Like the St. George Family History Expo, attendance at the South Davis Family History Fair is way down in the wake of RootsTech, a new national genealogy conference. Two years ago 1,700 people attended the fair. Up against NGS in Salt Lake last year, attendance dropped to 1,100. This year, less than 800 people pre-registered and walk-ins were unlikely to exceed 200.
The same cannot be said of Utah conferences produced by the for-profit Family History Expos company. They are suffering from a double whammy. Just days before last year’s St. George Expo, they lost their server in a fire suppression accident. The server contained a mailing list of interested attendees that had taken years to build. Hard on the heels of the loss came back-to-back national conferences in nearby Salt Lake City, Utah: the 2010 National Genealogical Society Conference and the 2011 RootsTech Conference. Attendance of subsequent conferences has decreased greatly. As a personal venture of Holly Hansen, financial losses are devastating.
Different conferences have different personalities and fill different needs.
RootsTech had glitz and expensive production values. The rock music each morning before and after the general session set the energy level for the day. By contrast, the South Davis Family History Fair prelude was conservative Mormon hymns followed by a lay minister’s welcome and invocation.
NGS and FGS conferences are four day marathons with a deczon tracks and 200 classes taught by paid industry experts. The locations move each year among cities with genealogically significance: long histories or major genealogical holdings. With travel costs, four days lodging, four vacation days, and two-hundred dollar registration fees, the conference mainly attracts professionals, vendors, presenters, die-hards, and locals.
By contrast, conferences by Family History Expos are inexpensive, overnight events within the budget of beginning genealogists. Industry luminary, Dick Eastman, pointed out their unique value proposition in “Wrap-Up: Family History Expo 2008 in St. George, Utah.” Registration costs are kept low by cutting expenses in every way possible. Smaller cities are used to cut venue costs and provide attendees with cheap, overnight lodging. Attendees receive a plastic bag instead of an embroidered cloth carrying bag. Presenters are not compensated for either travel or speaking and provide their own projectors.
Industry pundits are already wondering about the effect RootsTech may have on the national genealogical conferences of the Federation of Genealogical Societies and the National Genealogical Society. (See “NGS and FGS: Rethink your policies in light of RootsTech.”)
In my opinion, the future of RootsTech itself is not beyond question. (I don’t know anything you don’t. These are just my own speculations.) Did sponsors see enough value for their investment? In particular, I wonder how much FamilySearch subsidized the conference and what the value proposition is for them.