I do think the price is a bit too high for what's being advertised, especially since it doesn't seem to be especially geared towards industry professionals. If they want grassroots advocates to attend, my gut instinct is that the price needs to drop down quite a bit (maybe down to $99 with a $39 or $49 one day pass) in order to entice people, and/or show that there's a fair amount of "big names" giving talks/seminars during the conference.
Right. I've not attended a conference in the past 20 years that did not have tiered pricing of some sort. It boggles my mind to figure out how many attendees they are expecting. In my view, you can't really determine what the final registration cost should be until you can somewhat gauge the number of attendees. One way to do that is to offer an Early Early Bird discount. So in this instance, using the $225 base registration fee, a super early bird fee might be $99 before May 31st. It would be non-refundable, but transferable before a certain point in time. This would be a preliminary gauge of interest in the event and would get your die hard base to commit ("It's only a hundred bucks, plus if I find out I can't get off work that weekend, I'll give my ticket to Jeb."). Once you knew that your base was interested, you could start planning on other arrangements and things like the size of the venue needed for the opening reception. [To that end, a discounted reception ticket could also be offered.]
Building on the above, the regular early bird registration would span from June 1st to August 31st and be around $150 for members. This would give people the summer to think about it and possibly commit, thus giving another rough body count. By this time, the details of the event should be lined up so more info can be offered to potential registrants and be used to further promote the event ("Friday Highlight: Amtrak President & CEO Wick Moorman"). From September 1st on, the regular price would apply until say, October 31st. Events involving separately priced meals would close earlier, since most venues want a final count ten days prior to the event. I would make the early bird and regular registrations refundable (with a 20-25% penalty fee) up until October 15th and all registrations transferable once until November 1st. This gives a comfort level in committing to registering without feeling they've completely flushed money down the toilet if they are unable to attend for whatever reason.
Once the early registrations come in, then breakdown pricing can be offered. I would go $50 for a day pass and say, $90 for a two-day pass (registrant's choice of days). This would be offered in advance and on-site. Exhibits-only pass would be $25 for the entire weekend. Kiddos 12 & under would be admitted free to the expo when accompanied by paying adult. Other events not capacity-controlled would be offered as a walk-up admission fee on a cost-recovery basis. Cross-promotion (has anyone even thought of this?) would start around October 1-10 with a rented display in CUS and perhaps heavily-trafficked METRA venues like Ogilvie Transportation Center.
I'd also either raise the non-member registration fee, or further discount the member registration. In the two conferences for a single organization I attend each year, the non-member registration is a hefty $150-175 above the member rate. It doesn't pay to attend the conference without being a member (which is a base rate of $65 or so). I would also make membership an option during the registration process.
Having helped organize events and conferences before, as well as attending my fair share, I realize that it's not easy and is more often an art rather than a science. Still, you can do things which reward your existing membership, increase your membership base, and overall create enthusiasm for the event as well as the organization and the mission. Based on the early information provided for the RailNation event, there is certainly room for improvement.