Hotels & Lodging

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Want to Make Stay-to-Play Work? Here’s What to Say

2 Mar, 2016

By: Christine "Tina" Horn

Running a sports event involves a lot of moving pieces, and it’s the planner’s job to keep them all moving in the right direction. Finding a venue, finding accommodations, arranging for catering, getting athletes registered, setting the schedule, keeping everything running on track and on time – it’s a complex endeavor.

But with all these moving parts, there’s one piece that you’ll be most likely to have to spend the most time explaining to your participants: the Stay-to-Play policy.

Stay-to-Play, for those who need a definition (and maybe there are a few who do), involves designating specific hotels as the official accommodations of the event, and making it a condition of participation for athletes to stay in those hotels. The event planner often works with a housing company, and either the planner or the housing company, or both, will negotiate room rates. Included in that room rate is a rebate that is payable to the event itself. Often, the tournament is working with a housing company that accepts reservations from event registrants, and assigns them to the appropriate hotels.

The event owner, rights holder or tournament planner must also make certain the following terms are a part of the contract with the hotel:

The room rate is set; in other words, the hotel (or hotels) will not sell rooms at a lower rate than the one negotiated during the contractual period (usually the duration of the tournament, although this may be expanded.)

The hotel should not accept direct reservations from individuals who are directly involved with the tournament, meaning athletes, coaches and other officials. (In order to make sure this doesn’t happen – hotel reservations personnel aren’t psychic, after all – an audit of the hotel’s registration lists needs to be performed on a regular basis.) If the hotel has accepted a reservation from someone who should be going through the housing service, the hotel needs to credit the event with the same number of room nights – or some other compensation, as agreed to in advance.

We can talk forever about how beneficial stay-to-play is and how it’s implemented, but that’s not actually the challenge. As the event planner, you’re not the one who needs convincing; your participants are. And what’s more, they need to wholeheartedly support the policy.

The best way to accomplish that is to use total transparency. So get your policy listed on your registration materials, your website, your Facebook page – anything you’re using to get the word out. Here are the points to cover. The wording can certainly be changed, but this will provide a good jumping-off point:

The 2016 East/West Swim Meet will use a Stay-to-Play Policy. This means all participants (swimmers, coaches and team officials) who are traveling in from out of town will agree to stay in the designated host hotels; these hotels offer excellent accommodations and reasonable rates. Other family members, friends and guests who are traveling in for the competition are also encouraged (though not required) to stay in these hotels as well. Team managers, coaches, etc. are responsible to make sure their team complies with the policy; the East/West Swim Meet staff will be auditing hotel rooming lists for violations.

Why Do We Need This Policy? First and foremost, people want an affordable hotel rate. The East/West Swim Meet has negotiated these rates, which are better than a person would get by contacting the hotels individually. We have a variety of hotels in different price points.

In addition, we understand that each coach wants his or her team to stay together in one hotel. We also know that when running a tournament that requires housing teams at hotels, double/double rooms are the most popularly requested accommodations for families and for groups of athletes traveling together. Our tournament housing service has worked to create blocks of double/double rooms in hotels convenient to the Swim Center. These blocks of rooms will be divided up for different teams.

Can my team get a better rate from an Internet travel site? It is unlikely that you will be able to get a better rate; however, the East/West Swim Meet requires that, in order to participate, all swimmers’ rooms are booked through the housing service, and that each person stays in their assigned hotel.

If I book rooms for my team separately, what happens? Those who have booked rooms in a non-host hotel, or who have booked rooms outside the system, will not be able to register for the East/West Swim Meet.

Our team is already based in the city; in fact, all our team members live here. We won’t have to stay in a hotel, will we?  No, absolutely not. If your team is located in the city or if it is located at a distance that would allow you to drive back and forth, your participation in this program will be waived. Please be advised that the designated distance for driving is 100 miles; if your team is located further from the Swim Center than that, you will be subject to the Stay-to-Play policy. Note: In order to receive a waiver, you will have to contact the event manager, Jane Doe, directly. You must do this within six weeks of the swim meet’s opening date.

One of my team members has told me he has a relative living in the area, and he and his family would like to stay with that person. Please contact the event manager, Jane Doe, to discuss the possibility of a waiver in such circumstances.

What if someone on our team needs special accommodations, such as a handicap-accessible room in case a parent or family member needs that? If you know about this in advance, then it is something you can discuss with the housing service at the time you are talking about your arrangements. They will be glad to assist you.

