Cindy Savery, CEM, CMP, meeting planner for the Association of Clinical Research Professionals (ACRP), has become cautious when it comes to committing to hotel roomblocks.Why? Because, as anyone who’s ever used an online travel agency like Travelocity or Expedia knows, it’s easy for attendees to go outside the room block to find less expensive accommodations. Websites such as these have been great news for both busi-
ness and leisure travelers. But the same can’t be said for the group that secures affordable—or even complimentary—conven- tion-center space for its meeting, contingent upon filling a pre- set room block or blocks at various hotels. Savery, who books five years out, says that she always ini-
tially calls a destination’s convention and visitors bureau to see if the convention center is available for her dates. Invari- ably, the CVB’s first words are “How many rooms on peak?” The real answer, Savery knows from experience, is about 1,100 rooms—but these days, that’s not what she books. “Why should I put the association on a limb by getting as many rooms [as I need] and they are going to go outside the block?” Savery said. “But then if I book fewer rooms, it’s not going to add up, so [the CVB says,] ‘We’re going to have to charge you more for the convention center.’” That’s the bind in which many meeting planners find themselves: caught between the need to negotiate a good rate on convention-center space, and the need to not overbook their room blocks and thus incur attrition fees. It’s a touchy subject for everyone involved—planners, hotels, convention centers, and CVBs, which typically act as the broker between these parties—and one that affects every sector of the indus-
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try. “I thinkthe pricing issues are reflective across the board,” said Dave Radcliffe, president of the Radcliffe Company, a hospitality consulting firm he founded a decade ago after serving 26 years in CVB management, “although more preva- lent in the association market.” But how did the convention-center pricing model evolve? Does it work? And is it time for another solution?
‘People Used to Pay for Convention Centers’ “You know, people used to pay for convention centers,” said Norwood Smith, vice president of sales for Tampa Bay& Company. “And now, the economy, and certainly the compe- tition, has dictated that that’s all negotiable—but at the end of the day, the center needs to be paid cash.” Added Radcliffe, who has been asked by an alliance of
Destination Marketing Association International and the International Association of Venue Managers to help pro- duce a white paper on this topic: “The buyer’s market that exists today is in some respects really affecting the financial condition of many of our public-assembly facilities around the country. Convention centers have, over the last several years, been in a tough spot, because the customer is in a