Late to the Party: Booking Your Convention Hotel Last Minute

One of the biggest conventions that we attend, Gen Con Indy, announced today that for the first time in its nearly 47 year history that it has sold out of rooms in its dedicated housing block on day one. While this is a wonderful problem to have for the convention, inevitably this leaves many people out in the cold. And Gen Con isn’t alone in this phenomenon, many pop culture and gaming conventions like San Diego Comic Con, PAX, Dallas Comic Con and Anime Expo to name a few also have continued to grow and thus securing lodging has become increasingly difficult.

Obviously the best course of action is to be ready as soon as these conventions open their housing block to the public, but for many that may not be an option due to any number of reasons from just plain forgetfulness to computer errors to financial constraints. And I won’t sugar coat it: If you don’t get into those rooms dedicated to the event you are attending, it is likely you will end up paying more and be further from the event. But all is not lost.

As a veteran events manager for entertainment companies like Donruss/Playoff/Score Entertainment and FUNimation Productions, it was my job day in and day out to work with these pop culture conventions. And inevitably something last minute would always pop up: a surprise guest, company leadership wanted to attend, new projects needing exposure would pop up, a business partner (or potential partner) had to be wined and dined or (most annoyingly) someone related to a manager/CEO “needed” to be there for “business purposes”. Whatever the reason, part of my job was to make sure that everyone got there and everyone got housing, so it was not uncommon for me to scramble to find last minute hotels for them. And I got kinda good at it. So here I wanted to pass over some tips for anyone who finds themselves looking to attend a consumer convention last minute.

-Convention Housing Blocks Do Not Encompass Every Hotel Room In The Area

Just because a convention housing block has sold out, doesn’t mean that all hotel rooms in the area have been sold out. In fact, it doesn’t even mean every hotel room in a particular hotel is sold out. A housing block is just a set number of rooms being held for exclusive use by an event at a negotiated rate. Remember, hotels are a year round business and there are always travelers coming into and out of the city. While conventions tend to drive a lot of business towards them, hotels don’t want to lock up every room in a block that may or may not sell when they have non-convention clientele knocking on the door with money in hand. Selling event space at hotels for weddings, banquets, balls, etc… are big money for hotels, much more than selling discounted rooms to gamers, so you can be sure that they hold back many rooms from the convention housing blocks.

You can usually book rooms before and after the housing block opens and/or sells out, just be prepared to pay a bit more. Booking through travel websites can work, but nothing beats good old fashioned human interaction so I recommend giving individual hotels a call and talking to one of their reps. Remember, even if your stressed and panicking, be kind to the customer service people as they will often work with you to get you into their hotel. That’s what they’re paid to do, and you always attract more flies with honey than vinegar.

-Monitor Social Media

Any event you want to attend, you should be following on social media like Twitter and Facebook. The folks who run those accounts for the event work in marketing, which means their ultimate goal is to get you to attend the event. They WANT you to be there, and as such they will usually be the first to pass on information about housing. Most events have dedicated or contracted staff to handle housing, and as soon as they know something they will pass it on to the PR/Social Media folks who will pass it on to you. This is the quickest and best way to learn about new hotels/room blocks being added, because I assure you that any event that sells out of their initial offering are going to be actively looking for ways to add more to their capacity.

Another oft overlooked avenue of social media are message boards. Unless the convention is young and has only existed in the “Facebook Age”, chances are good that they have some form of message board. It’s here that many folks will try to transfer hotel rooms they no longer need to avoid cancellation fees. If you’re just looking for someplace for yourself or maybe one other person, it’s also a great place to find people seeking roommates. And don’t be afraid to make your own post outlining what you are looking for, you may just catch the attention of someone who can solve your dilemma. Of course, as with all internet transactions, keep your wits about you when dealing with someone unknown to you.

-Consider Getting A Suite

Having come from a con-hopping background when I was a poor college kid, I’m very familiar with an overcapacity, “Shh, don’t tell anyone we have this many people in the room or they’ll kick us out”, someone’s sleeping in the closet and someone else is in the bath tub type rooming situation. One thing we should have considered was getting a larger room, AKA a hotel suite. Suites are rarely included in housing blocks and you often have to call in to the hotel to see what is available. Normally this route is prohibitively expensive for just yourself, but if you know that you have enough people to split the costs to an affordable level then you’ll find that you have a much nicer room with more space for a reasonable individual price.

