Learning patterns/Accommodations at meetups
What problem does this solve?Edit
A group is hosting an in-person meetup for Wikimedians which will involve overnight stays, such as a multi-day education conference or a hackathon. The organizers need accommodations for attendees that are cost-effective, safe, have any necessary features such as reliable Internet service, and are located within a reasonable distance of the place where the primary meetup events will happen.
What is the solution?Edit
Attendees could be asked to arrange their own accommodations, or the event organizers could arrange housing. More information about these options is embedded in the sections below.
Types of accommodations include:
- Bed and breakfasts
- Boarding houses
- Guest houses
- Homestays or farmstays (external link)
- Hostals (more common in Spain and in Spanish-speaking parts of the Americas)
- Some inns
- Some monasteries (more common in Europe) or religious guest houses (more common in certain parts of the Middle East)
- Vacation rentals
Things to considerEdit
How many attendees are you expecting?
How important is it that all of the attendees stay at the same location or near to the location of the meetup?
Is it possible to have the meetup events be at the same location where attendees will stay overnight?
How cost-effective, reliable, timely, and safe are the public transportation options between local transit hubs (like airports and train stations), possible accommodations, and the location of the meetup??
What options for food and sightseeing are available at and around the accommodations?
- Attendees may appreciate opportunities to experience local food, historic locations, and cultural events.
- Are any of these nearby and available, especially before and after the times of day when official meetup activities are scheduled?
Do any of your attendees need special accommodations for disabilities?
Do your attendees who snore have the option of requesting a single accommodation, so that others may awake well rested?
Are adequate levels of medical and security services available in the vicinity?
Do your attendees smoke, prefer non-smoking accommodations, or do you have some of each?
Do your attendees prefer quiet evenings, do they like to socialize late into the night, or do you have some of each?
How might you save on the budget?
- What is your budget, and the budget of your likely attendees?
- Some attendees groups may have more resource access than others. For example, students may have much lower budgets than surgeons.
- Some events may attract attendees with a range of budgets.
- Accommodations at locations which are less popular with tourists may be more cost-effective.
- The timing of the meetup is important. If you plan a meetup for an off-peak time of year for visitors at your chosen location, you may find that the published cost of accommodations are lower and that the managers of accommodations are more willing to negotiate discounts.
Better communication to inform attendees of the approved budgeted cost per night for accomations.
Choosing the locationEdit
Small locations like bed-and-breakfasts may be high-quality and cost-effective accommodations, especially if the event has only a few attendees.
Arranging the meetup events and the accommodations to be at the same location might save everyone time and money.
Attendees may appreciate having an informal gathering space at the accommodations where they can network and socialize.
Check on what speed of Internet service is offered by accommodations, and ask if there is an extra charge and/or mandatory personal data disclosure (such as a membership enrollment) for Internet service. Also ask if accommodations block attendees' personal data connections.
Ask what audio/visual services are available. Some locations may not offer their own presentation equipment. Be sure to negotiate the price for any necessary equipment ahead of time, otherwise you may pay high fees for the equipment during the event.
Do you need access to photocopiers, fax machines, international calling, or other services? Be sure that the location has what you need, and get prices in advance.
Pricing and negotiationEdit
Based on the experience of Wikimania 2012, the Wikimania Handbook recommends for Wikimanias that there be "an ample supply of cheap rooms priced at no more than US$50 per night where possible, with an option of private rooms always available", and notes that a well-chosen but significantly more expensive hotel (in the case of Wikimania 2012, US$216 per night per room, or $108 per person per night if each person has a roommate) may still provide a good value for those who can afford it because the higher costs may be proportionate to the benefits of higher quality services such as high-speed Internet access.
The United States Government publishes maximum allowable hotel rates for Federal Government employees. For hotels inside of the United States, see http://www.gsa.gov/portal/content/104877. For hotels outside of the United States, see http://aoprals.state.gov/web920/per_diem.asp
Higher cost does not always correlate with better service. Check the quality ratings of accommodations with third-party ratings agencies. "Special event rates" may be especially high rather than especially low.
- Purchase a block of room reservations, and re-sell them to attendees, with the meetup organizers arranging roommates and setting the reservation prices for individual attendees; the organizers will probably absorb financial losses for unbooked rooms that the organizers reserved; or
- Have individual attendees book their accommodations directly with the hotel, possibly using a conference code, and let attendees arrange roommates among themselves.
Check if online booking or direct booking will result in a better deal than prices offered through a third-party travel services company.
If you discuss your accommodation needs with a live human being, you may be able to negotiate a better deal than you see on any website. If you negotiate, be respectful of the other person, mention that you are also considering other options, keep your emotions cool, and negotiate when you have plenty of time to make decisions. You may find it easier to negotiate with locations that you research in advance and know have higher vacancy rates; these tend to be in areas with relatively low population density and/or that are less popular with tourists. Avoid taking the first price offer that you get; be prepared to record the information in the offer, then contact other accommodations and negotiate with them. You might contact the same accommodation multiple times during your negotiations.
If you are negotiating with hotels, ask if you can pay the government rate, corporate rate, or (in the United States) the AAA rate. Hotels may be more willing to offer discounts if you are are negotiating for a large block of rooms. 
Get written confirmation of reservations, including all prices, taxes, cancellation and change policies, and any additional services purchased (such as Internet service and audio/visual equipment) or features of rooms (such as being designated in smoking or no-smoking areas of the accommodations).
Changes and cancellationsEdit
Check on the policies for changes and cancellations. Some accommodation providers may have very restrictive policies.
