Today’s planner has to deal with housing poachers who prey on exhibitors and attendees to get them to book in their block—whether they actually have a block or not. And then there are the attendees who’d rather book their rooms through Priceline.com than your official housing provider.
These are among the many threats to room blocks today. In fact, one study cited in a session on housing at the American Society of Association Executives’ 2016 Annual Meeting found that one out of every three attendees are booking their rooms outside the block. But planners, of course, want to keep those blocks to help them secure the meeting space they need and protect their attendees’ experience while at the event.
In a wide-ranging discussion, Rose Horcher, vice president, client services, Choose Chicago, and Bill Martin, strategic sales executive, Experient—with Christine “Shimo” Shimasaki, Destination Marketing Association International mining the audience for suggestions with her roving mic—tackled some of the toughest challenges facing meeting room blocks today.
1. Bringing out-of-block bookers back into the fold. As Martin said, “If you let them get housing on their own, they’ll get used to doing it on their own.”
• Include an explanation on your event website and in every email communication you send to attendees of why it’s important to book within the block.
• When your block is filled, use a company—Experient uses ARStravel.com—to allow attendees to click through to another inventory to keep them from going off on their own.
• If your meeting is small enough to make it practical, use your call center to contact everyone who registered but did not secure housing through your organization to ask them why, and again explain why in-the-block booking is the right thing to do.
• If your meeting is too large to contact all the out-of-block bookers, at least reach out to your top exhibitors, who likely are taking up larger blocks of rooms.
• Go through your history from last year to find out who booked outside the block and market to them differently this year, emphasizing the benefits of staying in the block.
2. Dealing with pirates and poachers. These block-busters are getting pretty sophisticated, with some going as far as setting up fake duplicates of your website on a very similar URL to pose as your official housing company.
• Have a cease-and-desist letter ready to send as soon as you catch the slightest whiff of piracy.
• In addition to housing, provide a list of all your official vendors (AV, floral, etc.) to exhibitors and tell them to just say no if they’re approached by any vendor not on your list.
• Let people know that they could end up getting to the hotel after a long trip and not having a room reservation if they book through a poacher. “That’ll get their attention,” said one audience member.
• If you have corporate attendees, reach out to their travel managers, suggested another participant. Their corporate policy may prohibit reimbursement to any broker other than the official housing company.
3. Negotiating a fair contract. As Shimasaki said, “Get prepared on the front end.”
• Include a clause that allows your organization to add rooms at your negotiated rate until the hotel reaches a certain occupancy rate that is agreed upon ahead of time. This can help in situations where a hotel can get better rates at the time of the meeting than when the contract was negotiated.
• Put a clause in your contract that allows you to audit your pickup to make sure all your attendees staying at the hotel are counted.
• Include a room block review date in the contract so you can track how your pickup is pacing against expectations, and adjust accordingly.
• Another handy clause is one that guarantees no group is offered a lower rate over your dates.
• Make sure the hotel can’t double-dip—if it’s sold out over your meeting dates, you shouldn’t have to pay attrition for rooms your group didn’t pick up.
• Include a walk clause that specifies the maximum number of attendees the hotel can walk. “The hotel may not accept it, but at least you will know that it could be an issue if they don’t,” said one audience member. Another person added that the contract should include who cannot be walked (speakers, staff, VIPs); while another said it’s important to be able to have veto power over who gets walked, and to guarantee transportation to the alternate hotel, which must be of equal or greater value than the host hotel.