Year after year, conference after conference, associations, destination management and travel consultants, professional conference organisers and other experts in the meeting industry face fraudulent companies who are relative experts in taking advantage of delegates or companies looking to book hotel rooms for an upcoming event. Often referred to as “room block poachers” or “room block pirates”, such shady businesses can cost a delegate, company or organisation an undue amount of money and trouble. As very few participants are aware of this situation, it is wise to take a look at how such activities operate in a bit more detail.
The Basic Premise
As the name may already hint, a room block poacher tends to work outside of the traditional room blocking or reservations system. He or she essentially disguises as an “official” housing bureau associated with a certain conference or event. However, they are in no way affiliated. We should be clear that third-party operators are not considered to be illegal under most situations. It is rather their unscrupulous activities which set them apart.
In the best of cases, the poacher will reserve a block of hotel rooms (sometimes multiple blocks within a specific metropolitan area). Then, they will attempt to gather member information and contact details in reference to an upcoming event. Once this information is obtained, they contact attendees and claim to be the “official” hotel booking agency. For legal protection, they may use phrases such as “we are representing an association” to lure individuals into responding. Once the client answers, he or she is generally pressured into securing a reservation through the use of hard selling tactics. This can result in painful outcomes, like
- The individual may arrive only to learn that the hotel itself is in poor condition or far from the event
- Worse, the individual may arrive only to learn that there is no reservation at all
- Fierce cancellation penalties are charged to the credit card
- The harshest of cases, credit card information and personal details could be stolen
While not all circumstances will result in the worst outcomes, it needs to be emphasised that the risks are substantial. There can even be times when thousands of Euros or Dollars have been charged to one’s name. This is obviously not the best of situations when attending any conference.
The Role of Technology in Modern Times
Many experts have noted that this scenario has become more common over the past few years. Why is this the case? The primary reason is that technological innovations have made real-time communications more efficient while personal information can be easier to obtain. Automated e-mails, convincing branding and even professional websites can all fool even the most seasoned business expert. It is not entirely uncommon for mock Twitter feeds and Facebook pages to be set up; lending further credence to the supposed “affiliate”. After they have done their work, these very same portals will likely disappear.
A Financial Threat?
We have dedicated a separate section here to the real threat posed by personal information theft and credit card fraud. Many of these organisations do not work alone. They may very well receive databases of attendees from another company. In return for these details, they could pass financial data to such a third party. This may result in even further fraudulent activities. The risk to lose a great deal of money over a relatively short period of time is high.
More Than Delegates Alone
Another problem associated with room block pirates is that they can severely damage the relationship between delegates and legitimate meeting organisers like the association itself. Issues such as failing to meet their allotted room block and food and beverage guarantees could likewise be negatively impacted. It can be argued that the most damaging result is participants who begin to lose trust in meeting organisers as a whole and look elsewhere in the future.
The most severe penalties can be seen in the attrition fees that a meeting organisation will be forced to pay if they fail to fulfil their prior agreement with the hotel. This can often lead to higher costs for participants in the future along with the inability to book quality venues during the event.
Ways Around Room Block Poachers
There are a number of ways to avoid such damaging situations. First, convey the dangers of these fraudsters to all members, possible delegates, sponsors, exhibitors, speakers and everybody possibly attending your conference, exhibition or event. Make sure that they ONLY work with recognised organisations. It is also wise to warn the hotels that such activities may be occurring.
Data protection is another critical area to address. Be certain that all member information is kept absolutely secure. Cloud storage solutions are one method which is becoming increasingly common. If any details are left within the public domain, it is quite easy for poachers to gain access.
Proactivity is the first step towards prevention. Identifying known poaching organisations and monitoring their activities can prevent a potentially costly situation. Tracking IP addresses and similar information is a great way to uncover a previous company which may have simply changed names.
Finally, incentivise attendees to book within the contracted room block. Some common used tactics include a professional and personalised support, early-bird specials or complimentary offers.
Room block poachers are becoming an increasingly potent threat to the world of conference and events. By appreciating how they operate and the preventative steps to be taken, your organisation and your participants and members will be protected at all times. Proactivity is much better than reaction in any such case.
Congrex Switzerland is an internationally operating agency delivering integrated solutions especially for non-profit clients. This encompasses the overall organisation of conferences including the management of hotel rooms and the strategic consultancy of associations. Annually Congrex Switzerland organises approximately 33 conferences with over 73’000 delegates. Amongst our clients are international associations, governmental organisation and corporations.
If you wish to receive additional information about Congrex Switzerland, please feel free to contact us.