A major part of any international conference experience for the attendee is the hotel they stay in. Sadly, it has come to the Professional Conference Organizers attention that unsanctioned hotel-room selling companies use various means to get attendees to book from other sources than the official hotel supplier, causing associations to pay costly attrition fees or at best, decrease their profit from an event. What is the Meetings Industry doing to combat these poachers?
‘Slice the main brace!’, ‘pieces of eight’, ‘walk the plank’ and ‘Jack Sparrow’ are what we normally think of whenever we hear about pirates, however, the Oxford English Dictionary defines ‘pirate’ as “A person who appropriates or reproduces the work of another for profit without permission, usually in contravention of patent or copyright.” For meeting planners the word ‘pirate’ is used to describe the companies who contact meeting registrants and exhibitors with fraudulent offers of hotel rooms, businesses that actively seek to recruit or divert event attendees away from official room blocks and into other hotel bookings.
Pirates use a range of techniques to approach attendees and gain their business including requests for credit card information for previously made reservations, or harassing the unaware to book through them immediately. While it is not illegal to operate a company that solicits attendees and exhibitors to sell them discounted rooms for an upcoming event, it is unethical, at best, to falsely claim to be an official housing provider. The danger to any event is multi-faceted. For example, on the Association level, hotel attrition policies can add up to tens of thousands of dollars, imposed for not fulfilling room-block commitments, cutting deeply into the profits from the meeting. In turn, the Association may well charge the Registrants more for the next event in an effort to minimize their losses – thus effecting both the Association and the Registrants.
It is difficult to measure just how extensive this problem is. In Kenes’ experience we have discovered only digital piracy, whereby website text and design was copied verbatim, and then advertised as if the site was the official representative.
There exists an insidious practice of pirates and poachers obtaining lists of current, past and future attendees and exhibitors through possibly illegal means. These dishonest practices include the unauthorized access, unauthorized use or unauthorized sale of website data or email list data. Another way that pirates and poachers obtain room inventory to sell on, is by misleading the hotel or hotel wholesaler into thinking that they are in fact official representatives of the event.
As we can see, pirates and poachers have a wide variety of techniques to fool both the hotels and the attendees for an event. The best way to stop this impacting your bottom line is preventing it in the first place. Luckily the umbrella organization for professional convention organizers, the Convention Industry Council, has created a list of recommendations, some of which are below:
- Provide information to attendees and exhibitors on the event website and in all other marketing materials clearly listing official vendors and logos/logotypes and potential personal risks.
- Provide incentives to attendees and exhibitors to stay within the official blocks, including registration discounts or access to services such as shuttles.
- Use a single system to manage registration and housing bookings, alternatively, provide a seamless integrated process that links both systems together, preferably allowing registrants to benefit from a registration discount for booking inside the block.
- Include an alert about the official room block and potential room block piracy and poaching risks in the registration system, preferably with a requirement that the reader acknowledge that they’ve seen the notice.
- In communications to event participants, include requests to forward information on official blocks and risks from room block piracy and poaching to all housing decision makers (such as procurement departments and travel managers).
- In consultation with legal counsel obtain and maintain trademarks/service marks for the organization and event.
- Remove or restrict access (such as with the use of a firewall or password protection) to online lists of past, current and prospective members, attendees, exhibitors and sponsors. Alternatively, remove lists as soon as the event concludes.
- Develop procedures and provide training to front desk staff in case of any arrivals without reservations that may be due to room block piracy and poaching.
- Notify credit card fraud departments and request support in closing the merchant account of the pirate or poacher.
State of the Industry Report: Effects of Room Block Piracy and Poaching © Convention Industry Council, 2014