I’ve been intrigued – and frustrated — with the room block dilemma for over a decade. As much as planners, hoteliers and convention and visitors bureaus (CVBs) wrestle with the challenge of protecting their meetings’ sleeping room blocks in the age of Google, Expedia and Priceline, we still haven’t got the problem licked.
The Internet was the game changer, followed by the economic downturn of recent years. Through the 1990’s, planners could be pretty confident that attendees would book their lodging at the hotels in the official block. It was taken for granted that the meeting planner had negotiated beneficial rates for the attendees who then did what they were told and reserved their sleeping rooms at the “official hotel.” But the advent of the search engine, coupled with the financial scrutiny accompanying the recession, resulted in attendees considering other options. Last minute deals for “dumped” rooms were easy to find online, chain hotel companies established loyalty programs with organizations that mandated all lodging must be at the chain properties, and attendees were approached by pop-up “pirate” housing companies offering lower rates at out-of-the-block properties.
So why is it a big deal if attendees choose lodging at a property outside of the room block? Two main reasons: first, as a planner, you lose your future negotiation leverage with destinations, hotels, and convention centers if you can’t account for the number of sleeping rooms you actually used, and second, unsold contracted rooms cost your organization penalty fees. On the destination side, the trickle-down effect of unaccountable room nights is dire: CVBs are charged with producing a certain number of actualized room nights (in other words, reaching goals) in order to maintain or increase their level of funding each year, so being able to account for the sleeping rooms used by every attendee is imperative.
The combined planner/supplier community has been dealing with this issue for years, but has made little headway in solving the problem. We work together to gather the appropriate number of sleeping rooms at the right hotels at the right price; we monitor reservations closely, tweaking by either adding to or reducing the rooms as the meeting draws closer; we offer incentives to keep attendees within the block; and, we make an effort to find the “rogue” sleeping rooms after the meeting to include them in the final numbers. Meanwhile, the attendee is unaware of – or unconcerned by –the problem he is causing by going around the block. Isn’t it time to educate our attendees about the importance of staying in the block?
I went online and pulled up the registration information for a number of upcoming association meetings, and found the emphasis on reserving sleeping rooms at the contracted hotels is lukewarm at best.
Let’s change that. Would you be willing to include an explanatory paragraph in your registration materials? Here’s suggested copy that you can use or build on for your own meetings:
Please book your lodging within the official room block.
Staying at our contracted hotel(s) is important to (your organization’s name), to the destination where we are holding this meeting, and ultimately to you as a (organization’s name) member. When you book a hotel outside of the block, and a contracted room goes unsold, we must pay penalty fees to the hotel. In addition, the inability to prove the actual number of hotel rooms occupied weakens our negotiating power in the future. Convention and visitors bureaus are funded based upon their ability to fulfill the room night goals which have been contracted; a reduction in funding means fewer goods and services which make our meeting a success. Please support (your organization) by reserving your sleeping room at one of our official hotels.
All change begins on a small scale. Perhaps if every meeting planner reading this blog takes this small step, eventually enlightened and conscientious attendees will solve the room block dilemma for us.