Group Meetings: New Trends Affecting Convention Room Blocks Principal & Co-Founder Katherine Markham authored the following article, which originally appeared on

The economy is showing signs of improvement and hotels are reporting record profits. Yet the trends that are affecting convention room blocks today as well as vexing meeting planners are rooted in the past trials of the Great Recession. looked to its own Advisory Council, supplier members and industry leaders for feedback on the factors that are eroding meeting and convention room blocks.

Supply & Demand

There’s no doubt we’re in a seller’s market and many say we may be headed for a ‘buyer’s market.’ Cyclical timing is critical for hotels capitalizing during gainful times while making up for previous losses from ‘buyer market’ years. Supply and demand in any given time plays a major role. In cities that refrained from hotel ‘new builds’ during the bubble years, group room availability is now in low supply. As a result, these cities are experiencing an upswing in demand and attaining higher rates with new developments on the horizon. Hotels in boomtowns often impose a 30 day convention cut-off date to sell their rooms to higher rated short term business travelers.

While in more over-developed destinations like New York City where rates are traditionally high, soft corporate demand and excessive hotel inventory have created a fierce and unprecedented competition for occupancy by lowering rates. Due to fiscal uncertainties in the recent past, booking business a few months out was the standard. Geoff Heuchling, Senior Director of e-Commerce for Marriott Hotels is reporting record high group bookings; and any anxiety a planner had over the economy has been replaced by concern over securing essential meeting space. Mr. Heuchling notes that meeting planners are now booking several years ahead. According to meeting planners, convention bureaus as well as hotels are requiring the commitment of a high ratio of hotel rooms to allocate adequate meeting space.

Sharing – Economy Influences

During the recession, shared-economy, booking sites soared offering competitive rates. Convention attendees continue to search online and compare hotel rates on 3rd party booking sites for the best deal over their convention dates. Unexpectedly, Airbnb emerged to permanently challenge the industry by appealing to a growing demographic of thrifty millennials. Planners attribute permanent erosion in their room block to shared economy booking sites, including the underestimated impact of Airbnb.

The International Association of Professional Organizers (IAPO) revealed in a 2015 study that the shared-economy is denigrating the number of hotel room nights booked by meeting planners. IACPO members planned 4,537 events in 2015, which is up by over 3,000 in the year prior. However, the number of room nights booked by their members including association, corporate and government, decreased by 2.43 million room nights.

Recent industry studies indicate that one out of three rooms are booked outside the contracted room block, and for city wide conventions, the average is about 45%. Ironically, destinations struggling with insufficient hotel rooms for city wide conventions are welcoming creative alternatives that also include cruise ships docked for overflow.

Windy Christner, Senior Director of Meetings & Expositions for the American Pharmacists Association contracts a ‘lowest rate’ confirmation over their Annual Meeting dates in order to mitigate problematic ‘wholesale’ rates through 3rd party booking sites.

This is a challenging issue for hotels that need to maintain high daily occupancies. When faced with booking rooms for a single day on which they desperately need business, they may offer competitive rates that are lower than the convention rate and cover a few days before and after the needed dates. The convention cut-off date protects the hotel by liberating them to sell last minute rooms either higher or lower than the convention rate, based upon supply and demand. To control their inventories, Hotel chains are now advertising a book direct policy to obtain the best possible rate and other incentives are slowly being included such as free Wi-Fi.

Rogue housing companies have been around for some time, but they escalated during the Great Recession to poach room night commissions and erode room block consumption. Room piracy has cost the industry millions in hotel revenue and the organization faces stiff attrition fees by the loss. Attendees also pay the price by losing deposits or imposed cancellation fees as well as access to room drops, announcements, free shuttle, food and networking events. Attempting to acquire meeting space for future conventions is also challenging when there is a record of weak room pick up. Piracy is getting easier due to mock Websites and Twitter. And because these unofficial housing companies appear authentic, a meeting’s management team may be unaware that rooms are being poached. When organizations post their member lists on their Websites, it becomes public domain and open season for fraudulent companies to contact attendees with sold out scare tactics.

