Accommodation at the World Championships has been provided in three different forms: hotel, hostel and home stay.
There's no formal requirement for a particular type of accommodation, although home stay is now essentially defunct.
Until 1998 all competitors were billeted in private homes. The one very beneficial effect of this was that people could create friendships with local families, learn how people lived in the host nation and so on. However, there was a major drawback which was that after the debates were over each day, there was hardly any opportunity for the participants to meet, especially in the evenings. Therefore, there was little social interaction between the teams, which rather defeated the main aim of the competition. More to the point, as the Championships grew to more than 200 participants each time, the ability to find enough hosting families, as well as the logistics involved, became overwhelming.
So from 1998, the whole competition has been hosted in one venue. This was a youth hostel in 1998, and a university hostel in 2006; in every other year it has been a hotel.
Although several recent Championships have used luxury (4 or even 5 star) hotels, this certainly isn't essential for the successful running of the competition. If you have the right contacts or suitable powers of persuasion, and you can get a great deal on an international business hotel, then great. But if you would need to raise registration fees significantly in order to pay for the local Marriott, then try providing something more modest. As long as certain basic amenities are provided (see below), then people will be happy (especially if you've saved them $100 per person in fees).
The venue needs to be comfortable, with plenty of room for all the participants and with rooms available for other activities, but there is no need for the competition facilities to get grander and grander year by year.
More importantly, the hotel should if possible be situated in an area which is relatively near centres of entertainment, restaurants, shopping areas, etc. The ability to find pens, paper, fruit, water, snacks, comfort food, medicines, toothbrushes and other toiletries is important. Ideally, the hotel should be the right size to be taken over in its entirety for the competition, so as not to disturb other guests, and so that the hotel can concentrate exclusively on the tournament's needs. Rooms should be twin-bedded and some triples should be available if possible to keep prices down.
For example, with 36 teams one can expect at least 300 participants; at an average of two people to a room, we would therefore need a hotel of some 150-180 rooms, (some adults will choose to pay a supplement for a single room). Based on an occupancy of 10 nights, this is a highly attractive proposition for any hotel, and it should be possible to negotiate very good terms, especially as the competition takes place in what is the off-season in most countries. The hotel should have a few meeting rooms available – one of which could be used as the competition office. There should be one big room where all 300 participants can gather for briefings and possibly social events. Other bonuses would include a pool, spa and business centre – but we can live without these.
You will need to make policy decisions on such issues as emptying the minibar in rooms, blocking international phone calls, etc. Some convenors are strict about this; others assume that the hotel will charge and collect any payments due.
The cost of the venue is the single largest expense in the competition budget, and it is worth spending some time on negotiations with competing hotels and hostels to get the best possible price. Moreover, a friendly and sympathetic hotel management and staff can make an enormous difference to the success of the competition.
For the 2006 Worlds in Wales, participants were housed in university accommodation left vacant by students during their holidays. Hostels may not provide room service or luxury amenities, but they may have certain advantages over a hotel, such as the ability to house people together in flats with a shared kitchen/dining room, the ability to kick around a football on a sports field, or the provision of a large bar area. That said, the hostels do need to be of a reasonable standard: providing something resembling a gloomy cell with broken furniture won't endear you to participants. Again, see the section on basic amenities for further information.
Basic amenities required
The following is a list of basics that all participants would expect to find, whatever type of accommodation you're providing:
- Serviced rooms
Whether you're providing a hotel or hostel, rooms need to be serviced (with fresh sheets and towels) at least a couple of times during the tournament.
- Hot showers
In recent years these have generally been provided as private ensuite facilities. A dormitory-type environment may be just as acceptable; the most important thing is that the water is hot and the bathroom clean.
- Iron and ironing board
Even if people have to pay a deposit or small fee, it's essential that these can be borrowed on demand.
- Laundry facilities
A coin operated laundromat onsite or nearby is a must! Sumptuous hotels charge sumptuous prices to launder clothes. As a result, some participants have washed them in the bath and hung them over the shower curtain to dry, but this shouldn't really be necessary.
People back home want news of progress, debaters might need to do last-minute research, and sponsors want press releases - so access to the internet has become pretty much essential.
If such access cannot be provided or can only be provided to a very restricted degree at the accomodation:
- We should be informed prior to travelling to the host country so that those of us with a laptop can bring it (or decide not to!).
- We should be advised at registration where the local internet café is, if there is one.
- Schools with internet access can be invited to offer use to the guests during the lunchtime break or to non-debaters during limited prep time.
- Alternative telecommunication (i.e. phones/faxes) should be available onsite or nearby.
WiFi is very much preferred, if possible, as a large number of participants bring laptops. If the accommodation does not already have a WiFi network, it might be possible to install one in advance. If not, you should find out where convenient WiFi networks are and publicise this. Preferably free ones; or if not, see if you can negotiate a bulk access deal with a provider; or at the least let participants know what the costs are and how to register. This will save you a lot of question-answering time during the tournament!
If you can provide these, you'll make people even happier:
- Tea/coffee making facilities
This might just be a kettle and a jar of coffee in a shared kitchen, or it could be more elaborate facilities in each individual room.
- Useful equipment to loan/lend
As noted above, an iron is essential. If alarm clocks and electrical adaptors can also be provided, so much the better.
In addition to the amenities you provide to participants, the following are three factors that you must consider when negotiating with your hotel/hostel.
- Message board
You’ll need to buy or borrow a large noticeboard and set this in a prominent, easily accessible place at the accommodation (e.g. the hotel lobby or just outside the breakfast room). The soft felt type is best, as it allows you to push in and pull out drawing pins easily. If you’re borrowing a hotel message board, make sure it’s reserved for your exclusive use. The board will be used to display key information throughout the Championships, including:
- Transport arrangements for each day
- List of judges assigned to each debate
- Summary of results from each day of debate
- Arrangements for social/other events
- Announcements of other kinds, e.g. lost and found
Although you’ll be announcing much of this information at breakfast, this is not sufficient by itself: you need to keep the noticeboard updated very regularly, partly because this encourages people to look at it every time they walk past.
Every bit of important information needs to be announced to participants at the beginning of each day. This means, of course, having a large enough breakfast room for all participants to hear those announcements; and also ensuring that hotel/hostel make available a PA system every morning. As well as announcing transport arrangements, schedule changes and dress codes, this is also a useful time to read out notices relating to specific individuals (e.g. property found or phone calls received).
- Bar and/or social areas
Don't underestimate the importance of somewhere to gather in the evenings. This is especially true for judges, who on quiet nights will need something to do when coaches are elsewhere preparing their debaters. But it's also a central place where people can meet up and talk at any time when the dining room isn't available.
If it isn't possible (or legal) for debaters to hang around in the bar, it's very useful to have a 'mess room' of some kind for debaters to socialize together and have large gatherings. This is particularly important if you are not organising a full programme of evening activities; otherwise, you will find that competitors tend to run off to town to socalize - or use an even less appropriate location to meet, such as the roof of a hotel.
As far as possible, a coach and his/her team should be hosted (a) in the same building and (b) on the same floor. This has the following benefits:
- Ease of access to discuss and prepare.
- The coach doesn't have to run up and down several flights of stairs, or take crowded and slow lifts several floors on a busy morning, or run up the street to gather the team together for travel, making sure they have everything and everybody
- The coach can keep an eye on the debaters, given that s/he is in loco parentis.
In past years a printed rooms list has been given out to adults at the tournaments, once everyone is allocated. This is particularly useful if you've forgotten where your judge is staying or want to find someone from another country without going through the hotel switchboard.