by Tom Isler | June 01, 2007

In April, Washington, D.C.-based ASAE and The Center for Association Leadership sent e-mails to exhibitors who have signed on for the group’s annual meeting this year, warning them not to book hotel rooms through a company it believed was improperly offering housing services, a practice some call “room poaching.”

According to Jill Talley, an ASAE spokesperson, Las Vegas-based National Travel Planners and Conventional Housing (NTP) found a list of exhibitors on ASAE’s website and contacted several, offering to book them rooms for the meeting, to be held in Chicago, Aug. 11 to 14. Talley said NTP is not affiliated with ASAE.

When reached by phone, Tim Tran, president of NTP, said he had “no idea” if representatives of his company had called ASAE exhibitors and said his company does not specifically target convention attendees. He said NTP gets sales leads through, and “whoever’s on that list, we call.”

If room poachers don’t assert that they officially represent a meeting association, they probably aren’t breaking any laws, said Steven Hacker, president of the Dallas-based International Association of Exhibitions and Events. “But in my opinion, it’s highly unethical,” he added, noting that if exhibitors or attendees book rooms with poachers, associations might not fill their room blocks at hotels, thus risking attrition penalties.

Hacker recommends threatening poachers with lawsuits for trademark infringement, if the company uses the association’s name in a sales pitch, or “tortious interference on a contract” if room blocks aren’t filled.

The best way to avoid the situation is to maintain clear, constant communication with exhibitors, Hacker said.