It was a normal day in the office on September 26, 2013 until my phone rang and a confused exhibitor was on the line. This exhibitor had received a phone call and email from a company representing itself as our housing bureau for one of our upcoming events. Aging Services of Minnesota did not contract with this housing reservation company nor did we supply this company with contact names. In fact, our room block and event registration materials were not published yet. From what I could tell, the room pirates used our past year’s exhibitor list (that is accessible online) for targeted calls to tradeshow coordinators. In this instance, room pirates called our exhibitors and informed them that our hotel block was almost sold out and there were only a few rooms left at the $199 rate (and our negotiated rate was $106). Room pirates make their money by selling rooms at a much higher rate than your negotiated group rate.
Unfortunately, this wasn’t my first experience with room pirates. In August 2008, I had a similar encounter for our February 2009 event. As the demand for hotel rooms (and space) continues to grow, I suspect that room pirate activities will also increase.
Here are the steps you should take if your group gets attacked by room pirates:
1. Get a copy of the housing registration form the room pirate is providing to your exhibitors/attendees (you will need their address for step No. 3).
2. Send an urgent message to past and current exhibitors/attendees notifying them not to provide any personal or credit card information to this company and to contact you if they have already been contacted by room pirates, so you can gauge how widespread the issue is.
3. Snail mail and fax a cease and desist demand letter from someone with legal authority that represents your company. In this letter make sure to address the following: A) They do not have permission to use your company’s name; B) Ask them to stop misleading attendees/exhibitors by using your company name; C) Demand that they immediately cease using your company name and refund any fees or charges that may have resulted from their communications; D) Give them a week to respond to this letter and let them know that you’ll notify Minnesota legal authorities and take any other legal remedies necessary to rectify this situation.
4. Check your room block for activity and contact anyone that has reservations in the block to make sure they paid your negotiated group rate through the hotel and not the inflated rate via the room pirate.
Jenny Prosser is the vice president of conferences and sales at Aging Services of Minnesota. She joined Aging Services in January 2000 and has more than 17 years of meeting planning experience. In addition to coordinating meeting logistics, Prosser is responsible for recruiting exhibitors and sponsors, vetting keynoter speakers for signature events, negotiating contracts, recruiting and retaining Business Partners and fund development for Aging Services of Minnesota Foundation. Jenny holds a B.S. in Hospitality and Tourism Management from the University of Wisconsin-Stout.