Internet booking was without a doubt the hot topic at the January Professional Convention Management Association convention in Anaheim, Calif. For groups that plan meetings to which attendees pay their own way, there's a virtual epidemic of booking outside the negotiated room block, as hotels, struggling to fill their rooms in a down economy, dump inventory on discount Internet booking sites and attendees look for bargains.

Many planners, who two to five years ago contracted large room blocks based on meeting history and a booming economy, are facing steep attrition fees, even in cases in which registration is up. Perhaps the best panel on the issue was facilitated by Mary Power, president and CEO of the Convention Industry Council, who focused on short-term and long-term solutions. Here is some of the conversation:

Issue: Planners need to get credit for attendees who stay at a contracted hotel who but did not book in the negotiated block.

Solution: Insist on an audit in your contract — even if it has to be done manually. If you didn't or can't contract for the hotel to do the audit, pay for an audit from the CVB or plan to have your staff do it.

Issue: Hotels have caused the problem by dumping rooms on the discount booking sites, without controlling pricing.

Solution: Insist on a clause in your contract whereby lower rates cannot be offered on the Web. Use your third-party housing vendor as your “compliance nazis.” After all, it's the vendor's commission at stake.

Issue: Many meeting planners say they don't care if attendees stay outside the block, or what they're charged, as long as they get credit for and can track those rooms. Other planners care very much what the hotel charges and how the organization shows its benefit to attendees through room discounts.

Solution: Encourage attendees to stay within the block through a variety of incentives. Or take privileges away from those who go outside the block. Educate attendees about the benefits of staying within the block.