Research conducted by the Convention Industry Council found that 73.1% of 655 meeting professionals who responded to their 2014 survey had conventions targeted by piracy. And yet a majority of them had not developed preventive measures. Meeting planners must make their attendees aware of this problem, since it’s not going away anytime soon.
Meeting planners who use commissionable RFP sourcing sites may not be aware of the hidden fees or mark-ups that impact their rates as it may not appear in their contract. Although hotels claim that these fees are the cost of doing business, they may increase the rate to compensate for commissions they must pay out. The rate therefore may not be the lowest intended or available for attendees.

Attrition, Attrition, Attrition

Meeting planners are frustrated by the lack of control they have over their room blocks, citing that delegates are attending the convention, even though they may not book within the room block. Leslie Zeck, CMP, CMM, Director of Meetings for the International Dental Research Association, is obtaining non-negotiable quotes that include a 5-6% increase per year on convention room rates. What happens if a few years from now the pendulum swings back to a buyer’s market? The organization will be saddled with overpriced rooms and thousands of dollars in penalties.

Planners are tentative about signing guarantees that render their organization liable for exorbitant penalties, especially when attendees today are going around the block using 3rd party booking sites. Ms. Zeck has recently contracted with a housing company that has the clout of working with several major organizations and can negotiate more effectively on behalf of IADR.

For organizations that include a rebate to pay for items like shuttle transportation, they depend upon room fulfillment to pay for these types of services. As meeting space is often tied to room night consumption, an unexpected fee for meeting space may also be incurred when anticipated fulfillment is reduced.

Dave Williams, CMP, President, Administrative Management Services, Inc. didn’t anticipate a decline in oil prices that would impact revenues by his corporate members and now he is forced to factor in attrition fees. He references his 3 considerations for every meeting includes sponsorships, registration fees and expenses which must balance out. If sponsorships are coming in low or expenses like attrition fees are high, member registration fees will go up. Somehow expenses to the organization must be covered, even when members create the problem by staying outside the room block. This is a complex problem and although he consistently communicates with his members to book early and within the block, the reality is that his attendees are price savvy. Mr. Williams suggests having good relationships with suppliers. “This is a relationship industry and having durable relationships with suppliers serves to strengthen loyalties so that attrition costs may instead be converted into a future booking commitment.”

The 2015 IACPO study revealed the average number of participants per event also fell by 9% in 2015, which was the lowest since 2010. In the wake of the Great Recession, we continue to see competition for convention attendance. Meeting planners are reducing registration fees by cutting back on meals and shuttle transportation. Attendees have choices and are favoring outlying hotels that are accessible to restaurants and activities. As a result, destinations that are walkable to eateries are preferred over convention center access, although both components help. When eateries are far from the convention center, a drop in room night fulfillment is detected.

Terrence Donnelly, Vice President for Experient references the sluggishness by attendees in booking their rooms. Exhibiting companies book rooms near the center early, because they’re sure they’re going. Attendees may not be as certain or crunched for time and often scrambling the last minute to find rooms. In higher demand cities, last minute rooms are typically not the lowest rate and this too affects attendance. Mr. Donnelly suggests that planners reserve a separate block for attendees. Corporations that block a number of rooms through their travel agencies book early, but often at lower rates and commissionable.

Future Outlook

Although the meetings industry is showing progress and the economic impact of conventions remains strong, savvy delegates are cutting costs and seeking affordable options – a new normal in the wake of the Great Recession. All indications point to a rise of bookings outside the room block. Bank of America Merrill Lynch has recently downgraded hotel stocks in anticipation of growth by sharing-economy suppliers.

Some say that room blocks may be a thing of the past and that delegates may simply go to hotel website to obtain their 10% discount based on prevailing rates. In any case, technology may present innovative solutions in the future for hotels and meeting planners alike. To improve revenue management practices, it is likely that Hotels will gain better control over rate comparisons in the marketplace by calibrating rates based upon supply & demand, similar to the airline industry.

Obtaining hotel rooms and meeting space that will be needed for future conventions can be challenging when room block pick up is under reported. Tracking delegates via technology may be helpful in quantifying the economic impact for a destination.

