In the fight against attrition, the problem of guests booking ROCH (rooms outside the contracted hotel) — and not ROB (rooms outside the block) — represents the biggest threat to meeting planners. But there are ways to keep the beast at bay, explained Rick Binford, CMP, national director of corporate sales at Conferon, and guest speaker at last week’s meeting of the New England chapter of Meeting Professionals International.

Of the "fearsome twosome," ROCH contributes more to attrition than ROB, said Binford. Meeting planners can limit attendees and other guests booking rooms outside the block through good negotiating. "Managing ROB is a contract issue," said Binford. "It shouldn’t be that difficult to combat." Planners should stipulate that anyone staying at the hotel that is associated with the event should be counted in the room block. Planners can do this by cross-checking his or her registration lists with the hotel guest lists. If the hotel balks, Binford suggests that planners ask the hotel personnel to cross-check the lists for them.

Hotels should be willing to negotiate this point, said Binford. If not, planners shouldn’t have to look too far for a venue that is.

The problem of attendees booking rooms outside the contracted hotel is not so easily solved. What’s driving ROCH, and attrition, are the low room rates available through Internet-based discount brokers. Potential savings of $30 to$60 per night is enough to change attendee behavior, said Binford. "The Internet has successfully made a hotel room a commodity," he said. The recent emergence of "poachers" — firms that seek to book rooms for attendees at discount rates — has also contributed to the problem. "As event planners, if you cannot provide greater value inside the block, you will lose rooms to ROCH via the Internet," warned Binford.

A multi-pronged approach may be the best defense against ROCH, said Binford. Planners might want to consider the following anti-attrition tactics.

  • Offer a registration fee discount of between $100 and $150 for each room booked through group housing.

  • Limit busing to only those staying at the group hotel. Attendees must flash their room key in order to board the bus.

  • Offer early-bird room rates for those booking 2 to 3 months in advance.

  • Threaten to increase membership dues or reduce services to offset attrition fees.

  • Provide extra "priority location points" to exhibitors for each exhibitor guest room booked through group housing.

  • Require a minimum of two guest rooms booked through group housing per 100 square feet of space. (Exhibitors only).

  • Deny freight if not using group housing (Exhibitors only).

  • Provide free floor name badges only if rooms are booked through group housing. Those booking outside the hotel block must pay a fee for badges. (Exhibitors only).

  • Offer free attendance to certain meal or reception functions for booking at the group hotel. (Exhibitors only).

  • Take smaller blocks at many hotels in the area.

Some of the strategies may be more effective than others, depending on the organization. Before implementing any new strategies in the fight against attrition, event organizers should communicate their ideas to attendees and guests, and educate them on the why the new strategies are being implemented. -- Dave Kovaleski