President's Message

HomeATS CommunityPresident's Message ▶ Considerations and Challenges in the Selection of Conference Venues
Considerations and Challenges in the Selection of Conference Venues

atsnews-gregdowney.jpg
The U.S. Supreme Court landmark decision overturning Roe vs. Wade, which had guaranteed a constitutional right to an abortion for nearly 50 years, set off a firestorm of reactions across the country and around the world. In response, the ATS issued a strongly worded statement calling on Congress to immediately enact legislation protecting women’s right to choose and urging ATS members to call on their state legislators to pass bills to strengthen access to the full spectrum of reproductive health services.

In the aftermath of the Court’s decision, the ATS Executive Committee (EC) engaged in dialogue with members from across the globe and with the Board of Directors. Of particular concern was the selection of cities and states hosting future ATS in-person meetings, especially International Conferences. Many members, including those who signed petitions and called for action using social media platforms, expressed concern about holding our conference in states with restrictive health laws. Among the issues raised were the safety of women of childbearing age who attend the conference and might have a pregnancy-related emergency and be denied life-saving therapies that could affect the fetus and the loss of educational opportunities for pregnant women who would avoid attending the international conference because of this risk.  This initiated an internal review of cities under consideration for hosting our meeting, including those where ATS is already contractually obligated to hold the International Conference.

It is helpful to provide a brief background of how ATS selects its host cities. Due to our large membership size, international composition, and fiscal responsibility, the ATS Staff initiates the conference planning process a minimum of five years (sometimes even more than 10 years) before a scheduled event. When working to identify a suitable location, a number of criteria are considered, including:

  • Availability: The International Conference is always held during the third week of May, a popular month for conferences, graduations, and other large events. At least until now, we have stayed within this week (the lone exception being in 2020 when, in response to COVID-19, we postponed the conference to August and held a virtual event).
  • Space: Our conference requires 2.5 million square feet of space, including 50 concurrent + adjacent rooms. This is the equivalent of 43 football fields. There are very few suitable venues in the country that have this amount of space available.
  • Hotel availability: 30+ hotels with 30,000 sleeping room nights with 80 percent walkability to the convention center plus full space in one or two headquarter hotels at which related meetings and events (assembly member meetings, Research Program Benefit, etc.) can be held.
  • Travel: The city must have excellent airport access for domestic and international attendees.
  • Financial considerations: venue rental, advertisement incentives, rebates, and labor costs all factor into the decision-making process.

In summary, given the size and complexity of our conference, there is a limited number of cities that have the capacity to host the International Conference. These include:

 

Year City Status
2023 Washington, DC Confirmed
2024 San Diego, CA Confirmed
2025 San Francisco, CA Confirmed
2026 Orlando, FL Confirmed
2027 Pending Pending
2028 San Francisco, CA Confirmed
2029 Washington, DC Pending
2030, 2033, 2036 San Diego, CA Confirmed
2031, 2035 Pending Pending
2032, 2034 Orlando, FL Confirmed

 

When considering whether to pivot from one city to another, it is important to remember that our contracts, which lock in concrete economic incentives that deliver bottom-line benefits, also include substantial penalty clauses for cancellations.

In addition, ATS would suffer considerable damage to its outstanding reputation in the meetings industry. This reputation enables it to secure contracts on favorable terms. While 2026 may feel far off, it is right around the corner in the meetings industry. Breaking our contract with Orlando, for example, given Florida’s restrictive reproductive health policies, could have significant financial and reputational consequences for ATS as other cities may be less inclined to offer us generous terms.

Other issues to consider include support of our members throughout the country independent of the state in which they reside (e.g., members in Florida and Texas voiced that they would feel abandoned by the ATS if we exclude their state from hosting future conferences) and the fact that the political landscape, policies, and legislation may change by the time a meeting will take place, for example 10 years from now.

Given the complexity of the issues and the diversity of the opinions involved, the Executive Committee felt this was an issue that should be discussed by a broad array of leadership. Therefore, it was one of the primary topics of discussion at the recent Leadership Summit and Board of Directors meeting (Sept. 29 – Oct. 1). Attendees heard from Emily Catanzaro, senior director of Meeting Services, and Charles Hardin, MD, PhD, who represented the petitioners and reviewed their position. In addition, Matthew F. Griffith, MD, MPH, represented the Ethics and Conflict of Interest Committee and presented a draft of an “Ethical Framework for Strategic Positioning of Conferences” proposal. Gary Ewart, chief of advocacy for the ATS, provided some ideas for influencing states where discriminatory laws have been passed.  A passionate yet respectful and thoughtful discussion followed.

Overall, the input of ATS leadership regarding selecting host cities for our conference raised several challenging questions: Will the public health policies in effect when a city is selected be the same as when the meeting takes place 5-10 years later? If those policies change, can we afford to pivot from one city to another? How can we leverage our presence in a given city to advocate for public health laws we deem important? How do we balance our need to hold a fiscally-responsible conference (which is the most impactful revenue generator for our society) with our commitment to our principles?  

The EC is committed to address these questions in collaboration with other ATS leaders in the coming months. With our members' safety and educational opportunities at the forefront of our deliberations, we will take several concrete next steps: 

  • The EC and Board will refine and adopt an ethical framework with input from the ECOI Committee.
  • We will finalize plans for the future meeting sites at our December meetings.
  • We will identify advocacy activities that engage the communities hosting our conference to promote reproductive and other health rights.
  • We will provide guidance to our capable and thoughtful staff to make decisions in line with our members’ values.

Together, we will find solutions that best meet our numerous, sometimes conflicting, priorities.