Encouraging RFP spam

Once upon a time, event planners, hoteliers and convention bureaus worked together using fax machines. Planners would send in completed forms to check for hotel and even city-wide availability. Twenty years later, planners are using the same survey forms, except they are being filled out online. Send in a RFP form and wait – there’s no other way for meeting planners or convention bureaus to see availability. Today, technology has made it is easier to send a half-dozen or dozen requests for pricing at once, but this has just clogged the system. It is derisively referred to as “RFP spam” and is a big reason so many meeting planners rely on third-party intermediaries for help.

Cutting the commissions of third-party planners who are trying to help

As has been widely reported, several major hotel chains have cut the commissions to meeting sourcing specialists. The head of MPI told me that these specialists need to adapt, just like travel agents did when airlines cut commissions. Yes and no. This seems different – where airlines moved fast with better technology and now many are rushing to embrace the latest in blockchain technologies, hotel companies and convention bureaus seem to be sitting on their hands and forcing planners to turn to third-parties for assistance.

No loyalty points for attendees

As an example, nowhere is there more potential for new and better technology than in the area of hotel loyalty programs. Yet, for convention-goers, sometimes hotel reward points are not available for attendees (although they may have been offered to the planner themselves). Almost certain, there is no practical way to exchange points among different programs. How can associations that depend on room block bookings compete with deeply entrenched loyalty programs? Associations have taken to threatening extra charges for booking outside the room block – this disincentive for convention-goers is the opposite of what an effective rewards program could do and in my view does nothing to solve the hotel booking problem everyone is so rightfully concerned with.

At the most basic level, according to a 2015 report entitled “Developing Loyalty Programs for Convention Attendees: An Exploratory Study,” what attendees want included most often are “complimentary airport transportation, upgraded accommodations, guaranteed accommodations, and customized rewards tailored to individual needs.”

Lack of CVB innovation

The future is going to be in beacon technology where smart phones will be sending and receiving messages back and forth as attendees move around the convention floor and the city itself. Convention planners have a unique opportunity to develop effective reward programs using these and other innovations, but they need help from CVBs on the ground.

While rewards and incentives for convention attendees may not be first on the list of good reasons for them to attend a conference, all parties have an interest in developing new tools to combat the growing tendency to book outside the official room block. After all, usually there is just a small window to get outside the convention center and do something in the city where the convention is being held. CVBs too often miss opportunities to maximize attendees’ opportunities and experiences.

In the area of sourcing, most CVBs have plenty of staff who are always trying to uncover more business for their destination and many have years of expertise. They need to get better at qualifying groups to determine whether their destination is the right fit or not. If it is a potential fit, they would do well to put their experience to optimal use by helping planners prioritize the group’s hotel needs. Then they could use new unbiased, nonprofit based sourcing technologies that are being developed so they can target the RFP to only hotels that fit and have availability making them an intergal part of the solution and not part the problem of cluttered inboxes and “lead spam.”