Has Your Show Been Targeted by Hotel Room Block Poachers?

April 22, 2014
Has Your Show Been Targeted by Hotel Room Block Poachers?  alt

More and more shows are grappling with the issue of having their attendees duped by fraudulent housing companies that lure them in with cheap rates, take their money and then, when they show up onsite, there literally is no room at the inn.

“We get clobbered over the head with this in Las Vegas,” said Larry Schur, president and COO of All Baby & Child, which runs ABC Kids Expo.

Every year, thousands of attendees and exhibitors flock to the show, and every year, at least a half dozen people get taken in by what the industry calls “housing poachers” or “housing piracy”, he added.

“They take people’s money, and then they don’t have a room,” Schur said. “They change their identity once a week.”

He added that it’s not always newcomers to the show that get taken; sometimes larger companies also get scammed by booking several rooms through the fraudulent housing companies.

It’s also not just ABC Kids Expo or Las Vegas that’s dealing with this problem. Shows in cities across the U.S. have been targeted as well.

Kenji Haroutunian, who runs the Outdoor Retailer shows biannually for Emerald Expositions in Salt Lake City, Utah, said, "We are having some challenges for OR shows with unofficial housing poachers … there is already a lot of anxiety around downtown SLC housing for OR show attendees, as the demand far outstrips the supply of rooms."

He added, "Cold calls from housing organizations not affiliated with us breeds distrust and creates extra workload for our team who constantly have to clarify our housing arrangements in conversations and in print/digital communications."

In order to tackle the room block ‘poaching’ issue head on, the Convention Industry Council (CIC)’s Accepted Practices Exchange (APEX) initiative recently formed a new workgroup chaired by MaryAnne Bobrow of Bobrow Associates, Inc. and Michael Dominguez of MGM Resorts International.

The APEX Room Block Poaching Workgroup was formed to raise industry awareness on the impacts of poaching and to develop best practices, tools, resources and education to aid individual meeting professionals in managing and protecting room blocks.

“Hotel ‘poaching,’ or ‘piracy,’ is not new, but seems to be on the rise and affecting meetings around the globe. In some instances, a meeting’s management team may be unaware that rooms are being poached,” said MaryAnne Bobrow.

She added, “The stellar group of individuals that form this workgroup won’t be able to eliminate the practice, but we can develop awareness and best practices for minimizing its impact.” 

Meeting planners are being asked to take an APEX survey on how their events have been impacted by hotel block ‘poaching’. The survey is open until April 29.

In order to combat the poachers, Schur said they have several strategies in place, including listing all of the companies who have previously approached attendees to warn people beforehand; working with their housing company Wyndham Jade and sending out an eblast once a quarter reminding people only to book with the show’s official housing company; and sending out a slew of cease-and-desist letters.

“I told our lawyer he should just give me a letter with his letterhead,” Schur joked.

He added the only way he and his team can figure out that the poachers are getting contact info is through the show’s online floorplan that list exhibitors’ information. One tactic they are considering is to have a passcode for people to view the floorplan.

“We are doing everything we can to warn people about this,” Schur said.

The members of the APEX Room Block Poaching Workgroup are: MaryAnne Bobrow, Bobrow Associates, Inc.; Adam Briggs, ConferenceDirect; Ronnie Burt, Destination DC; Michael Dominguez, MGM Resorts International; Lisa Dyson, TESOL International Association; Richard Harper, HelmsBriscoe; Michael Howe, OnPeak; Fun Lee, Cardiovascular Research Foundation – Center for Education; Michael Owen, EventGenuity; Anne Roth, Intercontinental Hotels Group; Stuart Ruff, RIMS, the Risk Management Society; Heidi Voorhees, Experient.

Here are some resources to take on poachers:

The International Association of Exhibitions and Events has a sample cease-and-desist form letter. The Professional Convention Management Association also offers a letter to use.

ABC Kids Expo’s list of previous ‘housing poachers’.

Examples on show’s Web sites to warn about poachers for SEMICON West and AudiologyNOW!.

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Partner Voices
Less than six months ago, Lisa Messina joined the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority (LVCVA) as the first-ever chief sales officer after leading the sales team at Caesars Entertainment. A 12-year Las Vegas resident, Messina is a graduate of Cornell University’s School of Hotel Administration and serves on MPI International’s board of directors. TSNN had a chance to catch up with this dynamic leader and talk to her about her vision for the new role, current shifts in the trade show industry, creating more diversity and equity within the organization, and advice to future female leaders. Lisa Messina, Chief Sales Officer, LVCVA With Las Vegas becoming The Greatest Arena on EarthTM, what are some of the things you’re most excited about in your role? 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Scheduled to debut in Q4, Fontainebleau Las Vegas will offer 3,700 hotel rooms and 550,000 square feet of meeting and convention space next to LVCC.  What are some of the plans for advancing DEI (diversity, equity and inclusion) within your organization? We’re currently partnering with instead of working with a leading consulting firm, to lay the foundation and create a solid DEI plan and be the leader when it comes to DEI initiatives. The heart of that journey with the consulting firm is also talking to our customers about their strategic approaches to DEI and driving innovation in this space.  What are your favorite ways to recharge? My husband and I have an RV and we’re outdoorsy people. So, while we have over 150,000 world-class hotel rooms and renowned restaurants right outside our doorstep, one of my favorite things to do is get out to Red Rock Canyon, the Valley of Fire, and Lake Mead. Five of the top national parks are within a three-hour drive from Las Vegas, so there’s a lot you can do. We love balancing the energy of Las Vegas with nature, and we’re noticing that a lot of attendees add activities off the Strip when they come here.  Valley of Fire What advice would you give to women following leadership paths in destination marketing? I think it’s about being laser-focused on what you want to accomplish; building a team around you that lifts you and helps you achieve your goals; and being humble and realizing that you do it as a group. No one gets this done alone. Thankfully, there are a lot of women in leadership in this organization, in our customers’ organizations, and in this city that we can be really proud of. We’re a formidable force that is making things happen.   This interview has been edited and condensed. This article is exclusively sponsored by the Las Vegas Convention & Visitors Authority. For more information, visit HERE.