have as much invested in the meeting as we do.
Henry: What changes have you seen in your show over the last five years?
Tran: We are seeing a decline in attendance in dental meetings across the country, regardless of the size. This is a combination of competitive CE and the economy. We also see vendors reducing the number of dental meetings in which they participate — some are hiring marketing agencies to do shows for them with some combining companies into single booths. This used to be a trend; it is now a reality.
Henry: What are you doing to ensure doctors are spending time in the exhibit hall?
Tran: We always hear from our exhibitors that the doctors aren't in the hall enough, since exhibitors assume the doctor makes the buying decision. Staff may not have the final decision, but they have the power to influence the doctor with the power to buy! They need to be treated equally and professionally.
In the last two years, we started giving the doctors and team members a two-hour lunch break, and we're seeing a pretty full exhibit hall during that time. We have also started a Buyer Incentive Program to reward people who spend the most money in the exhibit hall, further drawing traffic into the hall. Last year, our highest buyer spent $99,950, and we awarded the person an iPad. We are also holding drawings for items such as big-screen TVs, which appeal to all attendees.