CoNZealand, Day -30: Nobody Expects the Fannish Inquisition

Normally, most people vote for Worldcon site selection on site. Normally, people have the opportunity to hear from the site selection bids in person. But we do not live in normal times, and with all site selection moving to remote this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic CoNZealand arranged a special early question-and-answer panel for the 2022 Worldcon bids about a month before the convention. What follows is a summary of the bid presentations, questions, and answers—while I have tried to stay true to what was said, I do not promise transcription-level accuracy.

Information about both 2022 bids, including both bid questionnaires, and how to vote in Site Selection can be found on the CoNZealand site.

Chicago in 2022

(Helen Montgomery, Dave McCarty; questionnaire)

Bidding for September 1–5, 2022 (Labor Day Weekend). Membership rates are to be determined, and they are planning to have installment plans be available right away, as well as a family membership plan of some sort.

The convention would be hosted by the Hyatt Regency Chicago:

  • Home to 4 prior Worldcons, more than any other venue
  • The entire convention would be held under one roof
  • It’s located in downtown Chicago
  • Changes to dining/drink options: the lobby has been redesigned since Chicon 7 (2012)
    • BIG Bar is still there
    • There’s a new bar called the Living Room
  • There are 2,032 sleeping rooms, including 123 suites and 98 ADA-accessible rooms. There are also numerous hotels nearby that can be used for overflow. Rooms are $160/night + tax. There are no additional fees; breakfast is not included but Internet is.
  • There is 240,000 square feet of conference space
  • The Riverside Exhibit Hall is 70,000 square feet.
  • The Grand Ballroom, which would be used to host large events, is 25,282 square feet.
  • Evening socializing will be in suites, not function space, with a corkage/forkage waiver.
  • Getting there is convenient via public transit.

Why Chicago?

  • There have been lots kudos for the city from various sources.
  • There are 77 unique, diverse neighborhoods with 2.6 million residents.
  • “Urbs in horto” (city in a garden): lots of parks and beaches. Highlights:
    • 1.25 mile Riverwalk (including a highly recommended tour)
    • 606/Bloomingdale Trail (2.7 miles elevated park)
  • Lots and lots of food options.
  • Parades, festivals (JazzFest would be during the Worldcon), theaters, sports (it’s baseball/soccer season)
  • 67 museums. Especially recommended: the Museum of Science and Industry and the Adler Planetarium.

Want to make sure that all aspects of Chicago’s fannish community are included, with reference to Capricon, Windycon, anime, furries, Doctor Who, gaming, comics, and WakandaCon.

This would be the eighth Chicago Worldcon. Would be chaired by Helen Montgomery, everything else is in progress. (Here there was a large list of prospective committee members in various divisions that was too long for me to write down.)

Thanks to the bid committee, CoNZealand, Choose Chicago, Hyatt Regency Chicago, OffWorld Designs, and Eek! Designs.

JeddiCon

(Yasser Bahjatt, Mohammed Albakri; questionnaire)

Except for 2007, Worldcon has always been held in the West: why not introduce it to a new culture?

Why Arabia? Lots of fantastic history: 1001 Nights, scholars and scientists side-by-side with wizards and alchemists, melting pot of cultures between east and west.

Why Saudi? You probably haven’t visited, except maybe for for business or religious reasons, but it’s opening up and becoming more welcoming to outsiders and changing lots of regulations. It’s the heart of Arabia; it has a lot of history and is moving forward rapidly.

Why Jeddah? The gateway to Mecca, Jeddah is a melting pot. The name refers to the biblical Eve, who is buried here. It’s surprisingly diverse and was the launching point of a big SF movement a few years ago. Other things to enjoy: art museum, world’s highest fountain, shopping in the souqs, brand new cinemas.

Venue: King Faisla Conference Center in the King Abdulaziz University Campus. The large auditorium can seat more than 2,000 people. The art show and dealer’s room would be in the SF-looking sports tent across the street.

Vision: Put the emphasis on the “World” in Worldcon by balancing cultural representation, having talks in both Arabic and English with live interpretation, and multiple guests of honor in every category to honor cultures from around the world.

Setup: Planning on having live feeds for all programming sessions and hopefully record all of them, with multilingual audio tracks.

The bid is working with the Ministries of Culture and Tourism to develop special tours for attendees to historical/cultural sites in Saudi Arabia before and after the con.

Jeddi High Council has experience in managing events of all sizes, but hasn’t been involved in any Worldcons apart from attending.

Dates: May 4–8, 2022.

Questions and Answers

Q: Will female members of the convention be treated differently than male members? Will particular members have to be clothed differently?

Chicago: There really shouldn’t be anything except that it’s a hotel in the middle of summer.

Jeddah: There isn’t really any difference but the Saudi Public Decency Law has a dress code requirement.

Q: Why May 4?

Jeddah: The Star Wars reference is the cherry on top, but (1) September will be too hot and (2) it’s during Eid al-Fitr, so it’s an official regional vacation: more people can come, and we will have better use of facilities that would otherwise be occupied

[I was a bit disappointed that my question regarding how a May convention date would impact the Hugo nominating and voting period was not asked.]

Q: How will JeddiCon impact SF/F in the area?

Jeddah: SF/F in the region kind of died off in the mid-80s, but the new generation has new movement to export culture through SF/F. Having a Worldcon in the region would bring more attention to the genre. There have been some movies shot in the region, but the first Arabic SF TV show was just released this year.

