Another year, another race for housing and hotels in Salt Lake City.
On Tuesday, Outdoor Retailer officials released their latest update on lodging for Winter Market 2015, attempting to address some of the frustrations with a system that seems to undergo changes every year.
SNEWS has covered the housing issue from all sides over the past few years — from officials resetting the downtown hotel priority list a year ago, to calls for moving the show to a bigger city. At the core of the situation is a growing show in a mid-sized city, along with a larger debate of who belongs at the show.
Opinions of how the system works fall as one might expect — those who get rooms close to the Salt Palace Convention Center are happy, while those asked to stay farther out feel a bit slighted. But overall, the greatest frustration SNEWS has found from attendees isn’t whether they got a room near or far, but the process it takes to secure a room that includes plenty of uncertainty.
Our objective with this story is to guide you through that process — at least the way it's supposed to work — with tips on how to take action, what to expect, and when it’s time to get Show Director Kenji Haroutunian on the line.
Let’s start with the math that puts the show in its pickle.
Winter Market attracts roughly 22,000 people, including about 2,000 locals who drive in for the day and don’t need overnight lodging. That leaves about 20,000 people searching for rooms. If you’re one of them, there are two main options:
>> Join the official Outdoor Retailer housing block, which negotiates, holds and assigns about 5,000 rooms at approved hotels and some alternative housing options across the region.
>> Fend for yourself by locating and reserving unblocked rooms at hotels or renting a private residence of your choice on the open market.
Considering the average occupancy of each room is about two people, the Outdoor Retailer housing block handles about 10,000 people, or half of the show’s attendance searching for rooms.
That doesn’t mean the other half is left out to dry, Haroutunian said. On average, more than 50 percent of trade-show attendees willingly choose to handle lodging on their own. If any show attendee wants a room, location be dammed, they can get one through the housing block, he said. Summer Market brings in about 6,000 more people, further tightening the room jockeying, forcing more attendees outside the downtown core.
Salt Lake City isn’t alone in this problem. There are numerous trade show venues (outside of big boys like Las Vegas or Chicago) that are forced to send their attendees outside of the city to look for housing. The issue here, according to Haroutunian, is that Salt Lake used to — when there were only 15,000 people coming to the show — be big enough. Everyone got comfortable being close in, he said.
Outdoor Retailer’s housing block doesn’t include every hotel and room in Salt Lake City. For example, there are unblocked rooms within hotels on the list that are on the open market, while other hotels are altogether off the list because they don’t meet the show’s standards for service, or refuse to negotiate at lower rates.
Attendees can book open market rooms at any time they wish. The caveat is having to deal with inflated prices, which are roughly double the week of Outdoor Retailer versus typical times of the year, according to officials. Attendees also must act early — typically up to a year ahead of time on the open market for prime spots. For example, with three months to go before Winter Market 2015, only a few downtown rooms remain for mid-show week, according to Hotels.com.
The downtown core
For those choosing to book through Outdoor Retailer’s housing block, being handled by Travel Planners, the adventure begins now.
On Sept. 29, officials sent emails to those attendees who stayed within housing block’s 16 downtown hotels — a dozen within about a mile’s radius of the Salt Palace and the others within 5 miles, the furthest being the Marriott University Park.
Outdoor Retailer’s downtown housing block includes about 4,300 rooms at:
>> Crystal Inn Downtown
>> Doubletree by Hilton
>> Grand America Hotel
>> Hampton Inn Downtown
>> Hilton Salt Lake City Center
>> Hotel Monaco
>> Hyatt Place Suites
>> Little America Hotel
>> Marriott City Center
>> Marriott Downtown
>> Marriott University Park
>> Radisson Downtown
>> Red Lion Hotel
>> Salt Lake Plaza Hotel
>> Sheraton City Centre
>> Shilo Inn
Priority attendee lists for these rooms were reshuffled last year in an attempt to get more retailers (the show’s lifeblood) into the downtown core, Haroutunian said. The re-prioritization got 300 more retailers closer to the show, he said. Of course, that meant 300 other people were pushed out. That included many reps, who show officials said they had a hard time confirming their validity. Many didn’t have websites or working emails, Haroutunian said, admitting that some mistakes were made.
Those on that new priority list at Winter Market 2014 get first dibs on the downtown rooms for Winter Market 2015. (There's a separate priority list for Summer Market). They have until Thursday, Oct. 16 to respond to those Sept. 29 emails and confirm their place in line.
If you’re new to the housing block, or didn’t get a downtown room last year, lodging within the block is handled on a first-come, first-served basis.
Registration for Winter Market 2015 opened on Tuesday with those confirming registration (and gaining qualification) first in line for lodging within this secondary block. Housing emails for this group are scheduled go out in the next few weeks. It’s still possible for some in this group to get downtown hotels, with preference going to first-time attending retailers, Haroutunian said.
All housing block confirmations should be set and sent by mid November.
But here’s where Outdoor Retailer’s housing block has faced the most criticism. Sometimes those confirmations don’t arrive, or they’ve been downright wrong. One attendee at Summer Market 2014 had his e-mail confirming his stay at a San Diego, Calif. hotel for the show. That’s a bit of a trek.
Since much is handled through email, it’s important to check spam filters, Haroutunian said. And if attendees don’t get the emails and confirmations they expect, or have questions, they should contact email@example.com.
No doubt, whether participating in the housing block or open market, some attendees will find themselves as far as a half-hour away from the Salt Palace in Sandy, Utah. Show officials want to make that stay as convenient as possible and have tripled their investment in shuttles, which run from all their outlying hotels in the mornings and evening, every 20-30 minutes.
Outdoor Retailer also is working with Uber — the app to hail crowd-sourced car transportation — to secure discounts for show attendees. More on that to come.