Ideas / Industry Tips from Brian Stevens – CEO / ConferenceDirect

ROOM BLOCK AUDITS KEEP MONEY IN YOUR POCKET

One of the best practices your organization or company can implement is the room block audit. Because audits prove their worth again and again, Lynn Golabowski, vice president/team director, and Bryan Croyle, CMP, director of global accounts, make sure to follow these best practices with their ConferenceDirect clients.

Put it in writing. Hotels are getting more aggressive in not allowing audits, so make sure that they are stipulated in the contract. “You don’t want to lose money either from attrition charges or loss of other contractual concessions like earned complimentary rooms and rebates,” Golabowski stressed. “Every room night counts, so everything must be in writing.”

Wipe away the fear of an audit. “Meeting planners and hotels cringe, visualizing countless hours spent in front of lists, cross-referencing,” said Croyle. “That doesn’t have to happen when you come to the table with the right tools.” Meanwhile, documenting the right history should result in the group booking more room nights in the future. “The booking process becomes a lot more efficient for all,” Golabowski noted.

Maintain control of group inventory as long as possible. Because of their numbers, large citywide meetings generally need to establish a cut-off date (30 days out) and a shut-off date (three to four days prior to scheduled arrival). While giving a hotel the initial rooming list on the contracted cut-off date, ConferenceDirect’s standard contract allows clients to continue to sell rooms to attendees at the group rate, so long as the hotel continues to have availability. By enabling this, groups can capture rooms from people who would otherwise book around the block.

Ensure efficiency and security for both parties. Just as hotels don’t want to provide you with their in-house lists, organizations and companies don’t want to share their full attendee list and all its valuable information with hotels. Automated audit systems, which can perform audits in a secure fashion, can bridge this divide. “Most convention hotels have such systems, and they are pretty accurate,” said Croyle. “We utilize them to make sure room matches are credited to the group’s overall pick-up.” This is especially critical for groups that receive rebates or concessions based on their room block numbers.

If no automated system is available, the most efficient and secure approach for Croyle is to format his group’s registration list into a Microsoft Excel program. It can be easily and quickly searched by name and by arrival date. The harder part is getting the hotel to produce its rooming lists for the nights in question. “You need to be forceful about what the contract allows you to do,” he said. If the registration list is 100 people, it’s easier to search Croyle’s file. “But if we’re talking thousands of names, it’s far better to work from the hotel’s list of people not coded to our group.” There is no direct exchange of information, as one reads a last name and the other shares a first name to see if there is a “match.”

Document the findings. During the audit, Croyle immediately annotates his digital list with the identified attendee’s hotel, arrival and departure dates, the number of room nights and the room rate, where possible. “Some hotels are not as free to give out that information,” he acknowledged, “but it makes even clearer what is commissionable and eligible for rebate, if applicable.” He makes sure his list includes the person’s city and state should there be a challenge to the name.

Find the international contingent. Meetings that draw global attendance pose a completely different challenge. Many companies outside of the United States still use travel agencies, especially for packages that combine air, hotel and other land services. “That makes the audit even more important,” Golabowski maintained. “We try our best to facilitate a system that is easy to book in advance, even when visitors don’t follow our procedures. It’s inevitable that everyone from Malaysia, for example, will be required to work through a travel agency and so may be paying a higher hotel rate than the meeting has contracted.”

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