Room Pirates: A Persistent Threat to the Sports Event Industry
21 Mar, 2018By: Mary Helen Sprecher
Recent Court Case May be a Step Toward Discouraging Unethical Practices, However
Despite its constant evolution, the sports event industry has long been plagued by the problem of hotel pirates. Room pirates, also known as room-block poachers, are travel agencies, housing bureaus and similar companies that gain access to lists of attendees of meetings and sports events, and open communications with them, stating they are the official room or hotel vendor, and convincing recipients to make their reservations through that company.
Poachers contact attendees either by phone, e-mail or U.S. Mail, claiming affiliation with the event, often offering hotel rooms for less. This becomes problematic on two fronts: room blocks booked by the sports event suffer, and often, event attendees who fall for the pitch are booked into substandard hotels that may be located far from the venue, city center or other conveniences. They can even be in less desirable, and even dangerous, areas. In addition, many of the contracts for hotel rooms offered by poachers may impose severe cancellation penalties or early checkout fees.
Fortunately, the act of poaching or pirating room nights is starting to have consequences; a recent court case resulted nearly $750,000 in damages and attorney’s fees being levied against a company known as Tarzango LLC, for engaging in deceptive advertising practices prior to and during a 2017 meeting of USPOULTRY, which is is responsible for the organization and execution of the International Production & Processing Expo (IPPE).
An Events Council blog noted that each year, noted IPPE, exhibitors and attendees would be inundated with solicitations from unaffiliated travel agencies, housing agents and other service providers purporting to be endorsed by or otherwise affiliated with trade shows like IPPE. In 2017, Tarzango sent unsolicited e-mails to IPPE exhibitors and attendees representing that the solicitation was on behalf of IPPE, despite knowledge that Tarzango was in no way affiliated with IPPE or its authorized housing partner, Experient.
As a result of the case, the U.S. U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia awarded $750,000 in damages and attorney’s fees to the plaintiff. The court concluded that Tarzango’s use of USPOULTRY’s valid and subsisting IPPE U.S. Trademark Registrations constituted trademark infringement.
The U.S.-based Stop Online Booking Scams Act of 2017 has been introduced in the House of Representatives and in the Senate. The Exhibitions Mean Business Coalition has a current campaign to encourage supporters of the meetings and events industry to ask their Members of Congress to support and co-sponsor the Stop Online Booking Scams Act. Click here for more information. Use the following links to find the current list of co-sponsors for HR 2495, and co-sponsors for S 1164.
Want to combat room poachers and pirates in your own event? Industry experts say the best tools are awareness, and Meetings Today has provided some tips:
Educate Attendees: Make sure everyone knows the names of official vendors. These include hotels, housing bureaus and more. Warn them that all e-mails, calls and other communications related to the sports event will come only through your office, or through those official channels you have named. Ask participants who receive such communication to let you know – and make it easy for them to do so. If you have contracted with a housing service, remind your tournament participants (frequently) to book rooms through the link on your website (which interfaces with your official housing bureau). Offering a variety of hotel options in different price points can also help.
Keep Control of Attendee Lists: While some groups like to post the names of teams and locations (and sometimes individual athletes, including hometowns) they’re coming from in order to generate more registration, this is simply an open door for room pirates, who can then look up the organization and contact them for their own nefarious purposes. Sports event planners may wish to simply note numbers of teams registered (or athletes registered) and the states they’re coming from. Again, the less information that is out on the Internet, the better you can protect your event from piracy.
Be Vigilant: Meetings Today advises, “Take notice of unusual e-mail messages, phone calls, and letters directed at your attendees from housing bureaus and hotels outside of your official room block. Don’t ignore any sign that the attendee list was poached. Perform web searches using your group’s name to see if unauthorized companies created deceptive housing registration webpages.”