Tips to Mitigate Attrition Factors:

  1. Avoid RFP sourcing channels that are not transparent about commissions or hidden fees. Guard against piracy.
  2. Review attendee history to understand their needs. Accommodate attendees with a separate room block and preferences they may have for lower priced hotel rooms or those nearest to eateries and the convention center. Promise low and deliver high by blocking less rooms and picking up more. Ask for 14 or 21 day cut-off versus 30 days where possible. Negotiate with hotels to honor the lowest rate available during the convention dates.
  3. Incentivize early bird reservations with 1 night room & tax deposits. Package registration discounts for staying within the room block. Communicate with members regularly to book their rooms, the importance of staying within the room block and avoiding piracy by using special housing codes. Insist that exhibitors reserve sleeping rooms within your contracted room block.
  4. Monitor weekly pick-up reports and reduce or move room blocks before cut off dates where attrition fees kick in. Audit your rooms. All cumulative rooms may be counted in room block fulfillment including those pre and post the official convention dates. Complimentary rooms offered to the organization based upon pick-up must be credited towards any attrition fees. Re-sold rooms by hotels should not be included for attrition fees. Good historical room pick-up will enable you to negotiate better room blocks in the future.
  5. Budget for possible attrition. Offer to book another meeting that may be more valuable to a hotel to offset penalties.

Meeting planners are essentially ‘feeders’ of new business for hotels and ancillary, economic impact. Given the complexities of the situation, the solutions are also multi-dimensional. Whatever the circumstances, suppliers and meeting planners have a common goal to work together to stimulate business and avoid penalties.

What’s Next in Meeting Tech Tools?

By Al Rickard, CAE

Rapidly advancing technology is creating many exciting new options for meeting professionals.

Reggie Henry, chief information officer at ASAE, showcased some exciting new meeting technologies at an early-morning session at the recent ASAE Springtime Expo.

For example, he talked about “beacons,” which are electronic devices that can be placed anywhere at a meeting and are often used in exhibit halls to measure attendee traffic in real time that can be followed remotely. The beacons can detect the exact location of any attendee who has downloaded the meeting app and has Bluetooth enabled on their phone.

The data collected can help meeting planners identify low traffic areas and place food stations or other features in those areas of the exhibit hall to balance out traffic later in the show. The technology can also be used to monitor attendance at sessions and in other areas of the meeting.

The technology can also transmit any data that attendees have provided when they registered, such as their name, title, and organization. Henry even joked that a beacon located in an exhibit booth can provide real-time data on the visitors to the booth, allowing someone’s boss back at the office who is tracking the reports to send a text to their exhibit booth staff saying how excited they are about the traffic and the great leads that they expect the team to bring back.

He also demonstrated a tool called “Swivl” – a tripod with a swiveling top that can hold a smartphone and videotape a speaker as the person moves around the room. The video feed can be streamed through a tool such as Periscope, Facebook Live, or MeVee to provide a live broadcast of the session that can be viewed by attendees unable to get into a room that may be full or who could not attend the meeting. It can also be easily archived for future viewing on YouTube or other web platforms.

Henry also talked about “,” which is an online real-time room where people can chat and create their own session content. It can also be connected to a Twitter stream.

These and other new apps open the door for new ways to enhance the attendee experience, provide real-time data metrics for planners to improve meetings, and repurpose content for use beyond meetings.

Al Rickard, CAE, is president of Association Vision, a communications company based in the Washington, DC area, and director of communications for

Barnyard to Boardroom

Open the barn door for an effective and different kind of meeting

By Deanna Zagin

Meeting professionals are continually challenged to deliver unique and meaningful experiences that benefit attendees’ lives both professionally and personally while also enhancing their workplace performance.

To solve this challenge, planners can incorporate a leadership and team building element into the meeting itinerary.  And here’s the inside scoop to turn this challenge into an opportunity to provide an innovative, fun and effective experience for the attendees:  HORSES.

What can horses, yes…real horses, teach humans about effective leadership and better team dynamics?

There is something profound and magical about a horse.  After all, horses have survived and adapted on this earth for more than 50 million years. They share in leadership, work in partnership, are emotionally flexible and live in a non-judgmental, caring and supporting environment.  In short, horses can serve as ideal role models for individual growth and superb team functionality.

Called Equine Assisted Learning (EAL), a small group of participants partner with horses in a series of well-planned activities to gain and practice real-world skills to cultivate and enhance their leadership, communication and interpersonal skills and create collaborative team environments. Because individuals and groups often behave the same way whether in the barnyard, the boardroom, or in the office, the EAL experience becomes a metaphor for organizational behavior. Even better, there is no riding involved or horse experience required, so everyone can enjoy participating and learning from the horses.

