by Heidi Vorhees | October 01, 2014
Before discount hotel and travel websites like Priceline, Hotwire and Kayak became mainstream, meeting planners could be reasonably sure that attendees would book their rooms through the official event or association website. But today, delegates are turning to alternative sites (as well as hotels' own sites, which often offer special discounts) to book rooms at the same properties where the organization has a contracted block.

What many planners fail to realize is that once contracted rooms are booked - no matter what medium is used to book them - they should count toward the guaranteed minimum as stipulated in the contract, so that planners and their organizations don't end up paying hefty penalties (aka attrition fees).

Enter the Audit
One of the most effective ways to ensure that every room booked by an attendee counts toward the contractually agreed-upon minimum is to conduct an audit - an examination of the hotel's guest records concurrent with the dates of the event. At Experient, we conduct hundreds of audits every year; it's the rare occasion when we don't find rooms booked outside of the block.

Keep in mind that you might receive some push-back from hotels due to their privacy policies about releasing guest information to third parties. One possible solution: Have the hotel conduct its own audit, with you present during the process.

Before signing on the dotted line, be sure the contract states that an audit can be conducted and spells out who will oversee it.

Time It Right
Room audits keep the process of registration and housing on track, provided they're conducted at the right time. Some advice:

• Use the previous year's room pickup history to determine any causes of concern, e.g., the booking pace is slower than it was last year. If the event is 12 months away and just 100 rooms out of a 700-room block have been booked, don't wait until the last minute to conduct the audit. The quicker you can identify rooms booked outside your block, the sooner you'll receive credit for them. You can also use that time to reach out to attendees so they can rebook their rooms in the block - or to reduce your block altogether.

• If the booking pace is in line with last year's and no red flags go up, the traditional time to conduct the audit is during the event, the day after the peak night.

• If your meeting is citywide, or if you have multiple room blocks in several hotels, you'll want to start the audit process sooner.

Room blocks provide your attendees convenience and peace of mind in knowing they have a place to stay during your meeting. You deserve credit for filling them.

Heidi Vorhees is senior vice president of housing at the Twinsburg, Ohio-based meeting and convention services firm Experient.