Bottom line up front: EAG & EAGx conferences are often held in appealing, cosmopolitan expensive cities. Maybe bulk group rentals could cut costs, encourage more socialization, strengthen community bonds, decrease time spend deliberating and planning travel, encourage attendance, and help the right people get connected.

Has anyone looked into bulk rentals at discounted rates close to venues for conference attendees (or,  renting a vehicle services to transport groups to/from conference, in addition to negotiating bulk lodging discounts further from the venues)? It seems to me that discounted hostel/ hotel rates are often negotiated for groups. Apartment, condo, or house rentals might also be cost effective.  Perhaps Nonlinear's recent project, EA Houses, could also interface with this idea.

This might have potential to:

  • Improve community building, strengthen relationships 
    • Shared commuting / lodging may lead to people spending more time together in a less structured setting -> more opportunities to connect, ideate, build, percolate, be human together.
  • Cut costs ( bulk discounts)
  • Decrease time spent planning for non-local attendees and hopefully increase sense of confidence in plans, allowing more mental energy to go toward being present at the conference and with the community and less time worrying about logistics. 
  • Make it easier if anyone is on the fence about coming due to logistical issues
  • Embolden individuals who might not otherwise feel comfortable attending (E.g., If I were an underrepresented minority considering traveling to a different country, I might feel less comfortable staying by myself and trying to get around independently in a city I was unfamiliar with).

I feel immensely grateful to CEA for making it financially possible for me to attend events. In the process of asking for support, I noticed that I feel awkward and anxious asking for the amount of money required to feel comfortable staying in and getting around conference venues, which spurred this post. It's hard to know what a "reasonable" cost is in different cities and or what might be a reasonable/cost-effective commute that also lets me feel personally secure. Admittedly, some of this sense of uncertainty is likely amplified by COVID.  

If this suggestion were pursued, I think it would probably be important to first:

  1. Get data on the number of non-local conference attendees and where they have stayed (e.g. in a hotel, hostel, rental house, apartment, or with friends or family). Might also be helpful to ask about the commute to and from the venue (e.g. walk, taxi, bus), and to rate their experience both at their place of lodging and also in commuting to and from the venue, with the option to give details.
  2. Survey conference attendees (or people invited who did not come): Is this a thing people want? Would pre-arranged lodging options (examples below) be appealing? Would they increase the probability that you would attend?

If it turns out this is a service people wanted, a pilot could be considered. Perhaps more useful if people are able to tick off multiple options or rank preferences, approval voting / rank-choice voting style;).

For example, on the conference registration form, this would have appealed to me. (Perhaps too many options to include in a pilot. OTOH might provide data to help identify community needs and opportunities, and elucidate whether a more comprehensive travel service should be considered).

 

Sample pilot

Lodging preference:

  • I would like my own bedroom and bathroom
  • I would like my own room but can share a bathroom
  • I just want a bed and am fine sharing a room with conference attendees
  • I would love to shared lodging w/ specific people (or, other people interested in  x, y, z), listed below

For shared accommodations only:

  • My gender is ___  and I prefer to share a (room/ rental space) with individuals of the same gender
  • I am comfortable sharing a (room/ rental space) with individuals of any gender
  • I would be interested in sharing lodging with people interested in (e.g.):
    • Global priorities
    • Improving Institutional Decision Making
    • Academia
    • AI
    • EA for Christians, Jews, nonbinary, etc.
    • EA for people who think labels can be damaging so don't identify as "EA" ;)
    • Animal welfare
    • Climate
    • Mental Health and wellness
    • Global health and development
    • Tech
    • Entrepreneurialism

Preferred lodging type:  

  • Decent hotel
  • Decent hostel
  • Decent shared apartment
  • Decent rental house
  • Decent rental condo

Preferred distance from venue:

  • 0.2 km
  • 2 km
  • 6 km

Amenities you need in your lodging:  

  • Wheelchair accessibility
  • Wireless internet
  • Access to coffee
  • A refrigerator

Services you will need during your visit:

  • Transport between lodging and venue
  • Transport between lodging and airport
  • COVID test  (ex. DAT, PCR) required by airlines within (ex. 72) hrs of return flight
  • COVID test pre-conference
  • Travel insurance

Other notes:

  • I am interested in staying for a longer duration:
    • Arriving early
    • Staying after conference
  • I would be interested in opportunities to stay for a longer duration in order to
    • Build community connections, network, explore opportunities
    • Visit EA workspaces
    • Attend related events
    • Attend skillbuilding workshops
    • Meet with career counselor
    • Spend a few days rotating at local EA related organizations

Planned duration of stay:

  • x nights (specify dates)
  • I have not yet booked my stay

Flight:

  • Arrival date/ time
  • Departure date/ time
  • COVID tests required by airlines within (?72) hrs of return flight?
  • My flight can be changed for a fee
  • My flight is refundable
  • I have not yet booked my flight

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18 comments, sorted by Click to highlight new comments since: Today at 8:38 AM
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I really like how action-oriented this approach is and have discussed this topic with a few people. Thakns for sharing :)

Thank you! That makes me feel good.

I'm wondering if this is prompted by all of the hotels and hostels in Prague being bizarrely very packed on the exact weekend of EAGx this year. I could not figure out though just what is happening in Prague to do this, and fortunately I have a relative who lives in Prague whose apartment I can crash in.