Horses are extraordinary animals to be around and interact with because, like humans, they are social animals with their own characteristics and moods. soccer horse

Horses are prey animals. A prey animal is hunted by another for food. Survival is programmed in their DNA. They are constantly aware of everything that is going on around them, continually evaluating and interpreting their environment. They can very accurately sense a person’s level of trust, confidence, awareness and authenticity.  As a result, they are experts at mirroring back human emotions and behaviors. They do so unconditionally, without judgment or biases. Horses don’t care about a person’s status or title, race or creed. The horses’ immediate and honest feedback enhances one’s ability to lead with authenticity, consistency, focus, intention and direction – honing one’s emotional and sensitivity skills.

Why are horses so helpful? They are herd animals who seek safety in numbers by banding together for their survival. Their herd mentality is based on the need for cooperation, teamwork, trust and loyalty. The herd consists of well-structured groups of horses of distinct leaders and followers with each of the members having their own role. The herd must work together for its well-being and survival. By partnering with horses and learning from their herd dynamics, teams establish a relationship based on mutual trust and respect, and are reminded that everyone matters.  This reminds all of the need to communicate clearly a shared vision and purpose, resulting in better team dynamics – honing their social intelligence skills.

The EAL experience provides attendees with a unique, fun and educational opportunity as well as memories that can last a life time.  Participants arrive curious, interact with the horses, have a blast and walk away with life skills that support and strengthen their own herd – whether in or outside the boardroom.

Meeting professionals, meanwhile, find a great solution to their challenge to provide a unique and meaningful experience.

Just 18 miles south of Washington, DC on beautiful pastures in Northern Virginia, Unbridled Learning Solutions, LLC offers Equine Assisted Leadership and Team Development programs where groups and/or individuals partner with horses.  These highly interactive sessions with the horses provide a rewarding and powerful transforming experience.

Open the barn door and learn more at

Deanna Zagin has over 30 years of corporate experience and is a certified Equine Assisted Training Specialist.  An accomplished executive with experience in the Fortune 500 and leading association markets, she understands and faced the challenges of organizations and their leaders.  Reach her at

The Jewel of the Pacific

hyatt regency la jollaFind yourself at the newly renovated Hyatt Regency La Jolla at Aventine, blending the charm of a European village with the panache of Southern California.

Located in the city known as “The Jewel of the Pacific,” our hotel offers an exceptional location with ideal meeting space, cultural attractions, fine dining and a short drive from the beach.

Elevate your group gatherings to a new level when you choose our award winning event venues at Hyatt Regency La Jolla at Aventine.  Allow our experienced Sales and Event Planning Managers to tailor every detail of your meeting or convention, so that attendees feel inspired and motivated during and after their stay.

Give your attendees an indoor and outdoor feel throughout the week as they flow from the Aventine Ballroom through the Asteria Terrace into the open air Vicino Ballroom.  Whether you are planning a small meeting or a large convention in the La Jolla or San Diego area, our hotel provides an ideal location.

Please click here to experience our best of the season!

Pick Your Perks in Paradise

hilton aruba

Nestled on the largest expanse of Aruba’s Palm Beach, discover the Hilton Aruba Caribbean Resort & Casino, a AAA-four-diamond resort. It’s the perfect place for your next event.

Meeting options range from 24,000-sq. ft. of outdoor space – a favorite for evening poolside receptions and events requiring lush garden settings – to 15,000-sq. ft. of indoor meeting facilities in traditional conference and boardroom set-ups. Several penthouse suites readily accommodate executive retreats, receptions and dinner functions.

Discover guest rooms and suites each with a private balcony or patio and free Wi-Fi, six restaurants, two zero-entry free form pools, an expansive beach, eforea spa, activity programs, the casino or golf at the nearby Tierra del Sol Championship Course. Explore the entertainment district with dining and shops.

