What are the benefits of room blocks for exhibitors?

Low rates. Exhibitors may be tempted to look for the best rates on the Internet; however, they may have to look harder (or farther out) to find a better value outside of the contracted room block. Meeting organizers negotiate volume discounts and get group rates that are below rack rate, usually at a variety of price points. In today’s seller’s market, it’s hard to find lower rates, even at online travel agencies. In first-tier cities, rooms are filling up quickly and it’s becoming difficult to find any low-priced rooms. Lu Anne Bankert, senior director, programs and meetings, Association of Community Cancer Centers, Rockville, Md., expects to see rising rates drive people back into the block.

Networking. Exhibitors who stay within the block get more networking time with attendees. They can meet with clients or potential clients after hours in lounges, restaurants, and lobbies of the hotels. “It’s about having that additional time outside of the hall or the booth with attendees,” says Elisa Perodin, CMP, vice president, events, at Coulter Nonprofit Management, McLean, Va. “You never know who you are going to run into in the hallways, what kind of sale you might make in the elevator, who’s sitting next to you at the lobby bar or in the coffee shop,” adds Phelps Hope, CMP, vice president, meetings and expositions, Kellen Meetings, Atlanta.

Incentives. It can be a little more difficult to get exhibitors to stay inside the block, especially if they aren’t members of the association. However, associations can entice exhibitors through incentives. Some associations offer exhibitors who book inside the block priority points toward the next year’s booth selection process, explains Perry Juliano, director, event services, at SmithBucklin, Chicago. There may also be disincentives, like refusing freight to exhibitors who don’t book inside the block.

Added value. “Ultimately, it comes down to value,” says Steven Hacker, president, International Association of Exhibitions and Events. Exhibitors may be able to get negotiated packages that include more than low, negotiated rates, such as free Internet access in rooms or other benefits.

First dibs on hotel rooms. Some associations open housing earlier for exhibitors. The American Academy of Dermatology, Schaumburg, Ill., opens exhibitor block housing for the next year at the current year’s annual meeting, says Tim Moses, CMP, director, meetings and conventions, at AAD. And exhibitors with the most priority points get first dibs on rooms in the block.

Customer service. Housing companies and meeting organizers will work with exhibitors one-on-one to address their concerns, offer concessions, and find solutions to meet their specific needs. “Our focus is on creating relationships with them, showing them we are an advocate and that we will work with them,” says Keri Kelly, senior director of client services at onPeak, a Chicago-based housing company. Housing companies and meeting organizers have the flexibility to offer concessions and packages that work for exhibitors. “If you are staying in the block and run into a problem, we can help you,” adds Perry Juliano.

Support the show. When exhibitors stay inside the block, they are supporting the show and the association. A full block helps the association avoid attrition fees. Also, higher room pickup enables the association planner to negotiate better hotel contracts in the future.

Convenience and cost savings. Staying inside the block means exhibitors don’t have to pay for cabs to get to and from the meeting or to meet with clients. Many associations, like the American Academy of Dermatology, provide shuttle service only to those staying inside the block. And AAD is considering issuing passes for shuttle access, which would deny those staying outside the block from jumping on shuttles at nearby contracted hotels.

Technology advantages. Through the use of sophisticated technology offered by housing companies such as onPeak, groups of exhibitors can book room blocks of any size in real-time. Group managers can then fully manage their block online by updating reservations for the entire block, making room assignments and finessing dates, or allowing each group member to update their reservation, change payment details or dates.