Study: Half of Attendees Bypassing Hotel Room Blocks

Many meeting attendees are circumventing the established room-reservation process, finds a new study by Hilton, NYC & Company and the PCMA Foundation.

For as long as most meeting professionals can remember, hotel room blocks have been the scaffolding on which all large meetings and conventions hang. That’s because the blocks generate critical information and confidence that meeting planners and hotels alike can use to forecast, budget and negotiate.

But times they are a-changing: A new study by Hilton, NYC & Company and the Professional Convention Management Association Foundation finds that half of all attendees at citywide conventions are circumventing the established room-reservation process in order to book accommodations independently.

Published last week, the “Room Block of the Future” study was conducted on behalf of the aforementioned sponsors by Kalibri Labs and Prism Advisory Group, which served as research consultants on the project. Their goal, they said, was to better understand room-booking behaviors and, ultimately, to design a delivery system that better suits both planners’ and attendees’ needs.

“One of the more surprising findings from the research was the fact that almost 25 percent of attendees at large citywide conventions actually booked their accommodations at the hotels specified in the room block, but did not go through the traditional room reservation process, resulting in them not being recognized in the room block. Clearly, this segment of attendees’ room-booking priorities were not being met by the existing process,” said Mark Lomanno, partner at Kalibri Labs.

Added Elaine Hendricks, partner at Prism Advisory Group, “It was very unexpected to learn from the survey of citywide 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.”

But loyalty benefits was only one reason for bucking the system. Others, the study found, include the following.

• Cost: A common misperception among meeting attendees, according to the study, is that accommodations in hotel room blocks are more expensive, when in fact they are more affordable in two-thirds (66 percent) of cases.

• Room preferences: Many meeting attendees, the study revealed, book outside of the room block because of a perceived inability to choose their preferred room type.

• Age: The study discovered that younger attendees are more likely to use alternative accommodations.

“The results of ‘Room Block of the Future’ reflect a shift in the industry that CVBs must adapt to,” said Jerry Cito, executive vice president of convention development at NYC & Company. “The findings will help [us] educate planners and suppliers on the need for flexibility, pricing transparency and potential development of a cross-loyalty program.”

Echoed Frank Passanante, senior vice president, Hilton Worldwide Sales, Americas, “True innovation will only occur after understanding the buying behaviors and needs of the guest or conference attendee. We all recognize the meetings industry is rapidly evolving and that it’s crucial to adapt to changing customer preferences to maintain relevance.”