Hotel piracy is particularly prevalent in major meetings cities like Las Vegas and Orlando, where there are many hotels and citywide conventions. Some poachers will go around a headquarters hotel to others in the same city and book maybe 10 to 20 rooms in each one, something that can adversely affect a group block. Other, more aggressive offenders will contact attendees, get their credit card information, and never make a reservation. When the attendees learn they’ve been scammed they blame the show organizer and/or sponsor, something that compromises a brand.

If trademark infringement does occur by pirates, legal remedies are possible. Otherwise, groups must head off the activity with repeated cease and desist notices to the offenders and warnings to attendees about booking rooms through official channels.

“It’s a weekly scenario for us,” says Michael Dominguez, senior vice president, corporate hotel sales for MGM Resorts International. “Some of these people are quite brazen, and when we confront them, they say they aren’t doing anything wrong.”

Dominguez says new and far-reaching technologies are making it easy for pirates to get attendee lists and to go around accepted procedures. They may extract credit card and other sensitive data from unsuspecting attendees and run with it.

“There are a variety of issues going on with this problem,” Dominguez says. “For the industry to address it, we need a coalition of expertise, including trademark and copyright infringement experts, intellectual property lawyers and maybe even the Internal Revenue Service, who might be interested in going after the pirates.”

At the very least, he says, hoteliers and meeting planners need to be educated about the issue.

Industry Responses
Industry education about room block poaching and how to confront it is one goal of the new APEX (Accepted Practices Exchange) Room Block Poaching Workgroup. APEX is an initiative of the Convention Industry Council, and the workgroup has been formed to conduct research and develop best practices, tools and resources to aid meeting professionals in managing hotel room blocks.

Dominguez co-chairs an APEX workgroup of planners, hoteliers and housing companies with meeting professional MaryAnne Bobrow, president of Bobrow Associates.

Bobrow says the workgroup’s first step was a survey, purposed to gauge planner awareness and perceptions about the piracy problem. Among over 700 respondents, most (93 percent) were aware of the problem and many (73 percent) of them had been targeted. Over 70 percent said attendee satisfaction was affected by the piracy, and 22 percent said it resulted in unexpected attrition damage payments.

“What really surprised us in the findings,” Bobrow says, “was that 86 percent said that dealing with the issue had taken a lot of their time away from the normal event planning process.”

Once the survey data analysis has been completed, the APEX group will develop its plan of action and break into smaller groups that will be tasked to devise best practices for industry segments such as hoteliers, planners, DMOs and housing companies. Work is expected to be completed by mid-2015.

Hoteliers are, or should be, as concerned about room piracy as planners, Bobrow contends. They can vet people who want to block hotel rooms, making sure they are legitimate. An alert sales person will question someone who tries to book room space without meeting space, for example.