The Event Room Demand Study found that, on average, one in three group room reservations in the United States are booked outside of the contracted event room block. With the rise of the sharing economy and sites like Airbnb, it’s easier than ever to find alternative accommodations in almost every city. Each room reservation booked outside the block means lost revenue for meeting planners and event holders. Not to mention, it’s imperative for guests to book inside the block for accurate data capture for economic impact tracking. What can be done to offset this trend and encourage attendees to book inside the block?
To start, let’s review common issues preventing attendees from booking inside event room blocks. After 15 years in the event housing industry, helping clients run events of all sizes from USA National Sports Championships, to South by Southwest, to the World Police and Fire Games, we’ve seen four prevalent reasons why attendees book outside the block;
- They are unsure how to book inside the block.
- They don’t feel compelled to book inside the block.
- They are able to obtain a lower rate booking through other channels
- There are too many barriers to entry preventing them from booking inside the block. Barriers to entry could be anything from deposits, to strict cancellation policies, to a complicated booking process.
By having a clear understanding of the common issues preventing attendees from booking inside the block, we can find creative solutions to overcome them:
Attendees are unsure how to book inside the block:
- Offer a pre-event webinar for event attendees. This can provide them with a look at what to expect, answer common questions on the event and guide them on how to book through the proper channels. Express how the booking process can set them up for best rates and how it can save them time and money. Be sure to include web links and contact information where possible
- Social media can be a quick, easy and inexpensive way to spread the word on your event and how to book rooms through the right channels. Again, include web links and contact information.
- Send out pre-launch e-blasts with links to the right booking channels. Use catchy wording such as “Book Now,” “Best Rates,” “Better Rates than Public,” “Last Chance,” etc. Include web links, contact email and phone numbers.
- Use keywords to increase SEO so that when attendees google “event name” + “hotels” your website comes up first.
- If possible, link registration and housing. Ideally, attendees will move seamlessly from registration to housing so they can register and book their hotel room in one go. If possible brand the registration and housing systems to match so the attendees feel as if it’s one transaction
Attendees don’t feel compelled to book inside the block:
- Incorporate a “Stay to Play” policy for attendees. Sometimes guests are tempted to book outside the block if they feel they can get better deals through various websites (Hotwire.com, Airbnb, Expedia.com, etc.). Include a “Stay to Play” policy which dictates that in order for attendees to attend an event, they must book within the group block. Confirm this by comparing the registration list with the hotel rooming lists. Variations of this include a “Stay to Save” policy where attendees save on some aspect (registration, coupon book, perks, etc.) by booking inside the block or a “Stay to Win”policy where attendees that book inside the block are entered to win a prize (for example a pizza party for sports teams, a gift card, a free room upgrade, etc.).
- Communicate with hotel partners. If all options to maximize the block have been exhausted, communicate with hotel contacts. They have been in the industry likely for some time and can provide some helpful ideas.
Attendees are able to obtain a lower rate by booking outside the block:
- Create a standard hotel agreement which includes these clauses to protect the block:
- Include a “lowest rate guaranteed” clause: No rates published lower than the negotiated rate (exceptions being government rates, corporate negotiated rates, etc.)
- Include a clause which states that post-event the hotel will compare the event registration list against everyone booked in the property over the event dates. If they find any guests at the property that were booked outside of the block, they will honor their stay towards your final numbers. This is important if you have an attrition clause where you need to hit a certain number of room nights to avoid any damages.
- Complete a weekly or bi-weekly rate check of the negotiated hotels to ensure they are not selling under the negotiated rates. Check the hotel’s website to see what they are selling to the public over the event peak nights. Also include a rate check through third party sites such as Expedia, Priceline, Kayak, etc. Approach hotels if you find that they are selling under the negotiated rates. If using a standard hotel agreement with best rate guarantee clauses, remind them kindly to honor their contract and have the rates protected over the event dates. If there isn’t an agreement in place, talk to the hotel representative and explain that if they undercut the negotiated rate, they are not gaining more revenue through their own site, but that they are merely displacing revenue from attendees that would have otherwise booked through the block.
Barriers to entry are preventing attendees from booking inside the block:
- When possible, negotiate easy booking procedures with hotels including a relaxed cancellation policy such as 24 hours prior to arrival. Avoid deposits and minimum night stays. If this cannot be avoided, use wording on the site that explains that deposits and/or minimum night stays are negotiated to keep the rates down and therefore have saved the attendee in expenses. If the value of savings is large, show them the value! For example – “by prepaying your stay, you save $250+ compared to the general public.”
- If using multiple hotels, try to keep consistent cancellations policies. This avoids confusion among attendees.
- Use an online housing system. The convenience and efficiency of an online tool can drastically ease the booking procedures for the planner and attendees. Online housing allows all information to be conveniently centralized and allows users 24/7 access to information and booking options. They have real time inventory to view and book at their leisure.
- If using housing software, ask the hotels to close out their own central and/or in-house reservations for the event. Do not allow them to make bookings directly by the hotel. Have the hotel direct attendees back to the event site. Ensure clear communication with the hotels in order to provide guests with the correct phone/email/website to book accordingly. Do spot checks by calling the hotel to book under the group rate. If the hotel allows bookings, contact your hotel representative to have this rectified.
- Be aware of shoulder nights (non-peak nights). If no rooms are available on these dates and guests want to stay the extra nights, they could look for alternative options. Ensure availability for those needing to book a longer stay than just the event peak nights.
Although it can sometimes feel out of your control, the reality is that there are many resources available to encourage attendees to book inside the contracted room block. The tips above will lead to increased revenue capture and more accurate data for economic impact tracking. Learn more about increasing bookings inside the block in The Book on Housing, a free ebook that will shed clarity around online housing and share best practices on how to successfully execute housing for your next event.