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Conference & Stage Expo
For the Record
USITT, Hotel Contracts, and You!

By John S. Uthoff

We live in a wonderful new age! We can instantly find all sorts of information about anything by simply typing a few simple words into our friendly search engine. As I struggled with my old Smith Corona typewriter in college, to meet the professor's requirement of no mistakes or corrections, I would have felt like I had gone to heaven with the word processors we use today. I knew about computers then. My Dad used them, and they took up whole rooms, used punch cards and tapes, and had a special operator. Regular people didn't use them.

Today, anything is available by computer. You can register for the Conference, book your flight to Toronto, and even find and book any available hotel room in Toronto. The use of a travel agent is no longer required to book any type of travel. So in the Internet age, why does USITT continue to book rooms at hotels near our convention halls instead of just telling everyone to book on their own?

There are several reasons why it still makes sense for USITT to contract room blocks for our conferences. First, it guarantees that sufficient rooms are available for our members. Without these contracts, the rooms might be sold to other groups or individual parties. The attendees would end up scattered all over the city and might even be forced to other cities, as is common for fans attending football games and other large events. This would make social gatherings at the hotel bars difficult. Post conference surveys show members have more fun when they stay at a conference hotel.

Second, room blocks and provable room block sales are the key to gaining access to the conference centers. In most cities, it enables USITT to win concessions that benefit all members and programs of the Institute.

Here are some specific examples of how these contracts help the Institute. Many cities have minimum room block requirements to use the conference center. Without a housing history, you simply can't book that city. Convention and visitor bureaus (CVBs) and hotels often sweeten the deal by paying for parts of the conference center; for example the Conference Center Ballroom in Long Beach, the meeting rooms in Minneapolis, most of the cost of the Superdome in New Orleans, and the Convention Center costs in Louisville. These blocks allow us to book the number of meeting rooms we need for the conference for free instead of paying $500 to $5,000 per day per meeting room, a cost we can not afford for the 40 to 50 meeting rooms we use during a typical conference.

Why does USITT book such expensive hotels? Actually, we try not to, but we are limited by the location of the conference centers and lack of reasonably priced transportation. We feel it is difficult to book hotels more than five blocks from the center, and the headquarters hotel normally needs to be attached or very close so attendees can walk back and forth. We use so many meeting rooms at a conference that we need a hotel that can augment the spaces in the conference center. These hotel spaces are normally free with a room block. Most of the conference centers we look at typically have about 20 to 25 meeting rooms available with a specific exhibit hall. Without the hotel spaces, we could not have gone to any of the cities we have used in the last 10 years. This requires that we have at least one hotel with meeting space, and a contract large enough to earn free rooms.

Even though these blocks occasionally pay for most of our Conference Center costs, there is a down side to these contracts, however. To receive these concessions, the Institute must meet expectations in terms of selling sleeping rooms within the block. Since the hotels turn away other business to maintain these blocks, if we don't sell the required rooms we get to pay for them anyway. Not only pay for the sleeping rooms, but for the meeting rooms as well. Even though we try to agree to the minimum number of rooms needed to gain the concessions, if enough members book outside of the block these penalties go into effect. These charges could easily reach several hundred thousand dollars at just one hotel in our block.

The concessions we receive are done with a housing block of 4,200 room nights. We estimate that members attending the conference generate 8,000 room nights for the city. Just think what could be accomplished, in terms of conference center and housing costs, if we could demonstrate that number of booked rooms to the cities we visit. Please help make it possible for the Institute to continue delivering outstanding services to its members. Please book within the USITT block, through, or go directly to housing info, and do it today.