Saturday, October 10, 2009

Pink Ladies

In these difficult economic times, organizing a conference is hard. Most companies have sharply reduced travel and conduct even important business meetings online. Under the circumstances, the organizers of AIC Colour 2009 have done an excellent job. Although many habitués did not attend, the program had a good quality and the invited lectures were truly outstanding.

However, the execution during the conference was less brilliant. Having organized quite a few conferences, I know that many things can go wrong, no matter how hard you have planned. Therefore, during a conference the organizers are quite stressed fixing myriad little booboos that could inconvenience the participants.

I have attended the full AIC meetings since Budapest 1993, and the AIC organizers have a reputation for excellent execution, because the host country's color society wants to show its best side. For example, a number of students is always running around taking care of small things, and when a major intervention is necessary, there is always a senior organizer present who makes things happen.

Maybe because of this AIC tradition, I arrived in Sydney with high expectations. As I blogged earlier on the ambulating delegates searching for the venue, these high expectations where shared by many of the delegates. In fact, there was a general surprise and disillusion about the organizer's complacent snobbery during the conference. The frequent joke was that the sign outside the building had been taken too seriously and misinterpreted as a directive for passive organization:

passive recreation area

There were no students in sight, and when one would approach one of the organizers with a problem, the standard answer was: "Ask the Pink Ladies!". In fact, the organizers had retained a travel agency, whose guides wore pink dresses.

The Pink Ladies were beautiful, courteous, and were always smiling, but many issues were just beyond what a tour guide can handle. For example, the Internet service was plain awful: when the wireless service was available, the login usually just froze the browser. When it was possible to get online, delegates would announce it loudly, and then curse because the service was so slow.

Other organizational elements were even worse. For example, in the lobby there was hardly place to sit to eat and discuss, never mind that there were no tables. This would have been acceptable for a cocktail party, but for a scientific conference it was very annoying.

There was also more direct snobbery towards the delegates. For example, Thursday morning there was a session on Colour Perception of the Elderly. A few hours later, around 18:15, one of the ultra-octagenarian delegates was descending the stairs from the Tyree Room when suddenly the lights were turned off, probably because it was the scheduled end of the day. The delegate had a moment of disorientation, then with difficulty had to descend the stairs in blindness.

In light of this, mishaps like a session chair showing up very late with nobody there to set up the PC with the presentations, or another session chair just repeating his own presentation when a speaker did not show up, are small fry. Let us hope for less complacent snobbery in the next full meeting.