Commentary: How Online Housing Can Help Planners

By Jeff Duncan, Meetingmax Systems

The life of a sports event planner is busy. Between working with sponsors, venues, governing bodies and volunteers, effectively managing housing for participants can often fall down the priority list.

But not paying enough attention to housing can mean lost revenue, or worse, unanticipated costs from hotels for unsold rooms. These costs can be significant and can make the difference between your event making money or being in the red.

However, advances in online housing systems are benefiting event planners. Today’s systems, available directly to planners or through an increasing number of convention and visitors bureaus, are designed to accommodate events of all sizes. And they can save planners significant amounts of time and money.

“Trying to get updates and fill room blocks at multiple hotel properties can be a real headache for sports event planners,” said Tony Cook, sales manager and online housing manager for the Bloomington Convention and Visitors Bureau. “Being able to track all of their room blocks through one simple system is a feature that our clients love. It makes their lives so much easier, freeing up time to focus on the event.”

The following are four ways that you can use online housing to help your event’s bottom line:

1) Increase the number of participants that book inside the block. Online housing starts with a simple email to participants with a link to a variety of housing options. From there, attendees can quickly review hotels and book their room.

“Our guests really appreciate the simplicity of online housing and the variety of hotels we offer,” said Nicole Curran, marketing and housing representative for Sports Council of Collier County. “Being able to review 30 hotels on one webpage means they don’t have to spend their time scouring different travel sites. We offer them competitive rates and they book with us.”

If you streamline the process and ensure a competitive rate, participants will book inside your block. And if you have negotiated rebates with your hotels, each booked room means more revenue for your event.

2) Monitor and control your attrition. Too often, planners don’t read their hotel contracts closely or understand the implication of attrition, leading to unexpected costs. By being able to see all of your room blocks through one website (as opposed to having to call hotels frequently for updates), you can see where your bookings stand, and can take action if you need to fill rooms.

“If you know your hotel blocks are not filling, you can work with the CVB and your hotels to offer incentives and drive the attendees to the properties that need the bookings,” Cook said. “You may even try to renegotiate your attrition. It is much easier to monitor your room blocks as the reservations are being made, than having the surprise at the end and being on the hook for unsold rooms.”

Once you know you are selling your rooms, you can get back to focusing on your event.

3) Gain negotiating power with CVBs. CVBs are mandated to fill hotel rooms. If you can guarantee a certain number of bookings, you may be able to negotiate better room rates, rebates, or discounts on city sports venues. You may even be able to get the CVB on board as an event sponsor.

“It can be a challenge for planners to prove their value to a city,” said Janine Wachter, director of convention and event services for the Greater Madison Convention & Visitors Bureau. “It really benefits your event to know how many room nights you are bringing in.”

By using an online housing system to accurately track your rooms, you can use this information next time to prove the economic impact of your event and negotiate a better deal.

4) Hold hotels accountable for your rebates. After an event comes the painful task of reconciling the room count. The process often involves a lot of back and forth and there can be tension around the final dollar amount. Planners can feel that more rooms were used, while hotels might have a different count. While most hotels aren’t intentionally under reporting, mistakes can be made.

“An online housing system gives you a better sense of what happened because you know how exactly many rooms were booked,” said Shawn Lewis, sports and tourism marketing manager for the Tempe Tourism Office. “It helps keep the hotels accountable.”

With an easy to generate report, you can enter these discussions armed with information. When you know how many rooms your participants booked, you can have confidence in the accuracy of your rebate check.

Jeff Duncan is the COO of Meetingmax Systems,