by Lisa A. Grimaldi | July 28, 2015
One in every three group room nights (34 percent) is booked outside of U.S. events' contracted room blocks, according to a study conducted by Tourism Economics for the American Society of Association Executives, the Center for Exhibition Industry Research, Destination Management Association International's Destination & Travel Foundation, Meeting Professionals International, and the Professional Convention Management Association's Education Foundation.

The study looked at 170 events with a total of more than 880,000 attendees, with data provided by registration and housing companies, association management companies, destination marketing organizations, and individual meeting and exhibition organizers. The events ranged from 60 to more than 55,000 attendees, across various market segments, event locations and destinations, and took place from 2012 to 2015.

"Despite general agreement that many attendees book outside the room block, the meetings industry traditionally relies on the historical room block pick-up as one of the most important metrics to value an event," said Christine "Shimo" Shimasaki, managing director of at DMAI. "This study proves that the method captures only a partial story, and is the first of its kind to quantify just how many more overnight visitors the meetings industry is continuing to drive to destinations across the United States."

The study also showed that although one-third of rooms being booked outside the block is the average, that finding varies when the size of the event and type of meeting are considered. "Across the sample of events studied, the variation of the share of rooms outside the block was quite large, so it's critical to avoid applying the 'every third room' assumption across all events," said Christopher Pike, director of impact studies at Tourism Economics. "Factors including event size, facility gross square footage, market segment and length of an event all influence the share of rooms booked outside the block."

To help planners quantify housing demand more accurately, the study has introduced a new metric, called "event room demand," that measures demand for rooms both inside and outside the event's room block. "Taking event room demand into account produces significant benefits to all parties," the study's sponsors said in a press release. "An event avoids running the risk of being undervalued due to a high proportion of attendees and exhibitors booking rooms outside of the block. As a result, the meeting planner also minimizes difficulties in securing adequate exhibit and meeting space for future years or underestimating its room block requirements in destinations that have limited hotel supply. Likewise, DMOs avoid underreporting overnight attendance and, by extension, economic impact of an event, and hotels are well prepared to meet actual room demand. In addition, stakeholders such as media and local politicians unfamiliar with industry trends will be less likely to underestimate the value of events."

Concluded Shimasaki, "Going forward we encourage DMOs to partner with their planners to extend the work of this study and conduct individual event analyses, because with more data we will be able to understand some further insights into what continues to influence attendees and exhibitors to stay outside the contract room block. This study is the first step for the meetings industry to assess the number of rooms actually used with greater accuracy and provide key data to inform and encourage additional change and progress." To read the full study, click here.