What are the benefits of room blocks for meeting organizers?

Economic impact.Housing is a key component to measuring the economic impact of a meeting. “The larger the block, the more attractive the event is for a hotel,” says Elisa Perodin, vice president, events, Coulter Nonprofit Management, McLean, Va. Conversely, it’s more difficult to track economic impact generated outside the block.

Peace of mind for attendees.  With room blocks, attendees don’t have to fend for themselves to find their own room. It’s all part of providing customer service and creating a memorable experience, says Keri Kelly, senior director of client service at onPeak, a Chicago-based housing company.

Purchasing power. Hotels make most of their profits on sleeping rooms, so if a meeting organizer can guarantee a large block of rooms, it gives them leverage. That purchasing power can be used to get better room rates, less expensive food and beverage, and discounted meeting space rental, explains Phelps Hope, CMP, vice president, meetings and exposition at Kellen Meetings, Atlanta.

Hotel concessions. With large room blocks, meeting organizers are often able to negotiate concessions, such as VIP airport pickups, free Internet in rooms, rebates off the master bill, resort fee waivers, a 1 per 50 complimentary room policy, or discounted staff and speaker rooms. “We rely on those concessions for our budget,” says Liz Freyn, vice president of meeting and convention services, The Sherwood Group, Deerfield, Ill.

Sense of community. Room blocks help create a sense of community for the meeting, says Elisa Perodin. Having the group stay in one headquarters hotel and designated overflow properties means that there will be more socializing and networking among members after hours in the lobbies, restaurants, and bars, which builds camaraderie and loyalty for the association.

Relationship-Building with CVBs. Using convention and visitors bureaus to book room blocks brings added benefits. CVBs can educate hoteliers about the group, offer coupons for area businesses, provide travel guides, help with marketing, and even welcome people at the airport, says Perry Juliano, director, event services, at SmithBucklin, Chicago. CVBs (and convention centers) can also provide concessions for citywides, such as free shuttle busses, particularly when the meeting is considered high value and has a proven history of room pickup.

Protection for the attendee. Room blocks can protect attendees from paying higher rates, as long as the meeting organizer researches room rates throughout the city and negotiates a competitive rate, explains Phelps Hope. “If a hotel is offering me a discounted rate of $200, that doesn’t do me any good if everyone else is offering $150,” he says. Planners can also negotiate to ensure that hoteliers offer the same rate to attendees after the cut-off date as long as they still have rooms, because they can trace pickup. Planners can also add clauses that stipulate that the contracted hotels can’t offer a lower rate to attendees who book outside the block through online travel agencies (like Expedia) or they have to offer that rate to all attendees, adds Perry Juliano.

Free meeting space. Reducing the size of a room block to avoid attrition can have unintended consequences. If room blocks are too small and the rooms-to-space ratio becomes too low, hotels may charge for meeting space rental or require higher food-and-beverage minimums, says Bill Drohan, president, Drohan Management Group, Reston, Va., an association management company. That added expense would likely be passed on to the attendee via higher registration fees.

Attractive rooms-to-space ratio. A higher rooms-to-space ratio will increase the number of responses to a request for proposals. The more responses, the greater the competition among the hotels, which may translate to increased concessions, says Elisa Perodin. A smaller block is less attractive, meaning fewer options for the association.