I know that a lot members of our team have some friends and family who are planning to fly into the city to see the meet. Can they stay in the designated host hotels? Yes, we encourage them to do so. They will receive the same reasonable rates as team members. Please have them use the housing service.

Why have we started using this policy? We moved to this policy because it offers the following advantages:

  • It provides consistent, affordable group rates for everyone participating.

  • It guarantees the double/double rooms everyone wants.

  • It keeps teams together in one hotel, which in turn allows coaches the ability to hold team meetings or to contact individual team members or parents more easily.

  • It helps us hold the line on registration costs.

  • If for any reason, the event needs to be cancelled, there is full cancellation insurance; you will not be charged by the hotel (without this, hotels may add penalties to those who cancel a room reservation too close to their arrival.)

  • It offers a one-call process for making hotel reservations with an immediate confirmation system.

  • If at any point during your stay, you or anyone on your team experience unexpected problems regarding the hotel booking or reservations, you can contact our on-duty service center for prompt assistance.

  • Check-in is simplified because hotels will have a list of all registrants and coaches can be provided the list in advance as well.

How does the process work? One coach or manager of each team needs to be designated as the liaison with the housing bureau. That person must call the housing bureau and discuss the team’s needs. The housing bureau and the coach will agree upon a specific hotel. The housing bureau will be able to provide each team with its own custom link for registration.

Note: It is essential that only one person from each team is designated as liaison; East/West Swim Meet will keep a list of this personnel and their contact information, and will provide it to the housing service. This avoids the confusion of several individuals within each team trying to contact the housing service at once.

When I first heard we were coming to this city, I had contacted a hotel near the swim center and arranged for rooms for my team. Can I keep these reservations? No, this is a violation of the Stay-to-Play policy. If you are the main liaison for your team, you must call the housing service immediately to arrange for a room block. You will have to cancel the reservations you made previously.

How do I know the housing service won’t lose my reservations? The housing service is a professionally staffed corporate partner with years of experience in arranging for lodging for tournaments and other events. They are very well-respected in their field and are a trusted part of the hospitality team in the city.

How do I get started in order to make sure we have all the hotel rooms we need? First, call the East/West Swim Meet at ___________. You will need to provide identifying information on your team and contact information for yourself as the liaison. East/West personnel will walk you through the process of getting your team registered. Once they have your information and that of your team, they will put you in touch with the correct person at the housing service who can discuss the best lodging options for your team. We look forward to seeing you at the Swim Center!

This is, of course, a sample communication, and you should amend it to suit your needs. Aside from the specifics of the stay-to-play policy (which really is exactly what it sounds like, after all), you will need to tailor communications, terms and arrangements to your group.

A few tips and hints for success:

The rebate amount must be realistic. You are not going to get people to stay in hotels if they see an inflated rate.

There’s no one-size-fits-all: A variety of hotels in various price points will make the Stay-to-Play policy an easier sell for the teams participating in the event.

Early information is best: The sooner you can tell your participants about the policy, the better they can plan for their attendance.

Expect questions (and maybe even objections): We tried to cover a lot of the frequently asked questions above, but it’s likely you’ll hear others. Remember that if you’re committed to making Stay-to-Play work, you’ll have to answer those questions. Mainly, those will appear in the first year you institute the policy. Moving forward, the policy will become the norm.

It’s possible participants understand a rebate is involved. It is also possible they’ll misunderstand what it’s for. Make sure you clarify that the rebate is used to keep costs down; it’s not a ‘kickback’ or a ‘slush fund’ (or any other objectionable and incorrect term you’ll hear.) If you can point to the fact that registration fees are lower than they might otherwise be, you can head off some of the objections.

Stay-to-Play is becoming the standard, particularly for large events: Your event is not the only one using it. These days, everything from soccer to cheerleading, from swimming to gymnastics, and from hockey to lacrosse, as well as plenty of other sports, are using Stay-to-Play. If teams are honest, they’ll admit they’ve heard of Stay-to-Play before – and they’ve probably been subject to it already.

As stated earlier, making the policy work depends upon transparency. The more information you can disseminate, the more successful the Stay-to-Play policy will be. Sometimes, planners shy away from telling people what they perceive as ‘bad news.’ But Stay-to-Play isn’t bad news; in fact, it’s a useful tool for simplifying lodging choices, creating affordable rates and allowing swimmers and their families to concentrate on what they do best: competing. 

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