by Tom Isler | January 01, 2009

ALAIn an effort to make the Association for Laboratory Automation annual conference, held this month in Palm Springs, Calif., more affordable, the group's board of directors devised a new promotion that offered a $200 airfare discount to the first 500 registrants who booked tickets with the group's official travel provider.

The benefits of the program are manifold, according to Greg Dummer, ALA's executive director. For some attendees, the discount will make attendance possible, and the more bodies the show attracts, the better for exhibitors and for the city of Palm Springs. For the association, the program demonstrates a good-faith effort to put members' needs first and, by encouraging people to book through official channels, helps the group pick up a few extra airline comps.

Sponsors, including the convention and visitors authority and a few exhibitors, helped cover the cost of the program, estimated at $100,000.

Still, the model isn't perfect, Dummer allows. He failed to find an airline partner; attendees from companies with strict T&E policies may not be allowed to book via the ALA's travel agent and thus wouldn't get the discount; and the offer was only available by phone (an online system would be preferable, Dummer says). On balance, the program has been a success, with attendees and ALA board members alike pushing for an encore in 2010. "We're trying to have an impact," Dummer says. "It's not perfect, but it's something we're willing to try."