Booking hotel rooms for conferences & events

Written by Paul Nov 12 2014

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Booking Accommodation for Conferences

The majority of the conference enquiries we handle require some form of accommodation. This can range from a single room for a speaker to a multi-night booking of 1000 bedrooms across 5 hotels. In doing this we encounter numerous questions & queries from clients unfamiliar with the complex world of booking group rates in hotels.

Onsite vs Offsite - The decision on whether to book a venue + hotel or a hotel venue for your conference is a big one. Hotels are somewhat known for their uninspiring meeting spaces so aren’t always a first choice, however herding anymore than about 20 delegates from venue to hotel can be a minefield. Ultimately if it’s a large event, guests are new to the area and you’re happy with a hotel conference room then that’s the best option. If you want to split the event then pay close attention to transport between the two, don’t assume your 200 international delegates will all easily navigate the tube without ending up in Zone 6.

Why can’t I have all the rooms - One of the biggest confusions for clients when booking large numbers of rooms is why a hotel with 500 will only offer them 250 or 300, when they want all of them. As with everything it’s all about revenue. If they give you all of the rooms then they risk letting down regular corporate clients or accepting those walk ins who are willing to pay over the odds for a room. If they did give all the rooms then the average room rate would be astronomical.

Who gets the upgrades - A difficult decision for all event managers is who gets the suites and who do you put in the basement. Most hotels will give upgrades within group bookings, often they can put this down as a ‘special offer’, in actual fact it’s because the upgraded rooms are more difficult to sell and they want you to take a balance of grades relative to what’s available. Generally the senior staff and any guests/speakers take the nicer rooms. You could put names in a hat but it wouldn’t go down well to have the work experience kid in the honeymoon suite and the CEO in a cramped twin. The beauty of being the event organiser is that surely you need the extra floor space to spread out your event paperwork, right?

Allocation vs Guaranteed - In simple terms a guaranteed booking is one where bedrooms are paid for by the company arranging the event. An allocation is where a set rate is offered i.e. £150 per night for a double room bed & breakfast, and a code is issued so guests can call up and book themselves at the set rate. The hotel will allocate a certain number of rooms, usually any that haven’t been booked 4-6 weeks before the check in date will be released and the code no longer valid. With the allocation there’s no charge to the organiser if rooms aren’t booked, this makes it a great option for ticketed events where delegates are coming from a variety of companies, guaranteed rates are usually taken where it is an internal event all paid for by one company. Often with larger conferences where there are guaranteed room bookings the hotel will charge 10% of the event value as a refundable deposit against any additional spending by delegates on services such as room service, naught movies etc.

But it’s cheaper on lastminute.com - You could fill a whole blog explaining this, and In fact I have done here and here . In short if you want more than a few rooms you won’t get far using sites like lastminute. Once a few rooms have been booked at those cheap rates hotels will withdraw from those sites and whack the prices up.

London vs Rest of the UK - Earlier this year a study showed that the average hotel room price in Manchester was £66.90, meanwhile London offered nearly double that at £128.40, a considerable difference. I’ve written about the benefits of leaving the capital on numerous occasions because of the cost savings, especially for events where delegates are coming from across the UK and all requiring accommodation. Ultimately if you’re budget conscious avoid London unless you absolutely have to host the event there.

Arrival & check in - If the booking is a guaranteed group booking, all paid for upfront, then depending on group size and arrival times you’re usually best off setting up your own ‘reception’. You can check in on behalf of the guests as the company is responsible for extra charges/damages, and then distribute keys at conference registration. If you’ve arranged an allocation then guests will need to check themselves in.