The resort’s Pick Your Perks in Paradise program offers incentives for meeting planners – the more room nights booked, the more perks you get to pick, up to 8.  Also earn rewards with Hilton HHonors® Event Planner Bonus Program. To discover great rates, go to

Convenient air service to Aruba is via all major U.S. cities. For group reservations, email, or call 1-800-250-0134 or +011 297-586-6555 and request the Sales Department.

New “Wow” Learning Formats for Your Next Meeting

By Al Rickard, CAE

When is the last time you introduced new learning styles at your major meetings?

Megan Denhardt, CAE, Senior Learning Consultant at ASAE and President of The Denhardt Group, believes the meetings industry is undergoing a paradigm shift in how it defines, plans and executes learning programs.

She talked about this in a session at the ASAE Springtime Expo called “Alternative Learning Formats That Wake and Wow Meeting Attendees.”

“People learn in different ways,” Denhardt declared, “and no one has a better learning style than anyone else. Some experts say there are as many as seven different learning styles; but it’s easier to narrow it down to three types of learning.”

She cited the example of one of life’s earliest lessons to illustrate learning styles, called “The Stove Can Burn You.”

  • Listening learners heard their mother, believed the information, and never touched a stove.
  • Seeing learners watched their brother touch the stove, and never touched it.
  • Experience learners touched the stove, but only once!

These styles suggest the types of programs you may consider for your meetings, and Denhardt offered these examples of alternative learning formats:

Point-Counterpoint Session – A technique used to present two different sides of an issue. It takes the form of a structured argument, with two people presenting their viewpoint in opposition to the other, hoping to persuade the audience to adopt one of them.

Design Thinking – In this format, a problem is presented to the audience, which breaks into small groups and answers specific questions designed to solve or address the challenge or problem.

Informal Chat – Leverage the meeting venue for unique settings that support learning and stimulate conversation. Consider chats by the fire, in cabanas at the pool, during spin classes, in early-morning exercise sessions, or in late-night dessert and coffee get-togethers.

Discussion Den – To fill in short windows of time such as during a break, set up a 20-minute themed conversation with a facilitator on a specific topic. It can be done in a meeting lounge set up near a high traffic area to attract people or in a separate room.

Snap Learning Spot – This can be a 30-minute session with just 1-2 speakers and a small group of under 30 people. Speakers can guide discussions centered on a particular theme such as personal development, ideas that worked, lessons from failure, etc.

Ignite Session – The “Ignite” name is trademarked so any session using this moniker needs to match the established format, which includes a series of speakers presenting for five minutes using 20 slides that automatically advance every 15 seconds. Topics can run the gamut but are usually connected to the life experience of the presenter.

Speed Solo – Designed to deliver content in a high-energy format with audience engagement, this session features a moderator plus four speakers who each give an 8-minute talk followed by a 4-minute discussion at tables. The moderator ties the pieces together and facilitates audience questions.

Micro-Coaching – One-on-one or very small group targeted learning or troubleshooting sessions that are ideal for people who want private help in a comfortable and safe setting. For example, these sessions could be used to assess marketing materials, get social media coaching, personal technology coaching, or career coaching.

Conversation Café – An informal bar-table setting for intimate peer-to-peer open learning involving 2-3 people at each table. Set up an area with several tables and a topic card on each one to start conversations. Include a few blank signs so people can choose their own topics.

Content-Sharing Marketplace – Set up similar to a poster session often used in exhibit halls, this is like a “reverse expo” where members showcase their work, learnings, successes, and award-winning campaigns. They can be set up during a reception or other casual gathering.

Reflection Zone/Un-Engagement Lounge – Sometimes attendees become over-programmed and need time to process content they have absorbed from your meeting. This lounge features comfortable furniture, softer lighting, and perhaps background classical music to help people relax and have a mini-retreat in the midst of a busy conference.

“Not all of these work for every audience or attendee,” Denhardt explained. “That said, a good balance and mix is important to support different types of learners and to help people create a customized experience for themselves. By providing a mix of offerings you help serve your audience and meet them where they are.”

Al Rickard, CAE is President of Association Vision, a communications company based in the Washington, DC area, and Director of Communications for

Personal Service & Superlative Style

wynn encore

At Wynn Las Vegas and Encore, we truly measure our success by yours. The team is driven by attention to detail and anticipating questions. The goal of creating an event experience unlike any other you will encounter in Las Vegas.

