Meeting Mentor Magazine

June 2019

Why Attendees Book In and Outside the Block

Did you know that, on average, just 51 percent of attendees at citywide conventions intentionally book within those hotel blocks you negotiated so carefully on their behalf? However, according to the Room Block of the Future study, conducted by Kalibri Labs and Prism Advisory Group and funded by the Professional Convention Management Association Foundation, Hilton Worldwide and NYC & Company, about another quarter of attendees also actually are booking within the contracted hotels — just not in the blocks. Why? Because they thought they could do better than the event organizer’s negotiated rates, and because they couldn’t enter their loyalty number when booking.

According to Mark Lomanno, partner at Kalibri Labs, “Clearly, this segment of attendees room booking priorities were not being met by the existing process.” Elaine Hendricks, partner at Prism Advisory Group, added, “It was very unexpected to learn from the survey of city-wide attendees just how much it bothers them to lose control of their hotel-booking process — being generally unable to do the things they normally do in hotel bookings, such as accessing their loyalty benefits. It’s this desire for control that creates frustration and prompts a quarter of them to make transient bookings in convention hotels to get what they want.”

All is not lost, however: Planners whose contracts enable them to conduct postcon audits should be able to get credit for these out-of-block convention-goers. Also, the 45 percent who said they booked through the event organizer’s website said they did so because it was convenient and for the special discount rates.

One reason the remaining 25 or so percent told researchers they booked outside the block was because they thought they could get a better deal elsewhere — especially from online travel agencies (OTAs), the preferred channel for 20 percent of out-of-block bookers. For this, you can thank the omnipresent television, internet and social media messaging from OTA mascots like Hotels.com’s Captain Obvious. Another fifth went direct to “brand.com,” saying that earning points in their preferred hotel chain’s loyalty program was more important to them than staying in the block, especially for those whose companies are paying the freight; 60 percent of out-of-block bookers said they were loyalty club members, compared to just 30 percent of those who stayed in the block. Yet others preferred to book Airbnb and other housing options, either due to cost savings, need for a different type of room or a desire to experience the city in a more personalized way.

And if your demographics include a hefty percentage of under-40-year-olds, expect the out-of-block booking behavior to be even more extensive. Fifty-nine percent of younger attendees said they would use nontraditional booking channels.

The irony is, while attendees may think they can get better deals if they bypass your housing registration system, the study’s cost comparisons showed that about two-thirds of the out-of-block bookers actually ended up paying more than if they had booked within the block — only 28 percent paid less.

Some potential book-in-the-block approaches include:
• Don’t focus on what’s in it for your organization if they book in the block, as many organizations tend to do. Instead, explain why it benefits attendees in terms of reducing registration fees, etc.
• Trumpet the fact that your negotiated rates are the lowest available at your contracted hotels.
• Articulate any special hotel offers you have negotiated on their behalf, such as special dining or spa deals. Fifty-eight percent said this would get their attention.
• Give them a discount on registration fees for booking in the block, something that appealed to more than half of respondents.
• Provide conference-specific goodies, such as special networking opportunities, for those who booked in the block.

The results were based on data from 2 million-plus anonymous hotel and Airbnb guests from citywide conventions in Houston, New York and San Diego from 2015 to 2018, as well as survey responses from 750 convention attendees. The phase 1 results were released during a session at PCMA Convening Leaders, held in January in Pittsburgh. The next phase of the study will entail discussions with event organizers, hotel execs, housing providers and other stakeholders to develop a strategy to tackle the room block of the future. — Sue Pelletier

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About ConferenceDirect
ConferenceDirect is a global meetings solutions company offering site selection/contract negotiation, conference management, housing & registration services, mobile app technology and strategic meetings management solutions. It provides expertise to 2,500 corporations and associations through our 325 Associates globally. www.conferencedirect.com

About MeetingMentor
MeetingMentor, the leading publication for senior meeting planners, is circulated to the clients, prospects and sales associates of ConferenceDirect, which books more than 3.87 million room nights. www.meetingmentormag.com

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