Experts Chime in on Stay and Play Programs

Our industry has debated the positive and negatives of rebates, commissions, and “Stay and Play” programs for the better part of two decades.  There is real passion behind the opinions of hosting organizations and events rights holders on the pluses and minuses of these programs. 
As this dialog seems to have no end in sight, we decided to ask some of the industry’s top professionals their thoughts on three questions relating to Stay and Play programs.  There is a lot of material here, so without further ado, here are their abstracted responses…..

Question #1 -- What are the positive outcomes from implementing a "Stay to Play" policy?

  • Room consumption can be tracked more efficiently.
  • Rebates can be validated and collected more efficiently.
  • Automated reporting for both the event organizer and the traveling parties helps with effective management of room blocks.
  • Hoteliers know ahead of time how man rooms they can count on booking.
  • Rebates help the event organizers cover tournament costs.
  • Enhanced visitor experience with the selection of quality properties that provide solid service to guests. 
  • Group (discounted) pricing.
  • A full “travel experience” can be created, laying the foundation for a great overall tournament atmosphere. 
  • Being able to move business to partner hotels is attractive to hotels especially when you don’t have performance. 
  • Gives the hotel a sense of security.
  • Limiting the number of hotels per event maximizes the value of the program.
  • Better concessions for tournament providers with larger room block commitments.

Question #2 -- What are the negatives/challenges in implementing a "Stay and Play" program? 

  • Communication of the reasoning for the policy to your teams and coaches.
  • Chasing after rebates.
  • Stay to Play can be seen as a money grab.
  • The participant must be given a compelling reason to participate.
  • Stay to Play room rates are often not the lowest rates even at the participating hotels.
  • Inflated costs to participants due to the addition of rebates and commissions.
  • Teams/families might not get to stay with a preferred hotel or brand.
  • Budget conscious people are not able to search out to find a hotel that best suits their needs.
  • Lack of enforcement of the policy can lead to a lack of trust and credibility by participants towards the hotels and event organizers.   
  • educed freedom of choices for participants.
  • Teaching your team to positively present stay to play to your clients.

Question #3 -- What advice (or alternative program ideas) can you offer to people considering a "Stay and Play" initiative?

  • Find an experienced third party to help with the program’s implementation.
  • Balance the program so the solution is mutually beneficial to the guests, hotels, and the event.
  • Modify the program to improve it from one year to the next. 
  • Don't get greedy with the rebate and concessions, to be successful the program needs to be a partnership.
  • Establish your policy, make it well known to the participants, and stand firm.  The first few years will cause some painful discussions and decisions.
  • Research as much as possible so that if you commit to a Stay and Play program, you can stay committed and not reverse directions.
  • Require that your hotel prices are the lowest obtainable to cover a team during your event.  Individuals may get a lower rate on-line, but no one should be able to take care of an entire team via that route.
  • Establish a minimum number of rooms required to be booked per team per day.  Make this number reasonable to allow for a small portion of parents or even players to book outside the block.  While this isn’t ideal, it will save a lot of situational decisions that may need to be made.
  • Establish a reward or giveaway/incentive program for teams that book inside the block (such as a prize for a team that books the most rooms, or a value add item such as a discounted entry fee or a special t-shirt for those staying in the block).  This “Loyalty Program” will prompt the teams to book in the block whenever possible.
  • For some events you may want to offer a buyout option to not use the host hotels, or offer two tournament entry fees – a higher one if the team stays outside the block, and a lower one for those confirmed inside the official block.
  • Work to create the full “travel experience”, not just another weekend tournament.  Ensure the consumer sees the value in attending your event.
  • Serve as a model partner with the hotels you are working with and the venue(s) where your event is taking place.
  • Give the participants the power of choice.  There are some organizations that use a Stay to Play model, but present it as “Stay and Save.”

We hoped you liked the summary of this lightning rod topic.  If you have any additional thoughts to add, we would love to hear them!
Our special thanks to industry leaders Judy Spring, Maggie Frantz, Tom Pingle, Matt Libber, Sean Hardy, and Mike Hill’s team at Hilton for your contributions to this article.