Battling Around-the-Block Booking

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Get association meeting managers talking and one topic that's bound to come up is how to keep attendees from booking outside the official hotel room block. Between third-party pirates marketing their rates to your attendees, to online travel sites offering dirt-cheap rates, to corporate policies that may require employees to book only hotels approved by their procurement departments, to even possibly "shared-economy" sites like Airbnb, it's getting harder than ever to get attendees to book in your block, which of course means that attrition could possibly rear its ugly head and bit a hole in your budget.

I know a lot of planners are dealing with it by cutting their blocks to nothing, thinking that it's better to have to run out than to be stuck writing an attrition check. Others make it a requirement to book a hotel room before an attendee can finish registering for the meeting (or at least making it incredibly easy to book a room from the registration site—very smart). They're seeding their lists so they can tell when a pirate is coming across their meeting's bow and send a yo-ho-ho and a bottle of cease and desist. They're including attrition clauses in their contracts that include how it will be calculated. They're including incentives (free shuttles!) to those who book inside the block, and penalties (no soup for you!) for those who go outside the block.

And yet it remains one of the most stubborn problems association planners face.

So I thought it was interesting when I received an e-mail today about a new site called Support Associations, Book Official by ABTS Convention Services. According to ABTS President Davide Veglia, international around-the-block booking causes around $50 million in annual revenue losses per year for the 20 medical associations ABTS currently services.

The site houses "a meetings industry awareness campaign designed to counteract increasingly larger industry challenges caused by ‘around the block’ booking, seeks to create awareness with associations, meeting planners, hotels, and annual meeting attendees about the impact and financial losses to associations which result from booking outside official housing blocks and the steps which can be taken as an industry to protect against these," according to the e-mail. It even includes a revenue loss calculator where you can plug in your own numbers to see how much around-the-block booking is costing you. And a couple of eye-catching infographics to illustrate some main points, including this one:

I appreciate the effort and wish them well—and I do hope you join in and get the word out about this persistent problem. I do know that, as much as this issue sticks in association planners' craws, getting attendees—or anyone else, for that matter—to care enough to change their ways is not easy. But that's not to say that it's not worth doing.

Discuss this Blog Entry 2

on Feb 18, 2014

Perhaps the real culprits are not the attendees who are using the tools available to them for getting the best possible deal. Why spend $250 for a room when you can get it from Expedia for $110.
The real culprits are the hotels who contractually hold clients' feet to the fire while simultaneously undermining them with side deals on the web.

on Mar 6, 2014

I certainly agree with hyou, Irwin!

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