Hotel scammers, housing pirates, room block poachers…however you refer to them, they have been a major problem in the convention industry for years. These are companies that masquerade as being the official housing partner for an event and sell room blocks that don’t actually exist. Their victims may pay thousands of dollars, only to arrive at the hotel and be told they don’t have a reservation.
Back in 2008, the American Society of Association Executives won a federal lawsuit against the hotel scammer Complete Event Planning, Inc. Despite this monumental win, third-party hotel scams are continuing to sprout up and to bring financial pains. According to the American Hotel & Lodging Association,there are 55 million bad hotel bookings annually: that’s nearly $4 billion dollars in poachers’ pockets!
Whether you’re a PMA attendee booking one room or an exhibitor booking massive room blocks, these unethical scammers target you. Read below to understand the practices of housing poachers, how to identify them and how to stop them.
How they do it
Conference poachers source companies’ contact information from promotional material, unauthorized use of databases and purchased lists. They then try to look as convincing as possible with a fake website and may practice trademark infringement with their email addresses and logos.
When they get someone to answer the phone or reply to an email, they use scare tactics to create urgency with the event registrants. They may claim the room block is almost sold out or that their slashed rates are for a limited time only.
How to notice them
They bombard you with phone calls and emails
If your phone is ringing off the hook from someone claiming to be from the event’s housing provider, then they aren’t legit. Keep this in mind when reviewing an unknown email address or voicemail: Scammers market like Spammers. Housing pirates don’t have to worry about maintaining positive relationships with the conferences, hotels or the thousands of attendees.
The official third-party housing office respects people’s time and doesn’t misuse the attendee contact information that the conference shares with them. Email marketing and phone calls are conducted sparingly and strategically. The convention housing vendor should provide useful information like the dates when inventory opens and the cut-off to book within the official room block at the discounted rates.
Foodservice Conference & Expo cut-off date: Monday, July 2nd.
Fresh Summit International Convention & Expo cut-off dates: Friday, August 24th for groups and Thursday, September 20th for all other registrants.
After these dates, rates may increase and hotel rooms may not be available.
The deals are too good to be true
Be cautious if you’re being offered rooms at national hotel chains that have prices more fit for a motel. These hotel poachers also don’t have their room rates published online, so the attendee can only take their word on the unsolicited phone call. The official housing office negotiates the lowest rates with the hotels and are transparent with how the savings stack up compared to travel websites. They accomplish this by preparing hotel partnerships years in advance before the annual meeting, trade show, conference or convention.
A full deposit is required
A housing pirate doesn’t honor the price quoted on the phone and once they have someone’s credit card information they may charge not only full deposits, but also undisclosed cancellation fees and nonrefundable charges. This is a major red flag and can leave the booking victim with losses of thousands of dollars.
Foodservice Conference & Expo deposit: One night room or suite rate, plus tax, plus County Tourism Fee deposit.
Fresh Summit International Convention & Expo deposit: First night room or suite plus tax deposit.
Their online presence is murky
A true partnership between an association and housing management company is public. Not sure of the name of your event’s housing office? Head over to the PMA event websites (Foodservice and Fresh Summit) where they have their housing office’s contact information. Another way to call out illegitimacy is if the convention doesn’t mention them on their social media channels or mass emails. That’s a sign that they are a rogue wholesaler. The Twitter accounts @Expovision_inc, @pma and @FreshSummit share hotel details for the event.
How to stop them
Report the poacher to firstname.lastname@example.org. Also read PMA newsletters as well as emails from the official housing office to stay educated on any news. These emails will provide information on new poachers, known scams, new hotels, low inventory and more. Visit the 2018 PMA Hotel Reservation websites to securely book at the guaranteed lowest rate: