Plan Your 2020 Event Travel

Industry conferences are great sources of inspiration and knowledge. Picking which ones to attend and getting them budget-approved, however, isn’t easy.

By Bill Robinson, CEO of the Sanibel & Captiva Islands Association of REALTORS®, FL

Whether you’re a new or experienced AE, it’s easy to be overwhelmed by the wide array of options available when it comes to conferences, meetings, and industry events. Which ones will give you the best insights and ideas? And which ones will be the best to network with fellow colleagues?

Unless you’re lucky enough to have an unlimited travel budget, look at your policy and procedures manual for what particular events are already approved to attend. Then be prepared to make the case for attending new events. 

At my small association (225-plus members) we detail which events are preapproved for each position—AE, president, president-elect, and others—in our policy manual. It also includes a stipulation that these will be budgeted for every year except when the location or timing makes it cost-prohibitive, such as Hawaii or New York City in the summer. If you don’t have travel detailed in your policy and procedures manual, then it is definitely something you will want to bring to your board to discuss prior to budgeting for 2020. 

Be prepared when advocating for travel expenditures by having already investigated the hotel and flight prices for each destination and calculating an approximate overall cost to attend. Promise directors that you’ll work to reduce expenses by exploring hotel discounts, Airbnbs, ride-sharing, and meals with vendors. Then, detail your reasoning for attending. What will you learn or do at this event that will benefit your association and members? Look at the agenda and show the directors specific sessions and how those topics directly relate to an initiative you will be launching at your association. For example, if there’s a roundtable discussion on association branding, it would be invaluable to learn directly from fellow AEs about their successes and failures.

If you regularly make presentations to your directors after attending events to show what you learned that directly applies to your association, you’re more likely to gain approval for more events in the future. 

Once I know my travel budget, I map out the “must attend” events and estimate what my expenses will be in these cities. Most years, I attend three national and three state events. The Florida REALTORS® Convention & Trade Expo is a great event that I encourage all my members to attend, so I couldn’t not attend myself. Your state REALTOR® conference is a good event for you to build camaraderie with your current and future leaders and show them the value that their state association provides them. 

The three national events I find key are AE Institute, NAR Legislative Meetings & Trade Expo, and the REALTORS® Conference & Expo. If you operate an MLS, attending your MLS vendor’s user group or conference is always very important. Almost all of the major MLS vendors in the industry have an annual conference where you can learn about new technology and provide input on future plans. My first event in this industry was one of these user-group meetings, and I was blown away at the feedback and information provided, as well as how welcoming this industry is. It is a great opportunity to meet your vendors, collaborate (or commiserate) with other AEs, and, ultimately, find new ways to provide better service to your members.

I have never been to CMLS or Inman events, or NAR’s new iOi summit, but they are on my bucket list. If there is room in your budget after looking at the must-attend events, consider these three for industry, technology, and MLS information. If you can’t attend, there are usually online sessions available. I have watched some of the key speakers at Inman the past few years. If certain sessions are being streamed or recorded, which is often the case today, take advantage and watch them from your office. Chances are, you can’t attend all these conference (even though I know some AEs who do) so pick the ones you get the most out of and mix it up some years.

Bill Robinson is CEO of the Sanibel & Captiva Islands Association of REALTORS®, Fla. Reach him at 239-472-9353 or bill@SanibelRealtors.com.

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