8 Best Practices for Combatting Piracy
If you think pirates—those third-party companies that spam your meeting’s exhibitors and attendees with offers to book accommodations cheaper than those in your official hotel room block—have become more aggressive of late, you’re right. The Web has made it much easier for poachers to find your exhibitor and attendee lists.
Here are eight top tips for combatting pirates, poachers, or interceptors (or any company that has not been invited by you as the organizer to assist with your event).
Be vigilant and detect poachers early.
Encourage your exhibitors and attendees to alert you if they receive an e-mail promotion or solicitation from an unauthorized housing company, or any e-mail that seems suspicious.
Alert your official hotel partners.
When you hear about a poacher, immediately alert the official housing bureau, which contacts the hotels to make sure they don’t take any bookings from that group. Hotels inside the block won’t accept rooms from poachers if they are made aware of them. And while hotels outside the block are under no obligation to do so, they may also oblige, particularly large chain hotels and those that have a relationship with the housing company. Alert your convention and visitors bureau as well.
Take swift legal action.
If you find out that a company is misrepresenting itself as official housing for your event, take swift and aggressive action. Write a cease and desist letter on organization letterhead; consider legal action, including filing a lawsuit, if the letter doesn’t have the desired effect. The organization should have its legal counsel write the letter, but the hotels and housing company can also write letters. E-mail and mail the letter (often the poacher uses a “phantom” address).
Legal action, part two: Use the silver-bullet approach.
One experienced association executive calls for a “silver bullet” approach against poachers—a letter from an attorney that calls out the offending party for “tortious interference,” that is, interfering in a contract between the association and the hotel that requires the association to meet certain requirements. Any interference by a poacher, legal or not, would be subject to this legal doctrine.
Use a heavy hammer and be transparent.
Use every opportunity you have to communicate the situation to your exhibitors and attendees, through e-mail, live at your show, on your Web site, and in your exhibitor prospectus. List offending company names if you have them, informing your audience they should book with no one except the official housing bureau, and name the housing bureau company. Let your exhibitors know they will be penalized if they book outside the official housing block, perhaps by losing points for positioning on the trade show floor. Housing company onPeak has created a toolkit called “PoacherApproacher” that includes templates, messaging, links and electronic buttons for placement on Web sites, newsletters, magazines, programs, prospectuses, and other communications to tell participants what the official housing bureau is, warn participants of the potential hazards of unauthorized housing companies, and explain who to contact if they are approached.
Teach your attendees about the downside.
Educate your attendees when they register for meeting and never allow attendees to book within the official hotel block without registering first Quite often, the exhibitors and attendees who book through poachers either don’t know who they are dealing with or aren’t familiar with the potential drawbacks—like being booked far from the venue or outright scammed; or having their data stolen or hacked. The message has to be repetitive and ubiquitous or it will get lost in the noise.
Communicate loudly and often about the in-block benefits.
It’s important to communicate the benefits of staying inside the block to exhibitors and attendees, not just in terms of getting the best rates, but because of the added perks the organizer receives, like shuttle service, free Internet, networking, etc. The larger the block, the more concessions the meeting planner is able to get. By raising awareness, the more strength you’ll have.
Secure your exhibitor list.
Pirates make contact with your exhibitors because a list of them, often with contact info, is on your Web site, to ensure giving them maximum marketing exposure. However, experts recommend as a best practice not to list contact info for your exhibitors or to build a firewall and make the list accessible only via password. Also, remove your meeting from external calendar sites, such as the convention and visitors bureau’s Web site.