Exhibitors Dissatisfied With Current Convention Housing Practices: Serious Problem Or Major Opportunity

By Dave Lutz, Managing Director, Velvet Chainsaw Consulting

Last week Expo Magazine Insights newsletter linked to a Trade Show Exhibitor Association (TSEA) exhibitor housing survey.

The survey’s key findings are:

  • 8% of exhibitors believe shows have fair convention housing practices.
  • 69% of exhibitors book their hotel rooms through show convention housing bureaus.
  • 89% of exhibitors feel that current deposits are not fair.
  • 97% do not believe they receive the best rate possible when booking rooms for a convention in the housing block.
  • 83% do not feel they have sufficient time to submit names of their company’s attendees for convention housing blocks.
  • 31 % of respondents listed one or more specific shows that caused them concern.

After reading the TSEA’s survey results, I held my own unscientific informal survey of association and tradeshow planners…in my mind. Here are the results from my dreamed-up efforts.

  • 100% of planners hate paying attrition and blame their exhibitors as the #1 threat to actualizing their contracted block. Many of the “unfair” housing policies that they implement are intended to change the behavior of exhibitors, not penalize them. Planners just want exhibitors to come through with the number of rooms that they say they need (each night). Many will actually ask exhibitors to sign contracts transferring the attrition liability.
  • 3 out of 5 planners really don’t care if exhibitors circumvent the official housing process, as long as the hotel credits the group for those rooms (and the exhibitor doesn’t complain). In my opinion, exhibitors that stay in a non-conference hotel are nuts. Why pay big bucks to participate in a show and then stay where you can’t network with attendees and need to incur taxi charges?
  • All planners are sick of dealing with rate issues at hotels. Nobody understands why buying 100’s of something doesn’t give you a better rate than buying only one. Perhaps hotels should go the way of the airlines and start offering groups Best Available Rate (BAR) with a 5% discount for being part of the group, no matter what distribution channel is used to make the reservation.
  • 2 out of 5 planners are dealing with these problems wrong. In my opinion, penalties don’t work, incentives do. If the hotel requires a one night guarantee, don’t change your policy to two nights. Your exhibitors and attendees should be ticked.

In these times when show and conference organizers are scraping for attendance and hotels are battling for RevPar, what advice do you have for planners, hotels or exhibitors to improve this situation?

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  1. Social comments and analytics for this post…

    This post was mentioned on Twitter by Jeffhurt: Exhibitors Dissatisfied W/ Convention Housing Practices: Serious Problem Or Major Opportunity by @VelChain http://ow.ly/13qij

  2. Lest anyone really think the TSEA housing survey results are credible they are not, not even close. I love Dave’s take on this but am a wee bit concerned that the inherent sarcasm might escape the attention of some casual readers.
    How about a new survey on animal fur in the exhibition idustry?

  3. davelutz says:

    ‘@StevenHacker, thanks for swinging by and adding your thoughts! While I agree that the TSEA results may be a bit slanted, I also think that show organizers need to take this serious and adapt their housing policies and procedures to be more exhibitor friendly…without assuming all of the risk. Conversely, exhibitors need to realize that they need to hold up their part of the bargain too. Some exhibitors hold a block of rooms and then cut it in 1/2 leaving the show organizer liable for attrition with the hotels.

    We all can and should do better. The last thing our industry needs is to pay alternative booking channels for room reservations that are already committed through the official channels. We’re allowing the OTA’s and room pirates an opening. When they make it easier to do business…less rules, more flexible policies…we erode the value of group business.

    I like carrots better than sticks. Give priority points to exhibitors that stay in the group block. Let them ride the shuttle. Make the deposit and cancellation policy the same as the hotel’s norm. What else is working, not working for show organizers or housing companies?

  4. Anne Carey, CMP says:

    One thing that stood out for me was the complaint that they don’t have enough time to submit names. That is due to the 4-week cut-off dates that hotels impose. Which is exactly the reason that exhibitors, if able, hold too many rooms that they later release. It’s a catch-22.

    (Anne) Carey, CMP

  5. Dave Lutz says:

    ‘@annecarey you make a great point. Hotels have all kinds of policies for groups that make it more difficult for exhibitors. Many hotels have a 72 hour cancel policy and allow name changes for individuals, but they turn around and fight planners on allowing name changes for groups. I think the ideal situation would be for a hotel to create a standard cancellation or change fee much like an airline. Maybe they charge $50 if a reservation is canceled or shortened less than 30 days before arrival. Maybe they increase that to $100 inside of 10 days and a full night inside of 3 days. The key is having the same cancellatiion or shortening policy whether it is a transient or group reservation. What do you think?

  6. Anne Carey, CMP says:


    That sounds totally reasonable. So the individual who made the change or cancellation bears the cost instead of the group. It only makes sense!

    One thing I have done is ask the hotel to require three days notice instead of 24 hours, after which the individual pays for the night. Not sure they actually did it, though. Now this discussion has got me wondering!

    (Anne) Carey, CMP

  7. Because of the bad economy I am finding it more difficult after booking hotels for meetings or conventions to have them run great. A few years ago there was always a point-man or woman I could work out problems with that came up, now I get a cell phone number and voice mail.

  8. Dave Lutz says:

    ‘@Mark, thanks for adding to the conversation. Many chains are centralizing or going regional with their reservation processing. That’s smart from an efficiency standpoint, but you can really lose that personal touch.

  9. Howard Keele says:

    There seems to be a general decline or interest in the tradition exhibitions. In the past these were major events, that included whose who of the specific business area. Now it seems to be an avenue to make money from the public, rather than the original concept of presenting and showcasing products or services.

  10. […] Jeff Hurt on room block insanity. […]

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