Annual Conference Housing

The housing office for the Annual Conference at the end of June opened three days ago, at 10 a.m. on January 2, and already well over 3,500 housing reservations have been processed. There are also reports of “sold out” hotels. So, what gives?

Mary Ghikas, ALA Associate Executive Director, has prepared a conference Q & A, with housing just one of the sections (we’ll present the other portions in future posts). Here is the (slightly edited) information on conference housing:

How many rooms do we “block”? To accommodate “peak night” (Saturday-Sunday) demand, ALA typically requires 4,500 rooms for the ALA Midwinter Meeting and 8,500 rooms for the ALA Annual Conference. ALA requires fewer rooms on “shoulder” nights – Thursday, Friday, Monday, Tuesday. Based on recent experience and hotel data, however, ALA Conference Services is currently re-evaluating (and likely increasing) the block on shoulder nights, particularly Thursday. This shift in pattern applies to both Annual Conference and the Midwinter Meeting.

10 years ago, the room block “curve” looked like this:

W    Th    F    SA    SU    M    T    W

10%    30%    90%    100%    100%    70%    30%    10%

The room block “curve” now looks like this:

W    Th    F    SA    SU    M    T    W

10%    65%    95%    100%    100%    65%    25%    8%

Is the block big enough? ALA, as with any organization planning a large conference, seeks to “block” or set aside only the number of rooms it believes will be reserved by conference participants through the official “housing bureau” or association-designated travel agent. This can be a complex decision because (a) members may share rooms, (b) groups of members sharing rooms may make individual reservations – then consolidate, and (c) exhibitors may need to reserve blocks of hotel rooms before they make booth staffing decisions.

Hotels – particularly the national chains – also maintain statistics on an association’s past volume of hotel room use (“pick up” in conference-speak). Hotels are generally unwilling to set aside a block of rooms for an association that is significantly larger than past “pick up.” Further, hotel contracts increasingly include “attrition” clauses – clauses that impose substantial financial penalties on associations for blocking rooms that are not subsequently used by its members and exhibitors. Attrition represents a serious potential liability, so we try hard to get it right–enough rooms for all–but not too many left over.

As demand meets the pre-set block, ALA Conference Services negotiates with the hotel for additional rooms, at the same negotiated rate as the original “block.” This is – and has been for many years – a standard practice, but it is more visible now that registration takes place on the web–with real time response, not through the mail, where the adjustments could be made before confirmation. It is made more complex when you consider that the “block” is a different size on different nights, based on past attendance patterns, as noted above. So, for instance, a member may want to get into Hotel X starting Friday and leaving on Tuesday. There may be space in the block Friday through Monday, but Tuesday may be sold out. ALA will go back to the hotel and try to secure additional space on Tuesday night. In many – but not all – cases, that will be possible. In the meantime, that registration will be “waitlisted,” since the housing bureau cannot confirm all nights requested.

This common “block and keep negotiating” pattern is complicated when an association – like ALA – tends to have a “rush” at the opening of housing. For that reason, many associations – including some of our sister library associations – have begun requiring members and other attendees to register for the conference before reserving hotel rooms. ===>>>Note: ALA will begin that practice with the 2009 Midwinter Meeting.

There are some things you can do. First, be patient. As noted, most waitlisted reservations are resolved. Second, if you’re sharing a room, make only one reservation. In ALA’s case, up to 20% of the rooms reserved are canceled before the conference opens. For instance, two people may both send in reservations, then one person cancels and they share the room in the “preferred” hotel; in the meantime, another member may have been “waitlisted” – causing that member unnecessary anxiety. So, if you have roommates, be kind to your fellow members and make just one single reservation.


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