New research reveals booking trends of large-scale convention attendees

Around half of all delegates attending large-scale, urban conventions are circumventing the established room-reservation process and booking accommodations on their own, according to research by Hilton, NYC & Company and PCMA Foundation.

The three organisations collaborated on the ‘Room Block of the Future’ study to better understand room booking behaviours within the business events industry, with the hope of developing a delivery system that better suits planner and attendee needs in an ever-evolving meetings landscape.

Kalibri Labs and Prism Advisory Group were lead research consultants on the project and identified the behaviours and motivations that are driving this decision-making. They jointly analysed more than 2 million anonymous hotel and Airbnb guest records from conventions held in Houston, New York City and San Diego between 2015 and 2018 in addition to surveying a sample of U.S. business travellers who have attended a city-wide convention.

“One of the more surprising findings from the research was the fact that almost 25 per cent of attendees at large city-wide conventions actually booked their accommodations at the hotels specified in the room block, but did not go through the traditional room reservation process resulting in them not being recognised in the room block,” said Mark Lomanno, from Kalibri Labs. “Clearly, this segment of attendees room booking priorities were not being met by the existing process.”

Prism Advisory Group’s Elaine Hendricks said it was very unexpected to learn just how much it bothers city-wide attendees to lose control of their hotel-booking process.

“Being generally unable to do the things they normally do in hotel bookings, such as accessing their loyalty benefits,” she said. “It’s this desire for control that creates frustration and prompts a quarter of them to make transient bookings in convention hotels to get what they want.”

Frank Passanante, senior vice president, Hilton Worldwide Sales, Americas, said they were committed to innovating within the room block space.

“We all recognise the meetings industry is rapidly evolving and that it’s crucial to adapt to changing customer preferences to maintain relevance,” he said.

The research findings could profoundly shift how cities, hospitality organisations and business events professionals organise meetings and conferences, according to Jerry Cito, executive vice president, convention development at NYC & Company.

“The results of ‘Room Block of the Future’ reflect a shift in the industry that CVB’s must adapt to,” he said. “The findings will help NYC & Company educate planners and suppliers on the need for flexibility, pricing transparency and potential development of a cross-loyalty program.”

Hospitality loyalty programs, cost, room preferences and age are significant factors in booking behaviors and consumer trends, the study found.

A common attendee misconception, affecting booking patterns across different sizes and types of conferences, is that hotel rooms within the block are more expensive. However, the research proves that in a majority of cases (66 per cent), rooms within the block are more affordable.

Room variety, or lack thereof, is another factor affecting booking patterns. Among many business travellers, a perceived rigidness and the inability to choose a preferred room type played a role.

Overall, younger attendees (59 per cent) are more likely to use alternative accommodations.