A How-To Guide
If you are hosting a special event, like a wedding, chances are you have a line on your to-do list that includes booking hotel room blocks for out-of-town guests. Many of my clients express a little apprehension about dealing with hotel room blocks. Honestly, it’s not something that my clients deal with on a day-to-day basis, so I understand the anxiety. I had the opportunity to sit down and chat with Scott Johnson from ConferenceDirect, who is an expert in this field, as he negotiates hotel room blocks for a living. I asked him a lot of the questions that I get asked repeatedly and he provided some great information that I want to share with you below.
Interview with Hotel Room Block Expert
Q: How are hotel rates and availability impacted by major sporting events?
A: Sporting Events are great opportunities for hotels to fill room nights when teams within an easy drive or train ride play our local teams. The primary teams are from Philadelphia, New York and Boston. The hotels have learned the dates over these games are desired by those Team’s fans. This is called compression (high hotel occupancy) and the hotels know they can increase room rates around the Inner Harbor area during these time frames. And with the “compression” downtown, even hotels outside the city limits can see benefits as guest who would normally stay in the downtown area now have to stay outside the city with hotels sold out or room rates too high for them.
Q: What are some of the teams that most frequently disrupt plans or make bookings more difficult? Anyone other than the Red Sox and the Yankees?
A: Yes, Philadelphia is a great example with them being so close. We also see an increase even from Toronto.
Q: What if we find out about an event last-minute? What is the best plan of action to make sure we avoid any mishaps? (Example: If we didn’t know there was a big college football game being played at M&T Stadium, or a 10K fundraiser run pops up right before a wedding, or the Pope is coming to town and we didn’t know is route takes him through Baltimore…) What are the best sources for identifying upcoming events that could conflict with a wedding?
A: There will always be something happening you cannot plan for. A great resource is Visit Baltimore: The city of Baltimore’s Convention and Visitor’s Bureau. They usually have all the details, special planned routes and city-wide convention details. They also partner with us and our clients to make sure any guests from out of town receive city information such as visitor’s guides and maps. These are sent directly to the hotel just before a group checks in.
Q: What can you, at ConferenceDirect, do to help us avoid issues with schedule conflicts of major events?
A: When I send out a lead, the hotels will respond with reasons why they are not able to accommodate. This gives us a heads up on what is happening in the city. And since ConferenceDirect goes through a computer system for leads, each hotel must respond to a lead in writing. We can also then find areas which may not be fully booked and concentrate on those areas for finding hotels. Such as, if a convention is in town, stay away from the convention center and the larger hotels used for large group blocks of hotel rooms. The smaller hotels may still have availability.
Q: How far in advance do you recommend people arrange their room blocks?
A: Hotels have what is called a “booking window”. For social events, many hotels will not allow rooms to be booked outside of 12 months out. There are always exceptions, and many larger hotels can book out further, depending on their Sales structure. The key here is to remember, the management of the hotel is looking out for the ownership of each hotel. The owners are looking at profit and room rates are the way hotels make the most profit.
Q: Do you think it makes a difference if hotel room blocks are established prior to sporting event calendars being released? For instance, if hotels don’t know yet that the Yankees are coming to town on a particular weekend, they haven’t had an opportunity to jack up their rates yet, correct?
A: That is correct. It is always better to book before any event, no matter if a sporting event, concert, or the Pope in town. Any major city activity will cause a fluctuation in hotel room rates.
Thanks to Scott for sharing this extremely informative information about hotel room blocks with us. Now, it’s time for you to learn a little lingo – hotel lingo – that is. These are the terms that you may hear thrown around while you are booking your hotel room blocks, so save this post to refer back to in the future.
Know Your Hotel Lingo
This is a hotel room block that is small enough to avoid any financial commitment. For most hotels, it’s 10 rooms per night. If you need a bigger block, you’ll need to enter into a contract that has terms holding you responsible for fulfilling a financial commitment to the hotel.
This is usually one of the biggest terms of the hotel block agreement. It stipulates how much of the block you must fill. Most attrition requirements are around 80%. This means if you have a block of 20 rooms, you need to guarantee that 16 rooms (80%) will be filled with bookings. If only 15 rooms are booked, you will be financially responsible for one additional room, to meet the attrition requirement.
This is the list of reservations within your block. When you’re preparing hotel welcome bags or sending final numbers of guests to your transportation company, you’ll want to ask your hotels for the pick-up list.
Booking Outside the Block
If you notice on your pick-up list that some out of town guests do not appear to have reservations, it is possible that they booked outside the block because they did not reference your block code. This may have been an oversight on their part, or it may have been intentional. Some guests find a better deal through AAA, rewards programs, etc.
Attaching Outside Reservations to your Room Block
If you know that certain guests are staying at your blocked hotel, but they did not book their room through the block, you can attach them to your block. You’ll want to do this if you are giving out welcome bags or including event guests in any other events such as post-wedding brunch. When you request to attach a reservation to your block, the guest still retains the same rate at which they booked. The only difference is their name will show up on the pick-up list, so they’ll be flagged upon check-in to receive your welcome bag.
Most hotels will honor your block rate for the night before and the night after your block. This way, if guests want to come in early or stay late, they can still take advantage of the great rates you have negotiated for them. These extra days on either end of the block are called Shoulder Dates.
I’ve answered some of your burning questions about room hotel room blocks and shared some great hotel lingo with you too. Hopefully, you will feel more confident the next time you look at your to-do list and see “Book Hotel Room Blocks”, and you can always look back at this post if you forget anything…shhh…I won’t tell.