Coming into a new city can be challenging. Even after you’ve signed the contract on the venue for your tournament, you’re left with an array of choices when it comes to event housing. You may have no idea which hotels are in desirable areas, which are closest to your venue and which offer everything you need. After all, everything looks good on the Internet.
Working with a housing service is an excellent option – and far better than doing it yourself (or trying to). A housing service will negotiate with hotels and execute contracts for room blocks at competitive rates, have staff members who can answer questions from athletes and families and provide various other services.
Why is professional assistance such an asset? Because sports travel is growing. It used to be that a planner would checkout hotels themselves, handle all their own housing negotiations, set up room blocks and keep an eye on room pickup. However, tournaments are getting bigger, which translates into more teams needing more hotel rooms with a bigger variety of options. If you’re not spending all your time developing relationships with hotels (and honestly, tournament owners and rights holders are far too busy for this to be their only job), then you’re at a disadvantage before you even start.
The housing company bridges that gap. They forge all the relationships and keep track of changes in the market. They know which hotels are near the tournament venue, which have rooms with two queen beds (by the way, PSE Event Housing has noticed a distinct demand among users for two queen beds over that for two doubles), which hotels have a free breakfast, which have a pool – you get the idea.
Housing services have many other uses. They can work with the hotels to get discounted or comped staff rooms for the event organizers. They can also make sure your organization receives the correct commissions or rebates on rooms sold and can supply you with information in real-time regarding your room pickup. They eliminate many of the calls, e-mails and paperwork that used to fall on the event organizer – along with everything else.
And that’s just the end the tournament planner can see. Using a housing service adds value to the tournament experience for athletes and their families as well. For example, a good housing company will set up a link to their website, where participants can find out about all the properties available to them. They can compare room rates, locations, amenities and more and make reservations using that site.
Experienced housing providers know what people want. For example, we have seen that people have a preference not only for being close to the venue but to restaurants, places to shop, attractions and so on. There are about five to seven amenities that teams and their families look for, and we’ve also learned to look for those when we’re considering hotels teams can use.
A tournament housing service will offer accommodations in a range of price points – a little something for everyone, in other words. Some properties are full-service, with luxury amenities and some are limited-service. As a housing provider, you want people to be able to find something that fits their needs. Most parents choosing a hotel so their kids can compete in a tournament will have safety as a priority. In addition to having a hotel in a desirable area, they tend to want buildings with interior hallways and doors that open into those hallways, rather than something with doors that open to the outside. It may just be a perception issue that buildings with interior hallways are safer, but we have recognized a distinct preference for those and as a result, we don’t block a lot of properties with exterior entrances. In all cases, it’s a matter of listening to our clients and that becomes part of our decision-making process.
If you’re looking to hire a housing service company, you want certain things: quality service, good communication, quick response time, follow-through and the ability to deal with all the issues that you don’t have to, which then will make your job easier. For example, if an event suddenly grows and needs more rooms, it is the responsibility of the housing company to find the rooms.
While I’ve just said the housing company is able to solve problems, something I do need to point out is this: you don’t want to be calling a company out of the blue to see if they can find rooms for your event at the last minute because it has surpassed your attendance projections. Ideally, you’re reaching out to prospective companies at least nine to 12 months prior to your event. The sooner you can finalize an agreement with the housing company, the sooner the housing company can start contacting hotels, and the better the chances are that they can get more rooms in the areas and prices you want.
A housing company can also do the research and homework that can save you problems. For example, they’ll be able to tell you if whether another large event is going to be in town at the same time you want to bring your group there. In that case, you may wish to think about moving your date in order to have better room choices. There are times, however, when the event owner has no choice but to host over those dates and the housing company can still try to squeeze out hotel rooms and take care of teams. These situations definitely happen; there can be times of high demand, particularly on Memorial Day and Labor Day, which are big tournament weekends, when everyone is fighting for rooms.
If you’ve decided to work with a housing service, here are a few tips we’re glad to share. First, make sure there is good two-way communication. Just as with any good relationship, each side (in this case, that means tournament director and housing service) should know what they’re responsible for providing, and what they need in return. Once we know all that, we can work in unison to make it happen. It takes time to develop this plan, though, which is why we recommend starting so far out from the tournament date.
We also recommend you check out the companies you’re considering. Not all housing companies are the same – although they all have something in common: a website that usually says something like ‘We provide the best customer service’ and ‘We’re the best in the business.’
Ask your colleagues in the industry. Find out about the reputation of the companies you’re considering. Look for someone with an event comparable to yours in size and needs. Ask about their experience with their housing company. Was it something they’d recommend, not only as a tournament rights holder but as a participant? What kind of follow-through did the company provide? What is their track record? Did they provide all the reports on room pickup, and provide post-event reporting and commission or rebate processing? Remember that a company that provides a subpar experience to you and your attendees can not only hurt your event’s reputation with the hotels in that market but can hurt your attendance since some people may not come back the next year.
Take some time to demo the customer experience yourself. Go through the reservations website, pretending you’re a customer. There are many housing companies out there and a variety of experiences across the board. There should be a seamless integration of the reservations website with the tournament site and the reservations website should be easy to navigate and use. Remember that you are going to be recommending your participants interact with this company. Find out if the company’s website is mobile-friendly. A large percentage of travel this year will be booked using a mobile device, so you’ll need to have something your athletes and families can work easily.
Working with a housing company can provide added value to your tournament – provided you choose the right company. Choose well and you can find a good partner who will do what they do best: handling the tournament housing and leaving you free to concentrate on what you do best. SDM