Whether it is 75 softball teams in town for a tournament or 1,000 sorority sisters gathering for an annual convention, attendees need hotel rooms.
And when large groups gather in a smaller city, chances are they will be spread among two or more hotels.
Keeping track of those room blocks and reservations can be a headache for meeting planners. Lucky for them, most convention and visitors bureaus offer housing assistance.
CVBs offer assistance
Housing help takes many forms. In cities where housing assistance is rarely requested, a CVB might do rooming lists by hand, a system that seem archaic but that works.
More and more bureaus, including those in smaller cities, have begun using sophisticated online housing systems that allow all involved — from meeting planners and hoteliers to CVB sales staff — to monitor the entire housing process. One of the latest is the Stockton, Calif., CVB, which this summer signed on with GroupMAX ME, an online housing system.
At smaller CVBs, requests for housing assistance are not a daily occurrence. To qualify for housing assistance, most bureaus require groups to use a minimum number of hotels and rooms. In Springfield, Mo., for example, the CVB requires a group to use more than two hotels and at least 400 rooms on peak to receive help from its housing bureau.
Manual systems still work
The Shreveport-Bossier CTB gets a small number of requests for housing assistance, said Kim Brice, vice president of convention marketing. When it does, instead of a computerized system, the CVB’s convention services coordinator handles housing manually.
Although labor-intensive, Brice and her staff find that for the few clients that seek housing help from the CVB, the system works as well or better than a computerized system.
“Our average meeting size is 250, so we don’t have that many requests for housing,” she said.
Brice also believes that the changing attitudes of business travelers may preven some groups from setting up a conference housing bureau.
Travelers are accustomed to shopping online for deals on every aspect of travel, including hotel rooms. Given that many associations have seen a drop in attendance at their conferences, some planners might be hesitant to force their attendees into a room block, Brice said. “People are used to their independence.”
Springfield has own software
In Springfield, Mo., the CVB uses a software program it developed. The system handles housing for a half dozen groups a year, including a 2,500-person education-related convention and three to four sports events.
“There are companies out there that sell programs and we have looked at them, but we are pleased with what we are doing,” said Dana Maugans, director of convention sales. “Some other CVBs charge a fee to the hotel or the attendee and we don’t do that.”
Signing on with online systems
A growing number of CVBs are signing on with online housing systems such as Meetingmax and Passkey’s GroupMAX ME. Meeting groups typically are not charged for the service by the CVB; bureaus instead tack on a small fee to hotels for each room booked.
Passkey says that 90 percent of major convention and visitors bureaus in the United States and the United Kingdom use its Groupmax ME. In addition to CVBs, a number of hotels, resorts, meeting planners, corporations and meeting management companies use the system.
Among the hotel chains are Starwood, Hyatt, Fairmont, Crowne Plaza, Peabody and Dolce. Passkey says 10,000 planners have Passkey accounts.
“Most meeting planners are familiar with it and ask for it; a few require it,” said Julie Reilly, housing and convention services manager for the Sacramento CVB.
The Sacramento CVB has been using Passkey since 1991.
“The product has gotten better every year,” said Reilly. “They know exactly what we are looking for.”
In Sacramento, demand for housing assistance fluctuates year to year, but on average, the bureau provides handles housing for six groups a year.