How to Prevent Room Block Pirates from Hijacking Your Next Event

If you’re planning an association meeting or conference any time soon, you’ll want to be on the lookout for “room block pirates.” These are housing companies that call your participants pretending to be affiliated with your group to try to get them to book a room outside of your room block. 

room_blocks.jpgUnfortunately, one of our technology association clients fell prey to such a room block piracy scam recently. We were managing the details for a conference this client was hosting in Vancouver not long ago, when the phony housing company called one of the scheduled speakers to say that the room block was almost sold out. The pirate encouraged the person to make a reservation over the phone to secure one of the last rooms. The speaker complied, giving his credit card information, only to find out later that the company was a fake and he didn’t have a valid reservation after all. This meant that the speaker was out the room cost on his credit card and was also left with no lodgings. 

Continued problems like that could negatively affect attendees’ impressions of the event, and can cause a headache for the association, too, as there is nothing it can do to rectify the problem. Even worse, such piracy also puts associations at risk for thousands of dollars in hotel attrition costs. The impact of the problem can also be long-lasting, since the association could be charged a higher rate for future meetings as a result of not meeting its room-booking commitment. 

Many horror stories abound on the Internet and in association circles of events that have been sabotaged by such unscrupulous booking companies, wreaking havoc on the organizations’ reputations and breaking their budgets. And while room block piracy is not a new concept, it seems to have become much more common in the last few years, thanks to the ease at which fraudulent companies can access participation lists and contact emails and phone numbers. At Virtual, we take the privacy of event attendees very seriously, and it is important to note that we do not provide participant contact names and emails for our events.

Fight Back Against Room Block Piracy

Although you can’t completely avoid the risk in today’s highly digital world, there are some steps we recommend to help protect yourself and your members to ensure smooth sailing for your next event:

  • Make it very clear in your event communication that attendees should only book through the secure link on your website. Warn participants not to give credit card information to anyone who calls them on the phone or through any emails they receive, since these could contain a phony link designed to try to capture their credit card information.
  • Share the names of some of the well-known piracy companies in your industry so that your members can try to avoid doing business with them.
  • Don’t provide participant lists online, since that makes it easy for housing companies to search for contact information to approach your members.
  • If you do find out that a housing company has approached your participants, call the company and let them know you are aware they are doing this and try to discourage them from contacting anyone else in your group.
  • Consider offering a discount on the registration fee when people book a room through your reservation link. This financial incentive for participants helps fill your room block while also helping to prevent people falling prey to piracy. 

Other Advice for Managing Room Blocks Successfully

In addition to guarding against room block piracy, there are also things that we recommend our clients do to book the optimal room block size, both now and for future events.

  • Look to your past room block numbers to come up with an accurate number for your latest event. This will help you secure the best pricing arrangements without taking on unnecessary risk.
  • Don’t undersell your potential level of participation, since not booking enough rooms makes it harder for your members to attend and also means you won’t be getting the rate you deserve.
  • Be sure that your contract with the hotel provides you with credit for any event participants who book with them outside the room block, such as through an AAA discount or other offer. To get the full benefit of this arrangement, we do a room audit, comparing the reservations against the participant list to be sure we get credit for every name. The audit information also ensures you get an accurate count for future years.
  • Let participants know the benefits they get when they stay in your room block rather than booking outside it, so they won’t be swayed by special rates offered by pirate companies. Benefits may include easy access to your meeting venue, free transportation, meal discounts, and valuable opportunities to network with other attendees. 

A Final Note

With such importance revolving around room blocks today as a strategic negotiating point, some associations have expressed concerns about Airbnb and other such online discounted accommodation services having a negative impact on their events. In our experiences, this has not presented a real problem for most associations, especially since participants typically recognize the value of staying onsite with their colleagues to take advantage of important impromptu networking opportunities.

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Andy Freed
President & CEO

Greg Kohn
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