BISA reception 2024

Putting together a BISA conference: location, venue and costs

This article was written by Juliet Dryden
This article was published on

Wondering how we put a conference together and choose our venues? Read on.

Putting a successful conference together is never easy. There are the obvious things to get right such as choosing the venue and building a diverse and intellectually stimulating programme, but it’s often the smaller details that really enhance the conference experience. In BISA’s case I like to think these are the bursary and childcare offers, wide range of fringe events including our popular reception, securing good delegate hotel deals, choosing the right catering options, enticing a diverse range of exhibitors and inviting interesting keynote speakers. All of these things help to build an attractive package around the intellectual rigour that we hope adds excitement for attendees.

As is always the case, costs are a key consideration in the decision making.  As Director, I admit to being obsessed with ‘registration watching’ because as the figures (and income) rise so do the possibilities of what we can offer you. I keep a very sharp eye on the budget to ensure our conferences break even, and am always thrilled to be able to report any surplus made to trustees and members, so that we can plough it straight back into the Association’s annual activities.

It is worth mentioning that BISA’s first annual conference, held in 1975 at Lincoln College, Oxford, was a small, elite gathering of the leading scholars and practitioners of the day. Opened by Andrew Shonfield, the Director of The Royal Institute of International Affairs (Chatham House), they met to discuss The New Dimensions of Foreign Policy. BISA has come a long way since then. Almost 50 years later our annual conference now attracts over a thousand delegates from all stages of their career, and from all over the world, to engage in intellectual debate, knowledge exchange and network with colleagues and like-minded people. It’s a place to think deeply, share research and enjoy each other’s company.

"Decisions are made based on what each venue can offer our delegates (including sponsorship), level of service and value for money. You may be surprised to hear that university venues are often the most expensive!"
Juliet Dryden
Juliet Dryden

As BISA conferences have grown, so too has the planning behind them. Gone are the days when trustees with demanding academic jobs organised a conference in a few days. Today a dedicated team of BISA staff start the planning process two years before the event takes place, with the academic side being overseen by the Conference Chair. We juggle several conferences at once and when one is over, we have already started the next!

So how are locations and venues chosen? Ideally, UK university departments answer our conference call by putting together a well thought out proposal. We look for a dedicated local academic team with ideas, passion and the drive to bring the conference to their town or city. Once chosen, BISA steps in, often working with the local tourist and convention centres to scout appropriate and cost-effective venues.

There is a lot to think about. If possible, we want to find a location with a ‘village-like’ atmosphere, where delegates can easily get from one panel/roundtable to the other while being able to meet in a central hub. Having restaurants, bars and hotels within easy reach is an added bonus. Our delegates rightly expect good tech facilities for presentations, fully accessible rooms, affordable yet quality catering, and an overall first rate helpful service. This is no easy task for 1,000 plus delegates, but we always look at a range of options such as university venues, local civic buildings, hotels and private conference facilities. Decisions are made based on what each venue can offer our delegates (including sponsorship), level of service and value for money. You may be surprised to hear that university venues are often the most expensive!

In June 2024 we will be in five different venues, all closely located around Centenary Square in Birmingham City Centre, with our central hub at the Hyatt Hotel. We are working hard to bring you a first-rate experience. We want you focus on the intellectual aspect while seemingly gliding between registration, panels/roundtables, lunch and networking. The call for papers will be released next week.

I look forward to seeing you there!