-Check With The Local Visitor’s/Convention Bureau

All major cities have a convention or visitor’s bureau, dedicated to increasing tourism. In most cases, this is a government service designed to help local businesses. As a result, they may have some independently owned hotels listed that may have not even been on the convention website at all (as those are typically only hotels that have an open business relationship with the convention). You could also find a much more comprehensive list of hotels in the area, as well as information on local transportation that could make some outlier hotels a more attractive option.

-Shuttles/Concierge Services Are Your Friend

Most modern hotels have some form of shuttle/concierge services available to ferry you from location to location. Often with some of the more distant hotels, you may find yourself one of the few occupants attending that convention in town. A situation like that (which I have been in many times) essentially creates an almost private chauffeur service for your needs. Policies vary from hotel to hotel, but checking around (or asking the Visitor’s/Conventions Bureau) can make a more distant hotel a very appealing option. Don’t forget to tip your driver (or any other helpful employee) well, as this will go a long way towards the quality of service you’ll receive when using this service during your stay. Learn your driver’s name, they are the folks that are really the unsung heroes of your stay. Plus they tend to know exactly where to go for whatever adventures you are looking for.

-When All Else Fails, Piggyback Another Event

It’s easy to think that the city stands still for whatever convention you are attending, but it only seems that way since you’re in the thick of it. The reality is, cities are huge and there are any number of simultaneous events going on at the same time. Think about it: have you ever been at a convention and run into a wedding party, large concert, high school prom, large gathering, another convention, etc… I certainly have. That’s because your event isn’t the only game in town, far from it. As I alluded to before, most hotels in a downtown area generate a majority of their business from hosting events within their complex. Events that require their own hotel blocks. Same with other conventions and gatherings. The trick is discovering these housing blocks.

Again, check with the friendly local Visitor’s/Conventions bureau and see what other events are going on in town and then check those event pages to see what they are offering for lodging. Often times, hotels will have event schedules as well. In some cases, you may have to shell out a bit for a ticket to that event to get into their hotel block but you just gotta do the math and figure out are you saving more and are you happier with the lodging after paying that price? You even get the option of attending that other event, making for a much more eventful stay.

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Hopefully some of this will prove helpful to you in attending your event. Over my career and in my personal life I have used each of these tricks at one point or another, when “normal” means just weren’t available to me. In any case, don’t get caught up in the details leading up to the event, just enjoy yourself while you are there (no matter where you end up).

Any questions or suggestions, feel free to post them in the comments.

Later BroZ!

Joshua Morris is a freelance Events/Community Manager with over 10 years experience working in consumer trade shows, gaming and home media. Follow him on Twitter @ArguablyTrue.

5 Comments to "Late to the Party: Booking Your Convention Hotel Last Minute"

  1. DBM says:

    good insight as always….remember the motorcycle convention is in town that weekend as well, which reduces overall rooms available in the city.

    If you’re going to stay ‘far’ away (meaning car/cab is required) be sure to factor cab fare and/or parking into your price!

  2. Brandon Maupin says:

    If you stay far enough away from Gencon you can try Top Tier Gaming’s old tradition of going to the Classy Chassy …. its anything but classy.

  3. Kamiccolo says:

    Nice advice! I probably won’t know if I can make it until a week or 2 before the con so will be making all my arrangements last minute. Unfortunately I’m sure I’ll also be too poor to pay higher prices for those last minute rooms.

    I was thinking of using craigslist or airbnb to find a place nearby with a couch or spare bedroom to crash on might work out. Do you know if they’d increase their prices too, or if it could be easy to find a random person who rents out a room and doesn’t know about what events are happening in town or the increase in hotel room costs?

    The other option is sleeping a my car I suppose. But I’d need somewhere to have a shower each day at the very least.

    • Joshman says:

      I’m wary of Craigslist just because it’s so unreliable, so I would avoid it. Also the distance you’d be traveling from someone’s house each day (since it’s unlikely someone with a downtown apartment would be using CL to rent it out) would up your price anyway. Go low rent motel if you have to before Craigslist. You’d have much better luck on the Gen Con message boards as well.

  4. Matt says:

    MotoGP is the week prior to Gen Con this year. So that’s not taking up hotel rooms. The Canterbury is closed this year for renovations for that shrank the room supply some. Mostly though it’s the crazy growth of Gen Con that is putting undue pressure on hotel supply.

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