Thanks to Making History Podcast: The Blog for this post. I agree with the comments #3 & #4, and want to follow-up with another idea.
Why do conferences need to be held at some kind of a large, corporate hotel? I understand the logistical ease of having one company host the event, provide coffee & continental breakfast, etc. However, within the context of trying to be sustainable,* why can't we try the following?
1) Local organizers set up local people to house attendees from afar, á la exchange students?
2) Local organizers find a range of nearby, local venues to house people and conference events?
3) Local organizers make a point of connecting with local organizations--historical societies, subject-specific organizations, etc.--to help with #1 and #2 above?
4) As a result of #3 above, it seems to me that if more local and non-local people attend a given conference, the more amenities and less expense there will be for everyone involved (which also may help to erode the town-gown barrier).
The above suggestions would, I'm confident, help lower the overall costs of attending a conference, for grad students and anyone else.
* Which is a goal espoused by the ASEH, UHA, and SACRPH, in my experience.