With the second phase of Project Attrition nearing completion, the Convention Industry Council will look at the issue of attrition from a different perspective: the attendee.

For part two of the study, the CIC-commissioned task force polled more than 17,000 meeting attendees—representing more than 370 groups from all corners of the industry—to find out why delegates book where they do.

“We all have assumptions,” says Mary Power, president, CIC. “Everyone thinks they know why people book outside the block, but it’s never been statistically challenged.” Cost savings, company policies, hotel preferences, and control may all be factors in the decision-making process, she says. The objective is to document the reasons so that planners can develop solutions. The last attendees were surveyed in early April, so Power expects to have the results by the beginning of May.

The first phase of the report, which polled meeting planners, was released in January and has been well-received, Power says. The 70-page report features a number of case studies that explain how a cross-section of groups handled attrition problems. While there was no one-size-fits-all solution to fight attrition, the report yielded some effective ideas and interesting insights, she says.

Overall, about 20 percent of organizations are affected by attrition. Surprisingly, the groups with the shortest registration time had the least problems with attrition, Power notes, adding that the trouble with long lead times is that attendees have more time to go shopping for better deals after they initially book. For groups that need a longer registration period, Power suggests adding a cancellation or handling fee. And since most people don’t book early, it’s a good idea to eliminate early bird discounts in favor of discount rates for those who book inside the block.

In general, planners felt that the best techniques were those that gave people an incentive to stay at contracted hotels, not those that penalized them. One way to accomplish this is to make the hotel room a more integral part of the meeting and not a commodity, she explains. “As long as the guest room is just a commodity, its always going to get shopped,” she says. The study highlights several ways to connect the room to the event, such as creating a message service or providing transportation passes to only those who stay in the room block. Other ideas are to offer a VIP cocktail reception for attendees who stay at the contracted hotels, or give discounts on registration or educational sessions.

Just as important as offering incentives is educating attendees, the study suggests. Planners should inform attendees and leaders within the organization of the consequences of booking outside the block. If leadership knows that the company or association stands to pay a hefty attrition fee if guests don’t cooperate, then they will probably sign off on any measures to reduce the liability.

While attrition-fighting methods vary depending on the group, there are two things that all planners should do, according to Power. One is to have a system that lets people book even after the registration period is closed. “If not, they’re going to go shopping (for rates),” she says. Another is to ask for a room audit so that planners are sure that they get credit for all parties associated with the event.

Power sees the study as a tool to help planners combat attrition. The report has been distributed to CIC’s 31 member organizations with the hope that each of these bodies will develop its own education program.

For more information, visit the CIC Web site at www.conventionindustry.org or click on www.conventionindustry.org/projects/project_attrition.htm for a direct link to the Project Attrition page