They’re out there. They’re waiting for your attendees to start searching for lodging options during your meeting, and they’re scheming on techniques that will bring them profits while hitting you with attrition penalties.
Pirates, poachers, room block bullies. These companies may be called different names, but every planner can agree that they represent big problems. While this has been an industry issue for quite some time, it seems to be popping up even more frequently in today’s meetings industry.
“Unfortunately, poaching is becoming more and more prevalent as poachers and pirates become more savvy about finding different avenues that lead to attendees,” Rick Benoit, Housing Supervisor, Experient, says.
“As meeting planners try to push the needle and develop robust mobile applications, the savvy poaching company is always aiming to stay a step ahead to find out how to use new technologies to get in touch with exhibitors and attendees,” Benoit adds.
Be a Teacher
Planners are all too familiar with poaching companies, but it’s important to remember that the awareness level among attendees and exhibitors may be very low. They’re simply looking to book a room at an affordable rate during the meeting.
“Fending off these outside companies is all about education,” Benoit says. “It’s about making sure that attendees and exhibitors know these pirates and poachers are out there.”
That process involves more than the occasional reminder to book within the block, too. As any meeting planner knows, plenty of information goes unread.
“Warn your attendees and exhibitors about the potential for poachers at every turn,” Benoit advises. “Make statements on your website, on your forms and in your email marketing messages to remind everyone about the importance of only booking through your approved housing provider.”
At Experient, Benoit says that he and his colleagues are always on the lookout for potential problems that target their clients.
“We have a list of known poaching companies we continually monitor for our clients,” Benoit says. “We’re constantly making sure that those repeat offenders aren’t up to their usual tricks.”
For planners that may not be working with a contracted housing provider, Benoit says that it’s important to conduct simple online searches to address any poaching issues before they get out of hand and eat away at your room nights. Simply enter in the name of the organization and the meeting to see if the results yield any outside companies.
Be Careful With Your Information
While many organizations have started posting attendee lists online in an effort to help unregistered attendees recognize the networking value, that public list can come back to haunt planners.
“It’s a catch-22 for planners,” Benoit says. “You want to make sure people know their colleagues and customers are going to be there, but you don’t want to give poachers easy access to that knowledge, too.”
“Make sure the information is available, but give it some kind of additional level of security,” Benoit adds. “Don’t just put it out there so everyone can get to it.”
Despite all the steps to address this problem, poachers aren’t going to disappear. If a company is referencing your name or your event’s name in an effort to solicit bookings, Benoit recommends immediately sending a cease and desist letter on your organization’s letterhead.
“Demand that they stop any action in the name of or on the behalf of your organization,” Benoit says.
Research at Experient shows that a stern letter will motivate poachers to back away the majority of the time. While some companies may still look for opportunities to approach attendees and exhibitors, their promotional efforts will be significantly watered down. Once the pirate company’s communication starts getting a bit more generic and void of organizational logos and language, recipients will be more skeptical about who’s contacting them.
Have you encountered problems with companies targeting your attendees recently? What have you done to fix the situation? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.
PCMA recently had to send its own cease and desist letter to an organization targeting Convening Leaders attendees. Click here to see what Kelly Peacy, CAE, CMP, senior vice president of education and meetings, sent to inform the offending company.