Q: How have issues with the Chicago Hyatt staff at Chicon 7 been resolved?

Chicago: We’ve had talks with the hotel about what worked and what didn’t work, and the hotel took ownership of what went wrong and explained it to our satisfaction (had poor relationship with our convention service manager). The new CSM (Matthew) is great and we’re excited to be working with him.

Q: Chicon 7 had numerous access issues. How have you fixed them?

Chicago: The hotel took the non-ADA accessible areas out of circulation and put new, accessible function rooms in. The big accessibility chokepoint is getting into the exhibit hall, and we’ll have to work this out. But everything else should be ADA-compliant. Also at least with the Hyatt we know what the likely problem points are and can plan for them. If you had specific pain points at Chicon 7, let us know.

Q: What is the availability of assistance for mobility access, including renting mobies?

Jeddah: A lot of the rooms have workarounds but they’re not officially recognized are fully accessible (about 10% are officially recognized as such). Already working with a few companies for chairs on-site but not sure if they’ll be available to be taken offsite.

Chicago: Will have rental options for mobies, wheelchairs, etc. Guessing that there will be a pre-rental period and then we’ll have extras on site.

Q: What online virtual content do you intend to include?

Chicago: Haven’t totally decided yet, but we expect to have a pretty strong virtual component. In 2012 we had coprogramming with Dragon*Con, so we’re used to doing that kind of virtual thing. So it’s on our radar but we don’t have specifics yet.

Jeddah: Want to broadcast everything live for all the members, with at least audio streaming and hopefully video streaming. Our platform for live interpretation incorporates a live feed for sessions in both languages. Everything will be recorded for all members and stay up for as long as the server does. We also plan on having live feeds for all public spaces (e.g. the art show and dealer’s room) so online attendees can interact with in-person attendees.

Q: Does either convention believe there will be any difficulty for any member to attend based on nationality, race, sexual preference, sexuality, or current relationship status?

Chicago: There shouldn’t be, but the results of the November election will have a big impact, as well as the pandemic.

Jeddah: The Public Decency Law requires a minimum dress code, but we don’t anticipate issues if compliant. Said law also limits public displays of affection. Saudi Arabia has opened up but certain modesty levels are still expected.

Q: I have a friend who’s a trans man and is dating a woman. Are they going to have a problem attending your Worldcon?

Jeddah: Nothing happens unless you “go out of your way to make a scene”. Hotels don’t ask about relationships between people staying in the same room.

Chicago: We’ve got everybody in Chicago, not an issue.

Q: If someone’s doing cosplay and wants to head into the city to get dinner, is that likely to be a problem?

Jeddah: As long as you’re adhering to the Public Decency Law, nobody will bother you if you’re dressed up funny.

Q: What happens if your own country bans you from entering Saudi Arabia?

Jeddah: We’re going to be broadcasting everything online so if you can’t go or can’t get a visa (see, e.g., people that couldn’t get a visa to Dublin last year) you can still participate virtually at a different membership level.

Jeddah (in response to a follow-up about cosplay): People in Saudi Arabia are getting used to the concept — we had Comic-Con in Jeddah about three years ago. But again, it’s an Islamic country and we have the Public Decency Law.

Q: How safe is it for single female-presenting people to enter restaurants and public places solo?

Chicago: I [Helen] go to restaurants routinely by myself.

Jeddah: Jeddah is a very safe place. Saudi Arabia crime rates are very low.

Q: What about mixed groups of people?

Jeddah: There used to be restrictions where there’d be one section that was the “family section” (women, or men accompanied by women) and then the “singles section” (only men), but those laws have been lifted. However some restaurants are still structured that way.

Q: Public transit?

Chicago: It’s super easy to get around. There’s lots of info on our FAQ.

Jeddah: There is little public transit. The main public transport is the Mecca-Medina train, which can be used to get from the airport to our venue. We would also have shuttles from hotels to the convention center, and are looking at special rates via apps (Uber, etc.).

Q: What issues around freedom of expression for LGBTQ+ attendees could people run into, and how can you assure people they won’t have to worry?

Chicago: There are no legal issues. Part of our Code of Conduct is about anti-harassment, including deliberate misgendering, and there will be a reporting process for anything that happens at the convention. We have a thriving LGBT community in Chicago. If you have a specific question, ping me.

Jeddah: Nobody is going to ask about whether people staying in the same room are in a relationship. Unless there is some kind of “actual fuss that happens” this should not be an issue. Regarding freedom of expression, LGBTQ are not recognized in Saudi Arabia, so we’d say “don’t show, don’t tell.” If you’re abiding by the Public Decency Law there should not be any issue.

Q: Will you be posting the public decency laws on your website?

Jeddah: We can send the link, it’s on the official website.

Q: What about public displays of affection?

Jeddah: That’s part of the Public Decency Law. Public shows of affection are not acceptable. Regardless of same-sex, opposite-sex.

Q: Going back to the national origin question from earlier: if I have an Israeli stamp in my passport, will that cause any difficulty on entrance?

Jeddah: I really don’t know, but I don’t expect it should.

Q: Are there any known national origins that could cause—

At this point the Zoom presentation was cut off due to somebody else using the same Zoom Webinar token.

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