What's So Hard About Keeping Meeting Costs Down?

Some definitions to lay the groundwork:
GSA official (contracted) hotel:
A hotel with which GSA has contracted reserved meeting space and/or sleeping rooms for its meeting.
Room block:
The number of hotel sleeping rooms an organization reserves via contract and guarantees will be occupied by its meeting attendees.
Hotels place a hold on sleeping rooms two to ten years out for a group's contracted meeting. A contract attrition clause is an insurance policy for the hotel, guaranteeing them revenue from the sleeping rooms and/or a penalty paid by an organization if it does not fulfill its sleeping room block. This penalty can be substantial!

FAQS on Meeting Costs

We know that all attendees are looking for that perfect balance of quality, comfort, convenience, and affordability in their hotel accommodations and meeting experience. GSA strives to achieve this balance at every GSA meeting. While the following explanations pertain primarily to the Annual Meeting, the same issues also come into play in planning GSA Section and specialty meetings.

top Why does it matter if I stay at a hotel other than selected GSA official (contracted) hotels?

In order to get the convention center space we need, we must contract with a number of hotels (number varies by city) and sometimes specific hotels. To get the meeting space we need at the headquarters hotel, we often have to take a large block of sleeping rooms and guarantee that we will fulfill that block. If we do not fulfill the block we may have to give back some of the meeting space and/or pay an attrition penalty.

In 2002, GSA narrowly avoided a $251,000 penalty at one of our contracted hotels because attendees were not reserving rooms in the hotel. GSA and the hotel worked together to offer a new lower hotel rate to GSA attendees and attendees began making reservations with the hotel. If GSA had had to pay the $251,000 penalty, GSA members, as well as Annual Meeting attendees, would have felt the impact of this penalty. We could have seen cuts in educational programs and member benefits, increased membership fees, staff cuts, and higher meeting registration fees. For instance, if that penalty were to be covered entirely by the Annual Meeting registration fees, professional attendees would have seen a $75 increase for the meeting in 2003, and students and others would also have seen an increase of some 25%-30%.

top How does GSA choose the hotels it contracts with?

In some cities, there is only one possible headquarters hotel. In cities where there are multiple choices, we choose headquarters hotels based on a number of factors, including an adequate amount of meeting space, distance from the convention center, sleeping room rates, hotel and service quality, and the suitability of negotiated contract terms.

After the headquarters hotel is established, GSA Meetings staff works to secure a good mix of viable options for attendees. Sometimes, in the case of many smaller hotels, it may not be cost effective (in terms of staff time) to contract with a hotel that can only offer 10-50 sleeping rooms for GSA. Some hotels don't contract with groups at all; they rely entirely on transient (individual traveler) business. Some cities are simply overbuilt. GSA cannot contract with too many hotels, or we invite even more attrition penalties.

top I found a cheaper rate on a Web site for one of GSA's contracted hotels.

Book it! But make the reservation in the name of the meeting attendee. Then send an e-mail to to let us know. Generally, there are very few of these rooms available at the lower price. Not all attendees can get this rate, and the hotel will not offer this rate to GSA in a contract.

Many of the larger hotel chains are providing a new "Guaranteed Best Rate" incentive on their own Web sites. This is a guarantee that you will not find a lower rate on another discount travel Web site such as Expedia, Travelocity, or Orbitz. This does not apply to sites such as Hot Wire or Priceline, where you place a bid and the hotel is not known until after the bid is accepted, or on package deals that include airline or car rental.

All of our hotel contracts include a clause that states that the hotel cannot offer a lower rate to anyone else (excluding airlines, government, long-term corporate contracts, and the discount travel sites mentioned above) over the dates of the GSA Annual Meeting without offering it to our attendees. However, this occasionally happens if the room revenue manager of the hotel is not aware of our contract clause. Generally, these lower rates are offered less than 30 days out when the hotel begins to see that they are not going to sell out, although some hotels won't wait that long. Our hotel contracts also protect GSA with a clause that provides for GSA to get credit for any meeting attendee who stays in a contracted hotel, no matter how the reservation was made (Internet, directly through the hotel, travel agent, etc.) or the rate paid. The reservation must be in the name of the meeting attendee in order for GSA to get credit. If it is in the name of an unregistered spouse, GSA does not get the credit.

top I can't afford to stay at the more expensive hotels.