That’s why you will enjoy the services of a dedicated convention services manager, catering manager and meetings concierge, each of whom will work with you personally to ensure group needs are handled with the expertise and finesse one has come to expect from these award-winning resorts. Among the 260,000 square feet of space, you’ll find floor-to-ceiling windows—some featuring open-air terraces—with pristine views of the Wynn Golf Club’s rolling hills or one of the sparkling pools or cascading waterfalls.

These Forbes Travel Guide Five-Star resorts flow seamlessly into one another with 4,750 beautifully-appointed guest rooms and the finest in dining, shopping and entertainment. Inspiring describes these environments from signature chefs in their kitchens nightly to vibrant nightclubs that keep the party going.  When business or pleasure calls for a ballroom for thousands or an intimate gathering for 25; an extraordinary guest experience awaits. Call 866.770.7201 or visit

Omni Homestead Celebrates 250 Years Every Day

omni homestead 250 The iconic Omni Homestead in Hot Springs, Va., will mark its 250th anniversary in 2016. The resort will commemorate the momentous milestone in 2016 with 366 days of anniversary celebrations, which include afternoon anniversary parties starting at 2:50 pm with a different flavored cake each day, a monthly speaker series, fireside chats, historic menu items in the Main Dining Room, special concerts, fireworks displays and much more.
“Each month will have a theme, beginning with a focus on our associates in January. Since Nov. 21, 1766, we have been here to welcome and serve our guests, and we felt it very fitting to honor all of our associates, past and present, as we begin this monumental year,” said David Jurcak, managing director of The Omni Homestead.
Affectionately known as the birthplace of southern hospitality and founded a decade before John Hancock signed the Declaration of Independence, The Omni Homestead Resort has been welcoming guests to experience the beautiful and historic hot springs since 1766. The historic resort has hosted countless notable individuals, including presidents, royalty, dignitaries and celebrities, as well as generations of vacationers since the 18th century. Those interested in learning more about the resort’s 250 years of history and next year’s festivities may visit
“Generations of travelers have been making memories here for almost 250 years, and next year, we want to celebrate those special moments in time,” said Jurcak. “We have so many activities and events planned, we couldn’t fit them all into just one weekend, or even one month, so we’re going to celebrate every day, and we invite guests and associates to share their stories with us.”
Known as America’s First Resort, The Omni Homestead Resort offers more than 30 resort activities, including hikes to explore the property’s 2,000 acres of countryside; the Allegheny Springs, a two-acre water park; archery; falconry; horseback riding; an award-winning spa; golf on the famed Old Course and Cascades Course; tennis; and more.
For more information or to make reservations at The Omni Homestead Resort, please contact (800) 838-1766 or

Visit Anchorage Booth takes Gold…Again!

With the Summer Olympics going on in the background of ASAE this year, it is only appropriate to highlight our own “Booth Olympics” Winner – Visit Anchorage!

Visit Anchorage at ASAE Annual

Visit Anchorage at ASAE Annual

For the umpteenth year in a row, their unique design elements incorporating company identity, product presentation, exhibit personnel and overall presence on the floor earned them First Place for Inline Booths.

And they always have a herd or two of cute, fluffy moose as giveaways’J We are proud to have them as a Supplier Partner!!

Look for ASAE Annual to head north next year…see you all in Toronto!

ASAE’s Tradeshow Buzzes With Activity

The ASAE Exposition trade show floor buzzed with activity Sunday and Monday with both Association members and exhibitors interacting face to face to build business relationships (you all remember how that works??:))

Along with virtual reality, exhibitors focused on tasty treats and contests to draw wandering attendees into their booths. Along with s’mores, Omaha steak, Korean tea and ice cream, a Pokémon Go contest vied with the always popular Build-a-Bear station to attract planners.

Pictured are a few of the supplier members in attendance, Mohegan Sun Pocono and Visit Jacksonville.

Mohegan Sun's Booth

Mohegan Sun’s Exciting Booth 

Visit Jacksonville at ASAE

Visit Jacksonville at ASAE

Also we noticed Team San Jose, Memphis CVB, Experience Columbus, Hargrove Inc., Meet Puerto Rico, Little Rock CVB, Delta Air Lines and the Mexico Tourism Board busy educating planners on their destinations and services.