Case of the Room Block Pirates

ImageI’m a supporter, defender and all out champion for booking in the block. I’m a meeting planner, and as such, it’s part of my contractual obligation with the hotel to fill the block. If the block is not filled…don’t make me say it…I will feel the wrath of ATTRITION!

The Attrition Clause. This part of the contract makes me break out into a cold sweat every time. I’ve been dealing with the same group for a number of years now, and I shouldn’t lose sleep over the room block – because (knock on wood) we’ve filled the block each and every year.

I’m not only a meeting planner, but also an attendee. I travel for educational events where I need to make a room reservation in the block. I’m happy to do so, I know how it goes. With the onslaught of overnight room discounters such as Priceline and Hotwire, where you can “name your own price, planners need to get more creative to ensure that attendees book in their block.

For instance, such measures might include if you don’t book in the block, you won’t get the daily meeting agenda or newsletter, you won’t get the nice welcome gifts, you might be subject to a higher event registration fee, or worse, you might not be allowed INTO the meeting! So clearly, I want to book in the block (you should too).

Last week I was checking out the room block details for an event I plan to attend in July, when my phone rings. A representative (who I didn’t know) from a company (I didn’t recognize) was calling to tell me that the room block rate had been lowered and that they could get me all signed up – if I would just complete the form they planned to send me via email.

Now this person knew the name of the meeting I was planning to attend and it’s location, as well as where the overnight rooms were being held. It sounded fishy – I’m paranoid by nature about solicitors. I provided my email address just so I could check out who this person/company might be. Once I received the info, I passed along this story and the form to the people directly involved with planning the event. Come to find out, this so called housing company that called me was actually a Room Block Pirate! Have you heard of this? I had seen stories floating around on Facebook recently, but this was the first I had ever been contacted by said Pirate.

What does this mean for you as a meeting professional? You could wind up paying ATTRITION because your room block will be undersold, as another organization (the pirates) blocks rooms, claiming to be part of your meeting!

Read more at ASEA – Protect Your Association from Room Block “Pirates”

Here’s another good link – Housing Pirates and Poachers

After touching base with the meeting organizer, I then proceeded to shout out my story on social media. When the pirates called me back asking me why hadn’t I filled out my application, I curtly told them, I only book my room in the block and I do not appreciate being harassed by room block pirates such as yourself. Please do not call me again.

Honestly, I’m not sure how to stop organizations like this. The meetings and events industry needs to rally together to penalize companies for this type of poaching.

As for my own room block, I know most of my attendees are corporate types – their company will most likely pay for overnight accommodations, so searching for a better rate is usually a waste of time. Booking in the block is easier for them as most often our room block is in the same hotel where the meeting will be taking place. Although I know this to be true, I work very closely with the hotel during the contract process and to get as competitive a rate as possible for my attendees.

It’s a risk we take now, attendees searching for hotel deals outside of the block to save money. Planners and suppliers are hard pressed to design contracts with attractive room rates. Suppliers depend on overnight rooms, so they can’t just give them away. Planners need those overnight rooms to be competitive with other hotels in the area so their attendees won’t book elsewhere. It’s important to keep the lines of communication open, discuss how best to reach your goals and find creative ways to fill your block. A good relationship with your hotel/venue will lead to alternatives for practical and sustainable solutions when it comes to your meeting and room block!

Things to consider…

  • It’s okay to be suspicious – if you aren’t sure that the person calling you is legit, then don’t give up your credit card! Contact the meeting organizer immediately.
  • Support the event! Book in the block each and every time. Your meeting planner will love you for it.
  • Know your group! Review the groups’ reservation history and arrange a room block based the average number of room nights for the past 3-5 years (if possible).
  • Work with the hotel and be conscientious from the hotel’s point of view, and it doesn’t hurt to ask for a better rate. There’s always the option to book multiple years if you plan to hold the same meeting again! Relationships are key! (Check out “How to Manage Attrition”)
CMP, Event and Social Media Marketing Specialist for the Independent Power Producers of New York, Inc.
  • Thanks for sharing Vanessa. Nice article! We should all be more aware of these practices. As a company Site Solutions Worldwide has used these rate protection strategies you mentioned like guaranteeing the lowest rate on property for our groups and guestroom resale to mitigate penalties for our clients. Anyone interested in reading more about this is welcome to contact me for a free industry white paper.