GSA contracts with several different hotels to accommodate a wide range of rates for our attendees. By making your reservations earlier, you can usually get into the less expensive hotels. Hotel reservations can be made as early as June 1, and the less expensive hotels are the first to sell out. If you wait until the deadline, it is unlikely that you will be able to get a room at the lower-priced properties.

top Why can't you add more rooms at the less expensive hotels?

Most hotels will not contract more than a certain percentage of rooms to groups; many times hotels have other contracts (government, airline, or corporate) to fulfill. Also, because GSA gets a discount off of the group rate, hotels don't want to sell all of their rooms at the lower price.

In addition, GSA has to fulfill its room blocks in all of the contracted hotels. More rooms at the less expensive hotels jeopardizes fulfillment of block commitments at the other hotels. We then face attrition penalties at every hotel where commitments are not met.

top I must have the government rate.

If the government per diem rate is lower than the GSA contracted rate, you can still stay in GSA contracted hotels. You can call the hotel directly or book on their Web site, but please ensure the reservation is in the name of the meeting attendee. If possible, ask the reservation agent to note that you are attending the GSA Annual Meeting.

top I have to use our company travel agent to book my hotel.

If your travel agent will not make your reservation via the GSA Housing Bureau, ensure that the reservation is made in the name of the meeting attendee.

top Why do the field trips and short courses cost so much?

GSA does not create the budgets for our field trips and short courses with the intent to make a profit on these events. We budget to break even and cover our costs. We know that field trips and short courses are important to you, the attendee, and we do everything that we can to keep the costs down, but at the same time, providing a quality event for you to attend and enjoy.

top What determines whether the meeting is held in October or in November?

October is prime convention season, when rates are the highest and when space is in highest demand. The groups that can offer a city the highest economic impact and that can book many years out are the most valued. The GSA Annual Meeting is very "meeting-space intensive": in most cities, we take over the entire convention center and there is nothing left to be sold to other groups. Unfortunately, because attendees often book their sleeping rooms on the Internet or outside of the GSA contracted hotels, it is becoming more difficult to demonstrate how valuable the GSA meeting is to various cities. This can affect the dates and space we are able to reserve. Sometimes, we can get a significant reduction in convention center rental by holding the meeting in early November.

top Why can't the GSA Annual Meeting be held in cities like Raleigh, North Carolina?

The GSA Annual Meeting requires a large amount of meeting space at both the convention center and headquarters hotels. Many of the less expensive cities are not large enough to hold the GSA Annual Meeting. As convention centers and headquarters hotels are being expanded and more flights offered in these smaller cities, they will be considered for future Annual Meetings. Portland, Oregon, is one of the cities that expanded its convention center and now it will be the site of the 2009 Annual Meeting.

Future GSA Annual Meetings
2006 Philadelphia, PA October 22-25
2007 Denver, CO October 28-31
2008 Chicago, IL  * October 26-29
2009 Portland, OR tentative; October 18-21
2010 Denver, CO October 31-November 3
2011 Minneapolis, MN tentative; October 9-12
* Joint meeting with American Society of Agronomy, Crop Science Society of America, and Soil Science Society of America.
top Where do we go next?

In a survey conducted in 2002, past Annual Meeting attendees were asked in what cities they would likely attend a GSA Annual Meeting. The most popular cities (in order) were: Denver, Seattle, Portland (Oregon), Salt Lake City, San Francisco, and Boston. Three of these six cities are quite expensive, not only in hotel prices, but also convention center rental, labor, and food. They are some of the most popular locations for conventions, and their prices reflect this. We must hold meetings where attendees want to go, but at the same time in cities where costs can be controlled. We hope you will see from the list of future Annual Meeting sites below that GSA is striving hard to meet these needs.