What are the benefits of room blocks for meeting organizers?
More value. Attendees can often get more value when they book inside the room block. Associations and housing companies can negotiate packages that include not just low rates, but benefits such as free Internet access, breakfast, and other perks. “We find that rewarding people instead of punishing them makes all the difference,” says Liz Freyn, vice president, meetings and convention services, at The Sherwood Group, a Deerfield, Ill.–based association management company. Free hotel Internet service is the No. 1 perk that attendees want, according to those interviewed.
Low rates. During the recession it might have been easy to find a cheaper room outside the block, but as demand increases and room rates rise, that’s no longer the case. “The inventory is so diminished, our rate is better than any Expedia rate,” says Liz Freyn. Meeting organizers and housing companies use their leverage to negotiate volume discounts for their groups at full-service convention hotels. If they didn’t, attendees might find rates of $300 or $400 per night in top-tier cities.
Various price points. The meeting organizer secures rooms at discounted rates at various price points to meet different budgets. If it didn’t, the attendee could face much higher rates across the board. For example, if a tier-one city is full the week of the convention, hotels might take advantage of that compression and increase rates, says Keri Kelly, senior director of client services at onPeak, Chicago. Under that scenario, a budget property could conceivably charge as much as a Ritz-Carlton.
Easy booking. Attendees have the ease of one-click booking through the association Web site or housing company Web page, with a choice of hotels at different price points. They don't have to scour the Internet to find the best rates.
Convenience and cost savings. Staying within the contracted room block means attendees have the convenience of taking the elevator back to their room after a long day of meetings, or perhaps a short walk or shuttle ride. If an attendee stays outside of the block, it’s often farther out from the main meeting venue, which means hoofing it or paying for a cab.
Support the association. When attendees book inside the block, they are supporting the association. It’s not only the right thing to do, it will have cost benefits for the association and attendee. The association avoidsfees and is able to negotiate better deals on room rates, food and beverage, and everything else—all of which helps keep meeting registration fees at a reasonable level, says Bennett Napier, president and CEO, Partners in Association Management, Tallahassee, Fla. The higher the pickup, the more the association is able to get concessions, like free Wi-Fi in rooms or waivers of daily resort fees.
Keep registration fees down. If too many people book outside the block, the association will reduce the size of the block. If the block gets too small, hotels may charge for meeting space rental or have higher food and beverage minimums, says Bill Drohan, president, Drohan Management Group, Reston, Va., an association management company. In that case, the extra costs will likely get passed on to attendees via higher registration fees.
Incentives and discounts. Associations may offer incentives for staying in the block, such as discounted registration fees, says Lynn McCullough, association/meetings director, CMA Association Management, Princeton Junction, N.J. There are other incentives as well, such as coupon books for on-site retail outlets or restaurants, entrance into a prize drawing, or bonus hotel points.
Flexible terms. Online travel agencies have inflexible terms. Booking inside the room block means attendees don’t have to pre-pay the entire amount and they have the flexibility to change or cancel their reservation at any time up to within a day or two of the meeting.
Socialize and connect. An intangible but important benefit of booking within the block is the networking that occurs after hours in lounges, restaurants, bars, and lobbies, says Lynn McCullough. “That’s a big thing for our members—the networking,” adds Lu Anne Bankert, senior director, programs and meetings, Association of Community Cancer Centers, Rockville, Md. Evening receptions are usually held in the headquarters hotel, so it’s much more convenient to attend those evening events from inside the block
On-site benefits. Staying outside the block means attendees don’t have access to room drops and important announcements that are delivered only to those in the block, says Lynn McCullough. And if there are questions, concerns, or special requests, event staff is on-hand to respond to them, and to be advocates for attendees if a dispute arises. Also, hotels within the block often have a desk with information about the city and conference.