My experience of Science Fiction had always been restricted very much to the well known television programmes such as Dr Who and Star Trek and, to be quite honest, it never really dawned on me that this was Science Fiction at all. Certainly I never knew that there existed people who actually felt the need to dress up as androids and cybermen, but then, when I think about it, I used to enjoy pretending to be John Wayne. In fact it was only last week....
On arriving at the Central Hotel in April 1985, I was to be only three months away from my first Albacon convention. Albacon? Quite naturally I asked around as to the significance of such an occasion. The reports were, shall we say, colourful. It seemed to me that the Hotel was somewhat blase about this weekend, as if it was almost a bit of a nuisance, and no doubt the feeling of general apathy rubbed off onto myself as the weekend rapidly approached.
My experience of this convention in July 1985 was limited to the Friday of the weekend when the event had not really built up any momentum. And my opinion, gained from the reports from the various duty managers that had worked the weekend, was one of shock and horror that this type of thing could be allowed to happen in this magnificent Victorian monument. How wrong we all were.
Due to various changes within the Hotel, I found myself becoming involved with the planning of the Eastercon for 1986 - perhaps not entirely willingly, but I hope at least with an open mind. I entered the arena after various meetings between the Albacon Committee and other members of management had already taken place, which I found somewhat a disadvantage. The trouble with hotel hierarchy is that each Member of Management has his or her own priorities and looks at the situation from a specific Departmental view. This is no good. A Food and Beverage Manager thinks of his food and drink Sales Profit and can easily disregard the Accommodation and Conference areas, and vice versa of course. From my position of Deputy, and therefore having no one department to be particularly concerned about, I was able to look at the whole with equal emphasis.
The Eastercon Committee were all old hands at arranging these events. This of course gave them two advantages - firstly they are fully aware of where they can "screw" the prices down but secondly, because they knew the Hotel, (probably better than I did), they knew what facilities they wanted and where.
During the various meetings, members of the Committee would talk of "ambience", creating an atmosphere for the Convention. Apart from the fact that I hadn't a clue what the word ambience meant, what on earth were they talking about - creating an atmosphere? The Main Convention Bar was, as I am now aware, the subject of their ramblings, and they were right. Logistically, the convention must flow but must also be practical. There would be no point in putting the Main Bar miles away from the rest of the action, that is if you want to make MONEY. So the former Malmaison Restaurant, which was off the corridor leading to the main hall, was designated the Main Bar and worked extremely well.
On the subject of MONEY, one learns very quickly that all members of an Albacon Committee do not appear to have any. They deliberately turn up in their worst clothes and pretend to get extremely excited about there being lime juice provided free of charge on the conference table. Do not be fooled by this charade! Be prepared to negotiate with people who no doubt are looking for jobs with the Inland Revenue, and who are practising their dirty work on you. However, at the end of the day they do intend to spend some money, it is just a question of getting blood out of a stone.
Bedroom rates should be kept sensible, ie, CHEAP, otherwise people won't stay - simple equation. Drink prices should be treated in exactly the same way, the lower the prices the more people will drink - again a very simple sum. Room Hire Rates are always negotiable, (according to an article I read in Conrunner). They are?
Although a large amount of time is spent boozing, funnily enough no-one seems to get drunk. This, I have worked out, is because the food too was cheap, not only inexpensive but varied. Light snacks such as burgers and rolls were extremely popular and easily dispensed. A choice of Vegetarian dishes was most popular with many of the attendees and serving canteen style meant that no-one was kept waiting at any time.
The Duty Committee Members were always willing to sort out any problems that occurred over the weekend but not so ready to part with the green drink vouchers they used to buy drinks for guests. The bars were open 24-hours but the green vouchers apparently were not. (The bar had to be open this length of time in order that people could get a drink - seemed logical to me.) By rotating staff no-one was ever too tired, in fact they all enjoyed the relaxed atmosphere. There is a nasty rumour going around that the Duty Manager spent most of the weekend in the Ailsa Bar. This, of course, is nonsense as any member of the Committee will gladly confirm.
From a Hotel point of view the Eastercon '86 was a great success, not just because we took a lot of money..... liar!; but we listened to the Committee who also, I think, listened to us. Where there was conflict, say over location of bars, we compromised, but in the final analysis we all did what we felt was best for the people attending the convention for the weekend. In short, for the Hotel, it is without any doubt the most important weekend of the year and should be treated as such. Oh, and by the way, don't forget the Real Ale, for goodness sake! Beam me up.