Another RootsTech conference is in the books. By the looks of it, I missed many great presentations and expos. Again. In fact, I've never attended RootsTech. I don't know when I will get to attend. Why? There are several reasons, and I have a hunch that they may apply to others as well. If the ubiquitous Twitter hashtag #NotAtRootsTech is any indication, many people don't attend but are interested in the event and would be there if they could. I believe this speaks to some issues with both the conference and with the genealogy community at large. If a few commentators I've read are really serious about getting more people involved in RootsTech, they should consider the following factors.
1. RootsTech is held at an inconvenient time.
Late February/early March may not be the best time for this conference for multiple reasons. First, many students and younger professionals are busy with school and work. Often, younger professionals are parents of kids who are in the thick of attending classes. Even if you're not an educator (like I am) or another professional for whom February is a very busy month, chances are good that you're tied down somehow if your kids are still at home and you're not retired. In short, anyone directly involved with the school year or their professional industry events (where other travel and conferences that occur throughout the winter take precedence) is going to find it difficult to attend RootsTech without going to some very inconvenient lengths. Second, this time of year is right in the midst of cold and flu season. People are often more vulnerable to these sicknesses when they travel, and traveling from January to March coincides with when they're at their peak.
2. RootsTech is held at an inconvenient place.
I understand why RootsTech is held in Salt Lake City every year. There are sound logistical, commercial, and cultural reasons. But people who live in Utah, Arizona, California, etc. aren't the only ones who are interested in genealogy or this conference, and they disproportionately benefit from their perennial proximity to it. More than half of the country's residents live east of the Mississippi River. Even for many who don't, SLC is a remote location requiring extra time and dollars to reach. Many professional academic societies hold their annual conference in a different city throughout the continent every year. This makes it convenient for willing parties to attend at least once in a while. Perhaps RootsTech should consider a similar approach. (I know there is now a London RootsTech conference, but we could use more options on this side of the Atlantic, too.)
3. RootsTech may be cost-prohibitive.
I've looked over the prices for the 2020 conference. I like how many package options there are, depending upon how much one wants to participate in the events. But the cost of substantial participation will seem considerable to many, especially if they also have to pay for airfare to far-flung SLC in addition to lodging and extra food. Certainly many younger people paying off houses, student loans, and other such necessities would find the total venture cost daunting. Maybe RootsTech should consider offering cheaper student rates. This would encourage more youthful participation and perhaps be a good investment in the future of the genealogy hobby. (I'm also not sure that the celebrity speakers justify their cost, but that's another matter.)
4. RootsTech strongly comes across like it's marketed toward seniors and industry insiders.
For the reasons given above, RootsTech seems to communicate that the conference is primarily for: A. retired hobbyists with the time and resources to attend, and B. industry insiders whose livelihoods depend upon networking, working booths, and/or otherwise finding customers and business leads. I know that the conference has experienced remarkable growth, and that there are nice options for those who must tune in remotely. Also, I don't expect all of these ideas to go over well. But if there are very many people in my boat, or in boats like mine, I believe that the conference organizers stand to dramatically extend its reach and influence, not to mention those of its vendors, by taking some of these concerns to heart.