I'm not aware of anything, in particular, happening in Prague that weekend that would explain the hotels in the downtown area being full. Prague is a very popular city that is coming back from two bad winters with COVID so it seems that people are simply eager to visit.

We did put together a guide on public transportation so people are comfortable booking outside of the city center and also had a couchsurfing table for people to advertise and look for spare accommodation.

We decided to do the conference in the city center because we think it is a beautiful area that we wanted to share with our attendees. There seems to be an existing tension in the community on whether to do conferences in large convention centers at an arbitrary location or in unique spaces which are an inherent part of the conference experience.

We were considering doing a group order for accommodation to help out the attendees but we did not have enough capacity on the team to do it. I've done this for another conference in the past and it is A LOT of work to assign people, deal with changes, communicate with the hotel etc. 

So this is sort of sad or darker in tone, but one consideration is the Ukraine refugees. Theres ~5.7M, which is large fraction of the population of neighboring countries. 

 While looking for hotels, you can notice many hotels with a notice offering free stays for refugees. My sense this is a strong, genuine offer and a lot of capacity was used. 

So that would use a lot of rooms, in addition to being demand surging after being capped by COVID.

(Yes, I have thought about the elasticity and other indirect effects for refugees by booking or going to Prague—this effect is probably tiny or nil.)

Yeah, I confirmed directly that the refugees weren't what was driving the Prague problem (though maybe on the margin it helps to make it so bad),  since last weekend and the weekend following the conference had normal Eastern European prices. 

What do you think about adding a field in the application form, like: "I'd like to share a room with other EAG attendees". Then you can just lump together people who checked it into some email group, and let them coordinate among themselves.

Tim: Not sure. Didn't apply to this year's Prague event because I couldn't make the dates work. Glad you found a place to stay!

Irena: I was in Prague for a short time when I was little and remember it as a thriving cultural hub that I wanted to spend more time in. I think you're right on about people wanting to experience real life and travel to awesome places again, after prolonged lack of travel, arts/culture, in-person human interaction, etc. That's great that you made a public transport doc! I agree that there would likely be significant work involved in coordinating group travel arrangements. 

Charles:  Thanks for sharing about the free stays for refugees, I find that heartening. Clarification: Are you saying there is a hotel that rents rooms and companion corgis? I hope the hotel vets everyone involved, esp given fat-tailed risk potential.

Are you saying there is a hotel that rents rooms and companion corgis? I hope the hotel vets everyone involved, esp given fat-tailed risk potential.

Right now, as we speak, I think many attendees are running into the problem that there are few low cost rooms to be booked. 

So I think many EAs are going through the anxiety of having booked expensive rooms as a result, or are spending hours circling the booking process. This anxiety is probably borne by more conscientious EAs. 

This is bad and I think people should book those rooms, despite the higher price.

 

So I made a joke about corgis and a fancy room, trying to show by example that this is OK. I thought doing this with a joke was way more effective (and less dry and briefer) than writing out the above. I think this is true, the joke and corgi picture was glorious.

I deleted this comment. No one messaged me about it, I just did it because I think there are downsides to my joke, including creating anxiety among a smaller group of organizers.

:) I wouldn't be surprised if this is a thing, and stand by my bad puns. Didn't realize you were joking, but also didn't judge the corgi hotel other than feeling slightly concerned about the possibility of animal exploitation.

I'm sorry to hear that others experience anxiety around finding lodging too, and think surveying for potential value of group bookings might be good.

I like the reasons laid out here for why group rentals would be good/impactful, and anecdotally I've seen some of these dynamics play out.

Fwiw, I believe the EAGxBoston team did book a large block of rooms for attendees, which they offered/organized through EA group organizers.

Thanks Kevin!  Curious as to whether that worked out well for EAGx Boston.  

I did get one of those rooms through EA @ Georgia Tech. From my personal perspective, the block booking was convenient from a logistics perspective. It also probably had secondary effects for community building, as all of us staying in the same hotel helped us organize meetups / coworking time in the hotel.

From a cost perspective for the conference, my guess would be that it would be more cost effective to book a block rather than reimbursing individuals who book separately. Source: I had to do a bunch of block bookings for a past job, and it was significantly more cost effective. Interesting note is that in many hotels, single rooms and double rooms have the same nightly cost, so if many attendees had roommates then there is a potential for significant (40-50%) cost savings on hotel bookings.

Awesome, thanks for sharing this experience!

Good article. I was wondering if it would make more sense to put EAG in a city that was specifically designed to host conferences (e.g. Vegas or Atlanta) as opposed to Boston or San Fransisco. 

Thank you!  Good question.  I think Charles' consideration makes sense here, though I'm not super familiar with what the location-based EA ecosystem looks like.  

P.S. Charles, I've found many of your posts super insightful. Maybe not many people talk to you (me neither, unless I initiate the convo!), but perhaps more people are listening than you think.  

I'm not super familiar with what the location-based EA ecosystem looks like.  

Thanks for your kind note. My comment was just a consideration, in the weakest sense. 

Another issue is that this might be driven by the tail value of a few EAs having valuable meetings, which seems hard to measure. My guess is that CEA has considered this and has some anecdotes or intuitions. 

Maybe others will comment?

P.S. Charles...

Haha, thanks, now there's at least two of you!

As a consideration, sometimes related to EA activity, people might actually have meetings in those cities, e.g. meetings with people associated with the schools in Boston, companies or labs in SF, or policy makers in London.

(Not me though, no one talks to me.)