Revisiting room reservations

Mark
Mark Brownlee
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Event organizers hiring firms for help with finding hotel vacancies

Kelly Neall has the same problem almost every year. The managing director of the annual fall Ottawa International Animation Festival has to find a place for out-of-town participants who only make the decision to attend merely weeks before the event.

Some of the out-of-town attendees of last year’s Ottawa International Animation Festival relied on the services of HTG Management Group to find a hotel room.

“People trying to book at the last minute will be contacting us, saying they can’t find a hotel room (or asking if) we have any secret blocks available,” says Ms. Neall. “So we’re actually on the phone to the hotel, trying to track where there’s available hotel rooms around town.”

Ms. Neall says her team tries to reserve as many blocks of hotel rooms as it can, but can’t afford to hold onto them for as long as organizers would like. Given its past problems finding space at area hotels, the festival turned to local company HTG Management Group for help.

It’s the latest indication of the difficulties area event planners are encountering when trying to find space for their attendees’ stay.

The group that represents area hoteliers, the Ottawa Gatineau Hotel Association, has repeatedly disputed claims of a local hotel room shortage. However, if the growth in demand for HTG’s services is any indication, it would appear as though there’s some merit to the argument that rooms can be tough to find, at least during peak periods.

When HTG launched in 1989, it focused on travel management, assisting clients in booking vacations and airline tickets. Its current focus is on helping sporting events and conference organizers handle registration and payments, select venues and book hotel rooms for guests.

Peter Hudson, the firm’s president, says the company’s recent investment in new technology helped it triple its conference management client base over the past five years.

“For (event) attendees, using our technology makes it one place where they can go and get access to all the inventory instead of having to call around or go on the web to six or seven or eight different places that are part of the event,” he says.

Clients can log in and see what hotels it has available throughout Ottawa, for instance.

The firm’s complementary relationship with hotels throughout the city is an advantage, says Mr. Hudson. HTG knows what hotel rooms are going for throughout the city, so it’s able to get the best deal for clients, he said. It can also get deals since it is often buying in bulk.

The company usually has more leeway negotiating with hotels because it regularly does business with them, says Mr. Hudson. The company reserves blocks of rooms at hotel rooms throughout the city and, if necessary, releases unsold rooms without penalty, he adds.

Mr. Hudson declined to discuss its rates, saying it depends on the size of the event.

In recent years, the firm has seen a jump in the number of convention organizers using its service. However, Mr. Hudson says sports events remain its largest market.

The firm counts the Bell Capital Cup, which attracted nearly 400 youth hockey teams this Christmas season, as one of its biggest clients.

Scott Lawryk, the event’s general manager, says many event organizers don’t have the resources to find accommodations for participants.

“Having hundreds of teams, all playing in different locations with different requests, I couldn’t imagine ... organizing the tournament, plus help teams find their hotels,” Mr. Lawryk said in an e-mail.

Organizations: Management Group, Ottawa Gatineau Hotel Association, Peter Hudson

Geographic location: Ottawa

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