How do event planners increase the number of 'heads-into-beds' to overcome revenue lost with commission cuts

Why are my attendees booking out of my official room block? As an event housing manager, you have undoubtedly asked yourself that question at least once!

Increasing the number of ‘heads in beds’ is now more important than ever before. The hotel commission cuts have eaten into the profit of event organizers who heavily rely on this revenue stream. Some managers will only feel the real impact in years to come as they pushed to get contracts signed before the commission cuts were enforced earlier than usual. Nonetheless, all event managers will find themselves facing the new reality of housing at some point.

Many event planners have, even before the commission cut announcement, made changes to their policies. Some event managers have gone as far as only allowing guests to participate in the event if they stay in the official room block. As often seen in sports events the term “stay to play” has become a regular occurrence. While for association event planners they have adopted the mantra “stay to save” or incentivize/penalize the attendee for staying in the block. Others simply play the “guilt card”.

Before making any changes to your event housing policies take a look at how registration and housing bureaus can benefit from a shift in mindset to increase revenue and curb commission cuts.


Hotel check in desk

Stay to Play

Stay to play is probably the most standard practice when it comes to traveling sports groups. This policy requires the event participants to stay in the designated hotels and may be benched for that event if they choose to stay elsewhere. If your game plan is to apply the ‘stay to play’ policy then make sure you understand the pros and cons attached and be sure to be as transparent to your attending teams as possible.


  • Participating teams are supporting the club/institution (the event owner) that is hosting and therefore supporting the sport they are playing. Often the hotel commissions are used to enhance the associated tournament.
  • When teams are staying in the same hotel they are able to better connect with each other and the tournament they are attending. There is a boosted sense of camaraderie.
  • Teams can benefit from lower room rates, increased event success, discounted meals, exclusive access to amenities and a host of other offers.


  • If the advantages are not clearly explained and understood this could place a negative impression on the hotel, the event and the sports community as a whole.
  • Enforcing the policy could minimize the number of teams committing to the event.

Despite all pros and cons, the event planner handling the housing needs to be careful not to exclude those teams that stay in the same city as the event. Parameters need to be clearly defined prior to event communications.

Additional Strategies

Stay to Save or incentivizing your guests seems the most obvious way to fill your room block. After all, who doesn’t love something for free? Whether you are offering a discount on event registration fees, early bird hotel rates, customized discounts at local establishments or VIP access to networking meetings, you are bound to get a positive reaction from your attendees. Similar incentives can apply to exhibitors as well. Offering exhibitors access to discounted exhibit space rates or discounted membership fees will encourage them to book within the block.


Another way to drive people to stay within the room block is to penalize them if they don’t. Basically, charge them additional fees to make up for the commission revenue that you would have received if they had stayed in the block. This may be seen as a less friendly approach to filling the room block, but it is not unheard of. At past events, attendees (and exhibitors) have been billed post-show for not staying in the designated room block or have been barred from attending certain mainstream sessions or essential meetups.

Guilt Tripping

Creating an emotional connection with event attendees that is strong enough to inspire loyalty will certainly push guests towards your room block.

Rallying around social responsibility is another way to encourage filled room blocks. Be clear to communicate that part of the revenue made on housing is going towards those who can’t afford to attend but need to be at the event (this can be applied to sports events as well). Another way is to promote the fact that proceeds are going back to the community or a specific charity that the event stakeholders may be supporting.

One could go as far as guilting attendees by stating that if a certain percentage of revenue is not reached for that specific event then all subsequent event registration fees will have to be increased to cover the lost revenue.

When considering whether to adopt one of these additional strategies, it is important to take into account the following pros and cons:


  • Guests can benefit from lower room rates and other discounted services like shuttles to and from the event location or access unique hotel amenities.
  • Attendees avoid paying event registration fees saving them money.
  • Staying in the room block offers the guest the convenience of being in close proximity to the event/conference, allowing them to be more engaged with the event and their peers.
  • The networking opportunities for guests are maximized as they are staying close to other guests and in turn, creates a sense of community around the event.
  • By penalizing the guests you are ensuring that the money is kept within the organization to maintain future event standards.


  • Guests may not like being obliged to stay in a certain hotel especially if they have loyalty to a specific hotel chain that is not offered in the event room block.
  • Some attendees may feel like they are being penalized if they don’t have access to the discounted rates and services, especially those that choose to stay with family or friends in the city where the event is located.
  • There are event attendees who prefer to stay in home style settings like those booked through Airbnb and will now feel unfairly treated.
  • You could potentially be limiting the registrants based on affordability.
  • When an association is faced with a high attrition bill they are likely losing a substantial amount of money and will potentially hike following events registration fees or even go as far as increasing association membership fees.

There are always going to be pros and cons to any way you approach filling your room block. The guests may not see the benefits in the same light as the event organizer. Their focus may purely be on the actual dollar amount they perceive to be paying through the room block as opposed to them booking directly through the hotel themselves.
Successful housing managers know their audience (just as a sales manager know their target market guests and actively educate them on what the contracted rates involve.The more they understand the extra added benefits to both them and the organization, the less likely they are to book out of the block.

However you encourage your attendees to stay within your room block, it is important to ensure that the policy is clearly communicated right from the beginning. No matter the approach you take, it is important to keep in mind how the attendee might feel. The more pronounced the policy and the earlier it is stated, the less likely you are to face irate attendees who misunderstand. Don’t make the mistake of assuming that the benefits to your guests are obvious.

“At the end of the day people won’t remember what you said or did, they will remember how you made them feel.” — Maya Angelou

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With these helpful guidelines, you can easily send your guests down the right path and straight to the chosen hotels!

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