[Podcast] Room Block Poaching and How We Can Prevent It

Bright young group of business people having a meeting in a modern conference room.

Bring up the word scam in a room full of people and it’s sure to invoke a deluge of emotions ranging from anger to disbelief.

No one likes to have a fast one pulled on them.

When planning an event, organizers have to be aware of all the threats their project might face.

Unfortunately, most con-artists aren’t waving giant red flags alerting passersby of their sinister intentions – if only.

Room Block Poaching

Room block poaching has become a big problem for event planners and attendees. The lack of awareness just makes it that much harder to combat and technology has only made it easier for these unscrupulous tactics to gain a foothold in the industry. These poachers are like cockroaches, as they seemingly come out of nowhere, targeting indiscriminately.

If you aren’t familiar with the practice, room block poaching is the unauthorized sale of room reservations to event participants by organizations that claim a connection to a particular show.  Attendees are recruited or pulled out of spaces that are already part of a negotiated official room block and defrauded of their money and credit card information, leaving them helpless when they arrive at check-in.

It’s theft, leaving many feeling frustrated and dismayed in its wake.

In order to turn the tables on such fraudsters, it’s important to learn what strategies they employ.

Education is your best defense.

The Bait and Switch

Without disclosing intent, poachers will claim to represent a show while obtaining room inventory either directly from the hotel or from a hotel wholesaler. They like to advertise better rooms or greater, albeit false, savings that are limited in quantity and are time-sensitive – better act quick to secure this limited offer – and are not part of the official hotel block.  Oftentimes they use pressure in an effort to secure those commitments. They also like to, deceitfully, inform attendees that the official hotel block is already sold out.

Trademark Infringement

Something that room poachers often do is use the logo of the event owner in order to appear more official and it works since it’s usually not cost-effective for smaller brands to go after them.  Trademarks registered with a governmental trademark entity have an easier time pursuing trademark infringement.

Access and Selling of Data

Poachers obtain attendee information by gaining unauthorized access to a website or database or by simply purchasing it from a seller.

Impact on Organizers and Attendees

Losing money isn’t the only thing on the line when rooms are booked fraudulently, your credibility is too. When attendees book rooms through an unauthorized third-party, it negatively impacts your block history making it more difficult for you to negotiate room blocks in the future.

Not only that, the hotel looks bad when guests arrive only to discover that their reservations are invalid. The hotel has little recourse other than to direct attrition fees to you, the planner.

With the upheaval to the attendees sleeping arrangements, no one could fault them for feeling dissatisfied with their overall experience regardless of how successful the show was otherwise.  It may have left enough of a bad taste in their mouth to never want to come to another one of your shows again, nor recommend it to others.

Take Action

If we all take the time to educate ourselves and guests, poaching organizations should become less profitable as a result, therefore dissolving their interest in the practice. Here are several actionable steps you can take now…

Educate Exhibitors and Attendees

Most people aren’t aware of how pervasive room poaching is, so make it a priority to educate them on the tactics poachers use by hosting a webinar and sending out an email blast to everyone on your list. I recommend taking it a step further by writing an article about this scam in industry publications that reach a broader audience.

Create an Official Graphic

Having an official graphic to share with both exhibitors and attendees helps them to identify potential scammers. Make copying your logo more difficult by disabling the right-click copy function or slicing it into several fragments.

Be Upfront

Sometimes all it takes is for someone to put the alert out there. In this case, I suggest that you notify attendees if they haven’t booked in the official room block of the potential for poaching.  It’s also recommended that you include warnings on your website as well as on any registration materials. All official vendors should have the logo posted so guests know who is associated with the event.

Follow Data Sharing Regulations

Restrict or remove access to lists of past, present, and future attendees and exhibitors. It’s a simple strategy that will leave you less vulnerable to attacks.

Add a Unique Email to Your List to Monitor

Take the list you have of all your exhibitors and add a new email account that goes to you.  Should your contacts list be compromised by poachers, you will see what they see, enabling you to respond accordingly.

Alert Partners

If you know that poaching has occurred, it’s important to notify your business partners and suppliers so that they can stay vigilant. Ask hotel partners to inform you of any hotel blocks they receive during your event dates.

Seek Council

Once you have learned that a third party is poaching your attendees you should seek legal council and act quickly. While sending cease and desist letters to the organization behind the ruse may not feel like justice, it is usually enough to stop further targeting.

Beyond Room Poaching

The event industry has been seeing an uptick in more than just the area of room poaching.  Many other services like AV, shipping, and even sponsorships are noticing an increasing amount of targeting in their fields.

The bottom line is this: As long as the opportunity for money to be made exists, there will always be scammers to fend off. Stay vigilant and continue to educate yourself and others about the tactics they employ to mitigate loss.