With attrition worries topping the
list of many meeting planners’ concerns, housing
management is a hotter-than-ever topic. But in the post-9/11 era,
hotels have become much more inclined to partner with planners to
solve problems, and thanks in large part to innovative new
technology, many chains are offering high-tech solutions for
keeping track of how many heads are in which hotels’ beds.
While no single product can possibly cover all the bases for
every group, the growing variety of options available is making it
easier for planners to find a solution that meets their particular
needs, whether the event is a citywide trade show with a
multi-hotel block or a small business meeting taking place at just
a single property.
“Meeting planners want hotels to get involved and work with them to
maximize attendance, and the housing issue is at the top of the
list,” says Joel Pyser, vice president of field sales for Bethesda,
Md.-based Marriott International.
For the hotels’ part, “We are looking for solutions to help
customers deal with two major issues in the industry: attrition and
booking outside the block,” says Fred Shea, vice president of sales
for Chicago-based Hyatt Hotels Corp.
Enter Passkey. The online housing company has built its
reputation by helping planners streamline their housing management
for citywides. Beginning last year, the Boston-based firm started
making available its service to planners with groups in just one
hotel of a chain. Omni Hotels was the first major brand to sign on,
followed by Marriott and then Hyatt Hotels.
Passkey’s move beyond citywides was a logical step, says the
company’s president and CEO, Greg Pesik. “Around 80 percent of all
events take place in a single property, so it was a very natural
decision for us to see how we could capture that market,” he
In using the system, planners link their registration sites to
Passkey’s housing module for free; the hotels pick up the tab for
the program. As clients have discovered, simply offering this
technology can be a big help in keeping attendees within the
“People like to book electronically,” according to Shea. “Prior
studies have shown that when customers have the ability to register
for a meeting online, a higher percentage of rooms are booked
through the convention hotels.”
The key is offering registration and housing information
together, says Pesik, who notes attendees are more likely to book
within the block if they are making housing arrangements at the
same time they register for a meeting.
Planners who have used Passkey for single-hotel events find the
program greatly facilitates the housing process. In the past,
manual room block management was chronically prone to human error
and also increased the risk of overselling a property in between
booking updates, says Lynne Schwartz, executive director of
Chicago-based Common, a technology users’ association. Now, she
encourages her meeting attendees to make their room reservations
online, and her efforts are paying off.
“More people today are comfortable with doing their housing
online, so usage of the technology has mushroomed,” says Schwartz.
“Of course, the fact that Common is a technology group is an even
greater incentive to use Passkey. It’s consistent with the culture
of our group.”
“I think it’s natural for Passkey to expand its market this
way,” says industry technology consultant Corbin Ball, president of
Bellingham, Wash.-based Corbin Ball Associates. He finds the
company’s contracts with numerous convention and visitor bureaus
around the country have enabled many planners to become familiar
with the product.
Looking ahead, Passkey plans to extend its reach beyond the
United States. To that end, the company recently joined forces with
Majorca, Spain-based Sol Meliá Hotels & Resorts to start
offering the housing service at two of the hotel chain’s properties
beginning this quarter.
Having to cross language and currency barriers will make this a
gradual expansion, says Sol Meliá’s Ron Roy, vice president of
business travel and distribution, but he nonetheless expects about
five dozen Sol Meliá hotels to offer Passkey in the future.
Meanwhile, Hilton Hotels is tackling the issue of housing in its
own high-tech way. In late 2003, the chain rolled out auditing
software at its largest convention properties. The program
cross-checks planners’ attendee lists against the hotels’ rooming
data in only minutes, compared with the hours a manual comparison
takes, and it can be done anytime during the planning process as
well as after the event.