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How to tame the out-of-control room block

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This article has been originally published by our media member MEETINGSNET Magazines & E-Media, Penton Media and has been featured in full below with their permission.

Sue Pelletier | Nov 02, 2016

Meeting professionals tend to have a love/hate relationship with their housing room blocks. Love because a good room block will lock in the meeting space they need. Hate because, well, can you say “attrition”? According to the 2015 Event Room Demand Study conducted by the Destination Marketing Association International, 34 percent of your attendees—one out of every three—is booking outside your block. And it’s even higher for citywides—45 percent are booking outside the block, whether it’s because of corporate travel dictates, personal preferences, hotel loyalty points, or some other reason.

But love them or hate them, room blocks are here to stay, said presenters at a session at IMEX America 2016, held in Las Vegas in October. They offered these five tips to help keep yours intact and attrition-free.

1. Don’t keep the reasons for the block a secret. 
“We don’t do enough to educate attendees,” said Christine Shimasaki, CDME, CMP, managing director, and Evet Impact Calculator,Destination Marketing Association International, at the session.  The Room Demand Study found that attendees are pretty clueless when it comes to what room blocks are and why they need to book within them, she added. The presenters, who also included Terri Roberts, training and communication, DMAI, and Jamie Murdock, vice president of sales, Experient, suggested communicating these benefits of booking within the block:

• The association can “qualify” to use the convention center in cities attendees love when they can show a history of filling a minimum number of hotels rooms.

• The organization can keep conference costs down by avoiding hotel penalties.

• Attendees can register for the show and book their room in an easy one-stop process.

• Having attendees concentrated at official hotels enables the organization to provide shuttle bus service, saving attendees taxi fares.

• Attendees can get a discount on registration if they book within the block.

Shimasaki added that meeting organizers should communicate directly with out-of-block bookers. “You know who they are,” she said. “Say, ‘We know you didn’t book with us last year. Here’s why you should this year.’” Murdock says that sometimes adding a disincentive can help. “Exhibitors at one organization we worked with were told they would be hit with an extra charge post-show if they stayed outside the block.”

2. Keep selling past the cut-off date.
Consider adding a clause to your contract that says the hotel will agree to honor your group rate past the cut-off date if occupancy is at a predetermined percentage.

Murdock added that communication is key. Tell the hotel if you’re not on pace with your booking, he said. “On the hotel side, if you’re pacing a sellout, let the planner know.”

Another thought: Ask if you can use a company other than your official housing company—Experient has used—to give attendees another inventory to click through to once you’ve passed your cut-off date so they don’t head off to find rooms on their own.

3. Fight pirates and poachers.
Pirates and poachers—outside entities that try to sell hotel rooms to your attendees and exhibitors—are a problem according to 73 percent of meeting hosts, said Murdock. Tell attendees and exhibitors who the official housing provider is, and promote the link on your registration site. The presenters pointed to the Convention Industry Council APEX Room Block Poaching and Room Block Management site as a good resource for sample cease-and-desist letters to send to poachers. Another best practice: Don’t put your list of exhibitors on your public website—that’s just providing an easy treasure trove for poachers and pirates snooping your show for prospects.

4. Keep up on what’s happening locally.
Whether it’s a marathon or another citywide convention, what’s happening in your host city could affect your room block, they said. Ask the convention and visitors bureau if hotel rooms will be in short supply over your dates, that could cause booking to exceed what you have blocked. Conversely, aks if there’s going to be a lot of hotel room supply outside of your block over your dates, which could lead to out-of-block hotel discounting that could undercut your rates and promote more out-of-block booking.

5. Expect your housing pattern to change from year to year.
“The bell curve of your event could put you in an attrition situation,” Shimasaki said. Attendees will want to stay longer in some destinations than others. Even the time of year can affect how long people will want to spend at your meeting, not to mention stay pre- and post-meeting. “Protect your room nights,” by making sure you block the number of rooms you’ll need over those specific dates in that specific destination, she said. “You’ll lose people if they can’t get all the nights they want” and still stay within your block.

Bonus Tip: Communicate, communicate, communicate.
“Nothing in a contract trumps communication,” said Murdock. “I can’t reinforce that enough. Set up review dates [with your host hotel] to go over pickup.” What if the economy takes a dive—will your $299 rate still look attractive to attendees? While hotels may not want to negotiate on that, at least not without adding a clause that also would increase rates if the economy improves, it doesn’t hurt to get it on the table.”

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