Monday, April 29, 2019

Associations Are Not Responsible For Hotel Rooms That Go Unused

A while back I wrote a kind of mini-series on this blog I called Paradoxes in Association Management, which I described as the counter-intuitive practices that we must embrace if we want to be successful. I'm not sure if this one really qualifies, but I'm going to try and frame it that way.

Associations are not responsible for hotel rooms that go unused.

Legally speaking, of course, we are. We signed the contract. The contract says we will utilize a certain number of room nights. The contract even says we can reduce our room night commitment in measured amounts prior to the conference if it appears we're not going to fill our block.

All that is true. At the same time it is all utterly irrelevant.

Here's the truth. When an association books three hundred hotel rooms for its upcoming convention, it is not then nor ever in a position to decide to put three hundred people into that hotel. It is not a convention for its staff. It is a convention for its members; which means that instead of one organization making one decision to put three hundred people in that hotel, there are actually going to be three hundred different people making three hundred different decisions about whether or not they will stay in that hotel and for how many nights.

Too often, we pretend this isn't the case. We look at convention histories, at pickup and occupancy reports, at attrition clauses and penalties -- all under the impression that it is somehow the association's responsibility to fill the convention hotel block. It is not. That responsibility belongs to the members of the association who will one-by-one be deciding to attend and book their rooms.

When a member decides not to attend -- or worse yet, books a reservation on the chance that they might attend, and then cancels the week before the conference when they decide they actually won't be going -- when that happens, if the hotel wants compensation for the hotel room that they took out of their general inventory so that member could have the luxury of deciding not to attend, it is the member and not the association who has actual liability for that room.

I don't care what the contract says. It wasn't, after all, the association that decided that member wouldn't be coming. It was the member him or herself.

This, I know, is a radical view. It goes against a century or more of practice and legal precedent. But it is the only view that aligns with the actual reality of the situation. Associations that don't figure out a way to push responsibility for unused hotel rooms on their own members will continue to face and pay attrition penalties in a game that is rigged against them. It is not their responsibility and they should stop thinking that it is.

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This post first appeared on Eric Lanke's blog, an association executive and author. You can follow him on Twitter @ericlanke or contact him at

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