I very much enjoyed the opportunity to host a roundtable discussion this summer with some of the best minds in our industry. We delved into the issue of how third-party Web reservation companies are causing turmoil for planners, hotels, and CVBs. There were many interesting avenues of discussion, not all which did we have room for exploring in the cover story. But a key debate centered around whether incentives to keep attendees booking in the contracted room block would work. Or are the forces driving this attendee behavior beyond any such incentives? I find myself answering “yes” to the last question, and here's why:

  1. Corporate cutbacks in business travel and trade show expenditures are not going to ease up any time soon, especially, and most unfortunately, if this country launches a war with Iraq. Attendees, whether by corporate dictate or by personal economic necessity, are going to shop travel rates increasingly on the Web.

  2. Some overarching social trends don't bode well for member involvement in associations — everything from Generation X and Y trends to a pervasive “time crunch” in American lives — resulting in the diminished influence of associations in general. Don't count on someone booking in the block out of loyalty to your organization and what it provides them.

  3. Hotels have unwittingly unleashed their own nemesis in the form of third-party Web reservation companies, such as Orbitz and Expedia. These types of companies are poised for enormous growth, with marketing budgets and technology that far exceed the capabilities of hotels. As one of our panelists said: “They are coming after your attendee.”

What's a planner to do? Wake up and smell the coffee. Fine-tune your room blocks, which means you may need to block more conservatively than ever. Work with hotels upfront about Internet room deals. Negotiate to have a certain percentage of them available to your group. And keep a keen eye on the Expedias and Orbitzes of the world. They are moving into corporate travel management, and word is, they are looking to work with meeting planners as well. Like hotels, you may soon find yourself in bed with them, because in our universe, attendees rule.