International attendees make a big impact on the success of medical congress. They come in sponsored groups, ranging from five to hundreds of doctors. They travel long distances, and they stay for longer periods of time. Moreover, international attendees pay the full non-member registration price, and the pharma industry sponsor picks up the tab. With all this in mind, meeting planners must take extra steps to ensure these international attendees feel satisfied. And that starts with helping them navigate to their temporary home: the official housing block.
A simple online search will show how easy it is for attendees to get lost in the maze of unofficial housing providers. A myriad of travel agencies, both within the US and outside, offer rooms by using the names and dates of medical meetings, albeit with a small protection disclaimer on the bottom of the page stating that they are not necessarily associated with the meeting. These companies take advantage of the complicated process of booking international groups to offer rooms outside the association’s official block – sometimes even before official housing is open for sale.
It’s About More Than Room Rate
Though some rooms offered off-the-block might appear less expensive, international groups need a myriad of services, including breakfast, transportation, additional meeting rooms, and other services during the medical congress. Smart medical meetings have already taken this into account and many offer international group housing that is all-inclusive, negotiating the best rates available for the other services required by the international groups.
For poachers and pirates, the temptation is large. Poachers that offer a less-expensive off-the-block room may then tack-on innumerable additional fees for these necessary services. So, securing just one international group can translate to hundreds of thousands of dollars of profit for a poacher. In the end, since pharmaceutical sponsors of international rooms have a set spending budget, additional fees tacked-on by the non-official companies increase the overall per person cost which means fewer doctors attending your medical meeting.
Convincing sponsors to book inside traditional room blocks continues to be an issue that keeps conference planners awake at night. According to EmpowerMINT’s Event Room Demand Study, one in every three rooms is booked outside the room block. From poachers and pirates to online booking agencies, there are plenty of players in the marketplace. So what strategies can you put in place to ward off the sharks and avoid those costly attrition fees? Here are eight steps to follow for filling your international room block.
- Make Your OFFICIAL International Block Available Early And Make Sure It Stays Open Late
The booking schedule of pharmaceutical sponsors waits for no one. Sponsors have to submit their expenses and even make payments based on when their budgets are available. If your official housing isn’t open when they need to book, they will have no choice but to book around the block. The same will happen if there are no rooms available within the block by the time sponsors want to book. Sponsors can advise you of their schedule, as it often repeats from year to year. Know who your major sponsors are and make sure you have availability when they are ready to book. You can even start speaking to sponsors and exhibitors about their housing needs at the previous year’s congress.
- Allow International Groups To Book Now And Register Later
Sponsors know that they will be sponsoring a group of international doctors to attend your medical meeting. They just don’t know exactly who these doctors will be, yet. Sponsors will often send invitations to doctors up to a year in advance. However, if these doctors turn down the invitation, sponsors will find someone else to take their place, even at the last minute. If you require full-registration information in order to book international housing, sponsors will be forced to book around the block rather than take the risk of registering doctors who will not be attending the meeting.
- Luxury Is Often Off-Limits
Sponsors adhere to a never-ending list of rules and regulations that are set by their internal guidelines as well as by external legislating agencies. Remember to provide an ample variety of reasonably-priced hotels. Resorts, casinos, 5-star hotels, and many other luxury amenities are prohibited and international groups will not be able to book those hotels.
- Cater To Your Sponsors So They Can Cater To Their International Groups
For the sponsor your meeting is also their opportunity to engage with their clients from around the world. Ease of access to their guests is of outmost importance. Sponsors want to be able to house their group in a single property so having large blocks available in international-group-friendly hotels is key. Sponsors have spent many months and much money planning this trip and they want their guests to have an all-expenses-paid first-rate experience. A basic travel package may include complimentary breakfast, access to a special meeting room, and not to have to deal with details like additional taxes and porterage fees.
- The Right Pattern Makes All The Difference
International attendees travel for hours, sometimes days, to reach your destination. They are more likely to stay for your full congress and even attend pre and post events set up by their sponsors. Making sure that the international block has plenty of availability on side-nights is important. If a sponsor cannot book their full-pattern within your block, they will have to look elsewhere for their group’s stay.
- Official vs. Unofficial Agencies
A sponsor will sometimes use an agency to assist them in booking a medical congress. The agency has been vetted by the sponsor and is their official partner for bookings related to this meeting. When an agency contacts your housing office on behalf of a sponsor, request a ‘letter of appointment.” If they don’t have one, the agency is not officially working with that sponsor and, if they succeed in getting rooms, may turn around and do with them as they want, adding-on fees or even re-selling them multiple times to different entities.
- Teach Your Sponsors Well
It’s been 46 years since Crosby, Stills & Nash released the song “Teach Your Children”, but the words are still relevant today. If the impact of booking outside the block hasn’t been made clear to your international group sponsors, it’s incumbent on your organization to educate them. What might it cost if those fees were added to future conference pricing? What if they were passed on as around-the-block fees? At the end of the day, someone has to pick up the tab.
- Pay Attention To Poachers During Hunting Season
It doesn’t take a lot of effort to discover just who may be shooting holes through your room block. Be vigilant by doing a simple Google search of your conference name to see who is offering rooms outside your block. Poachers sometimes employ scare tactics (“The block is almost sold out — act now!”) or misrepresent themselves as the official housing agency, using the event’s logos on emails, or creating false websites, burying complicated practices and cancellation fees in their fine print.
Don’t just search, though. Do something about it. If a company is referencing your organization’s name or using your logo or your event’s name in an effort to solicit bookings, immediately send a strongly worded “cease and desist” letter on your organization’s letterhead demanding they stop their unethical and alleged representation of your organization. Many times that can motivate poachers to back away or water down their approach. Click here to see what PCMA’s Kelly Peacy sent to an offender when she discovered a recent poaching effort.
Poaching will continue and third-party agencies will live on. To make booking within your room blocks more compelling, affordable and smart, be creative, informative, and ‘international-group’ savvy. Once your sponsors know you want them in the block and are willing to help them book, they’ll be more than happy to oblige.
This educational article was brought to you by ABTS Convention Services. With over 20 years of experience delivering global internationally-focused sales and integrated marketing strategy solutions, negotiating internationally-friendly group housing and providing on-site expertise to manage your international groups, ABTS is recognized as one of the leaders in medical association management. If you need help moving your medical association forward in today’s global meetings market or would like help managing and growing your international attendance, click here to get in touch with ABTS.