What’s Your Experience With Attendees Staying Outside The Hotel Block And Driving Pick-up To The Max?


Dave Lutz, Managing Director, VCC

This post is by Dave Lutz, Managing Director, Velvet Chainsaw Consulting.

Why do attendees choose to stay outside the official conference hotel block? How do you manage it? What strategies have you used to drive maximum pick-up of your block?

We’re looking for more examples and experiences to share and add to our list. Please add your ideas and suggestions in the comments section.

Upcoming Presentation
On Thursday, May 20, I’m moderating a session at the Passkey Housing Forum on proactive strategies for ensuring more attendees and exhibitors stay within the contracted hotel block. 

The panelists include the following experts:

  • Toby Brenner, Par Avion
  • Ronnie Burt, Jr., Indianapolis CVA
  • Lancey Cowan, ARVO
  • Steve Pufpaf, Marriott’s of Southern California

Here are six reasons we’ve identified that participants choose to stay outside the hotel block:

Pirate housing organizations

1. Price/Value
Either the attendees have initial sticker-shock and look for alternatives or they hear about a cheaper option.  Perhaps they have been enticed by an offer from what looks like an official housing provider (a pirate organization) presenting a rate as good as or better than the contracted group rate. Or maybe free WiFi or breakfast lures them to a different venue.

2. Don’t know better
The attendees don’t realize that staying at another hotel can create a potential liability for the host organization–and ultimately, they pay. When registrants consistently stay outside the hotel block, the organizer may raise registration rates in future years to compensate for the liability.

3. Process too difficult
It’s easier for them to book on their own. Too many requirements such as deposit demand, pre-payment, minimum night stays, no name changes, cancellation policy, etc., repeals them. Or the online system is too complicated and time consuming.

4. Loyalty Program or Corporate Travel Policy
They may have a bunch of points racked up with a certain brand or need to comply with their corporate travel guidelines/process.

5. Perception
Many corporations are still using optics, viewing choices through the lens of the public’s perception that the hotel is too expensive. Some corporate travel policies have not changed from previous cutbacks and staying at glitzy hotels or resorts, regardless of the great rate, is prohibited.

6. Availability
Inventory does not appear to be available for the entire stay. Who wants to move?

The panelists will share examples of integrated communication, marketing, bundling, incentives and process strategies that help close the gap. The goal is to give tested strategies that maximize pick up and limit attrition.

Mike McCurry‘s 9 Strategies For Room Block Management Success  gives a number of best practices that can help you. We will discuss some of his strategies and others as well.

Are there additional reasons that keep folks from booking inside your block? What have you attempted that has helped move the needle to your favor?  

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  2. Timothy Arnold says:

    One reason not mentioned is that many people block too few rooms and the hotel is sold out when some attendees try and make their reservations. Of course you do not want to book too many and run into attrition issues, but if you historically draw 500 people, blocking just 100 rooms can be just as bad as blocking 500.
    All the more reason to monitor your history and pickup very closely. Also why I love having a room block review option in the contract one year prior to the conference, to adjust based on current pick up.

  3. Attendees not only stay outside the block at less expensive properties but they also stay ‘invisibly’ within the block. I had this happen last fall when my room block fell short. What happened was that one person would book the room and four would stay in it for the price of one. Needless to say, the “A” word entered the picture, so much so that that group now charges a fee for those who book outside the block (or don’t show up on the rooming list. We’ll see how that works out.

  4. Adrian Segar says:

    I don’t think you can ever eliminate this problem. Though, come to think of it, I did hold a conference on an island last year, where the on-site accommodations were the only indoor structures available. That worked pretty well—though two attendees camped on the beach!

    Anyway, here are two ways to reduce defections from the official accommodation block:

    1) Ensure, if at all possible, that accommodations are located in the same facility as the conference sessions. It’s worth a lot to most attendees to be able to “just pop back to their room for a moment” to pick up something they forgot, drop off handouts, or freshen up.

    2) If #1 applies, point out in your event marketing materials that, in your experience, attendees will enjoy and benefit from better networking if they stay at the conference locale—they will be comfortable sticking around longer during the breaks and evenings if their room is just a couple of minutes away from where they’re hanging out. I’ve found this to be true year after year; attendees who stay off-site don’t seem to integrate as well into the conference community. Tell your attendees this before they register.

  5. Dave Lutz says:

    ‘@Timothy thanks for the addition. You’re right…many planners have gotten ultra conservative with their room blocks to steer clear of Attrition. Keeping weekly tabs on pace vs. last year and vs. registration is a great best practice for making Midcourse Corrections. I’m a fan of block review and adjustment. Beats the heck out of blind cutting the block!

    @MaryAnne sounds like you have friendly attendees…taking networking to a whole new level! I don’t think a group can penalize attendees for doubling, tripling or quading. Do you think that your attendees will just come out of the closet and openly room together instead of paying an increased registration fee?

    @Adrian Love your communication strategy! Intangibles like convenience and networking benefits are often overlooked to save $50. If you have attendees that come year after year, they often get that. You especially need to communicate these benefits to the new-bees. If you don’t, you run the risk of them having a subpar experience that may not help in attracting them the following year.

  6. Dale Shuter says:

    Since 2005 we have been using a registration discount for those staying within our block. Our registraiton fee is $595, but you get a $200 discount for making your reservation at the official hotel (the attendee must supply a confirmation number which we cross check with the hotel’s reservation list). This has worked very well for our group. We also market the value of staying within the block and educate our attendees about what the association must do to get the special rate and the financial risk to the association if the hotel rooms are not used. The following year we implemented a policy with our exhibitors that give them 2 complimentary badges for each 10×10 booth they have and each additional badge is $300 – unless that person is staying at the official hotel and then it is complimentary. We do not limit the number of badges they can have as long as their booth personnel is staying at the offical hotel. So far it has been working for us and our attendees and exhibitors have supported us.

  7. Dave Lutz says:

    ‘@Dale, LOVE what you you’re doing at EASA! I had to take a sneak peak at your website to see how you were executing your plan. For other’s, here’s their member/exhibitor communications.

    Be Sure To Stay With EASA Please make your room reservation using the enclosed form or through the links on EASA’s Web site and stay at the Gaylord Palms®, EASA’s official convention hotel. To hold a convention, EASA must guarantee that a certain number of sleeping rooms will be used. So by staying at EASA’s official convention hotel, you help us avoid costly hotel penalties and keep your convention costs down. By staying in EASA’s hotel block, you may also be eligible for discounts on registration fees.”

    “Staying with EASA…it’s the right thing to do!”

    One of the other things that I hear that some groups do is to award their exhibitors with priority points for staying in the group block. Incentives seem to work better than penalties.

    Thanks so much for sharing the EASA story! Hope you have an awesome show in Orlando!

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