It may be a good idea to purchase insurance that is relevant to the event and/or event accommodations. Some accommodation owners may require that the organizer of an event have certain types and amounts of insurance. Types of insurance may include general liability, cancellation, and alcohol liability. If you need expert legal advice, consult a qualified legal professional.
In some accommodations like dormitories, it may be a good idea to establish designated "quiet spaces" and/or "quiet hours". Some accommodations may have their own rules.
Accommodations may have varying rules for where alcohol and smoking are allowed, if they are allowed at all. Some attendees may prefer to be in "smoking" or "no smoking" areas. Check in advance, let your attendees know what to expect, and provide options to attendees if possible.
Some accommodations may charge extra for Internet service. This is an important consideration at Wikimedia events, especially if your scheduled meetup events will be at the same location as the accommodations.
Do your attendees need access to pay-per-view television in their rooms? If not, some locations may let you block this service so that attendees do not accidentally or intentionally get charges for pay-per-view service.
Some hotels (and car rental agencies) may place an authorization hold on the credit or debit cards of their guests. These holds are not actually charged to the card until purchases are finalized, but the amounts of the holds are unavailable for other uses until the holds are released. The business that places the hold on the card may use it for charges such as room service fees, delayed departure fees, refueling fees, and damage costs. Attendees should be made aware of these holds so that they can anticipate that they will be unable to use the amount of the authorization hold for other purposes until the hold is released. Additionally, banks may impose over-limit fees on debit cards if someone withdraws funds that are in excess of the allowed amount on a card when a hold is in place. While businesses should disclose the amount of the hold to their customers before finalizing a transaction, not all businesses follow this practice, so some customers may get surprise holds on their accounts. Guests may attempt to negotiate lower holds with businesses. Guests also may try to pay with traveler's checks or cash instead of credit or debit cards, although some hotels may require a credit card. For more information see this article from USA Today and this page on Elliott.org
While Wikimania 2012 took place at George Washington University in the Foggy Bottom neighborhood, the neighborhood had little to offer with regards to businesses open late at night or satisfactory hotels. However, the Dupont Circle Hotel in the Dupont Circle neighborhood—to the north—had plenty to offer. First of all, it was the one hotel in Washington, D.C. with the satisfactory Internet infrastructure necessary to host over a hundred Wikimedians. While most area hotels had outsourced their wireless Internet connectivity to third parties that offered lousy upload/download rates, the Dupont Circle Hotel handled it entirely in-house. Additionally, with a 100mbps connection, their capacity far exceeded any other hotel in the area, and there was also a backup connection in case the main one went down. Given that the Wikimania conference is centered on a website, it was only appropriate that the hotel should have strong Internet connectivity.
The Dupont Circle Hotel also provided other benefits, including a very comfortable bar and lounge with outdoor patio, as well as its proximity to the various amenities that the Dupont Circle neighborhood has to offer. Given all of these benefits, the decision was made to christen the hotel as the "official hotel" of the conference, encouraging anyone who had the money to stay there.
The team secured a discounted rate of US$189 per night at the hotel, $216 with taxes. To do this, it needed to buy up one hundred hotel rooms, which is about one-third of the hotel's entire capacity. Having had almost no data on accommodation arrangements for previous conferences, and with an aversion to risk due to the high cost of hotels in Washington, the conference team was reluctant to guarantee a high number of hotel rooms anywhere. However, by strongly encouraging individuals and organizations to stay at the hotel, we were able to fulfill the guarantee and more.
As an inexpensive option, largely catered toward the significant number of people attending Wikimania with scholarship funding, the Wikimania 2012 team reserved 150 beds, about one-half the building's capacity, at Hostelling International on 11th and K Streets. The greatest benefit to this was the low price, just US$38 per night; however, it was both far from the venue and there was no option to have private rooms. Further, due to the large number of scholarship recipients, reservations were not open to the public. As such, this left a number of people still needing rooms: those who preferred private rooms, and those who preferred inexpensive accommodations but were not traveling on scholarship.
As the third option, the conference team secured a courtesy rate at the State Plaza Hotel, walking distance from the venue. The conference team further reserved several rooms for the purpose of pairing roommates together, based on requests from attendees. Those who signed up for this option paid Wikimedia DC for their rooms rather than the hotel directly. This provided cheaper, private rooms for those who wanted it, and it also allowed those who didn't mind sharing rooms to do so somewhere slightly nicer than a hostel. The only problem with this, however, was that this was a reactionary measure, rather than a decision made in advance, and as such, the conference team could not get the best deal.
The Wikimania 2012 team persistently struggled with accommodations due to limited resources at the hostel and because of a misunderstanding of the price threshold it needed to reach for accommodations to be considered affordable. These problems were exacerbated by difficulties with securing its venue, with a final decision not being reached until late October 2011. The main lesson learned is that while there is value to a pricy "official" hotel, it must be supplemented by an ample supply of cheap rooms priced at no more than US$50 per night where possible, with an option of private rooms always available. This decision must be made well in advance, and attendees should be concentrated in as few hotels as possible to simplify logistical matters and to encourage attendees to spend time together.
Elsewhere on MetaEdit
- Grants:Learning patterns/Arranging travel
- Grants:Learning patterns/Choosing to meet up virtually or in person
- Grants:Learning patterns/Informal venue
- Grants:Learning patterns/Connectivity issues
- Grants:Learning patterns/Don't fiddle with the AV
- IndependentTraveler.com: "Ditch the Hotel: 10 Cheaper Ways to Stay"
- "Smart Conference Planning" by Purdue University Extension
- Barcelona Tourist Guide: "Barcelona hotel, hostal and pension - Knowing the difference will save you money"
- Travel planning
- Travel planning
- Travel planning
- Wikimania Handbook#Making group reservations
- Travel planning#Hotels