Online hotel registration for the Southern Baptist Convention’s (SBC) 2019 annual meeting in Birmingham, Ala., opened Oct. 12 at 8 a.m. Four minutes later, all the rooms designated for the event at on-site hotels were full. The rooms disappeared so fast that it left some Southern Baptists scratching their heads.
Birmingham-Jefferson Convention Complex photo
Bill Townes, vice president for convention finance and convention manager for the SBC Executive Committee (EC), said in a guest blog post at SBCVoices.com that “catastrophic water damage” at the primary annual meeting hotel contributed to the shortage.
The Sheraton Birmingham’s damage eliminated more than 400 rooms in the SBC’s designated block. The original launch for open registration was Oct. 1, but the date was pushed back to allow the EC time to find additional rooms at alternate hotels.
In total, 37 hotels are under contract with the SBC to provide rooms at a negotiated rate through Experient, an event management company.
Townes explained how the EC reserves a block of rooms each year for the annual meeting at a primary hotel or hotels, which are usually connected to the venue where the event will take place. Of those reservations, up to 60 percent may be designated for entity executives, trustees, speakers and other SBC staff, according to a policy approved by the EC board of trustees in 2011. However, Townes said the EC limits earmarks to 50 percent of the convention hotel block, to make “as many rooms as possible available to general attendees.”
Online hotel registration operates on a “first come, first click” policy, he said. There is also a five-room limit on individual registrants.
“When we opened housing this year,” Townes said, “we had 238 reservations within the first three minutes, and filled the entire available main co-convention hotel block before 8:04 a.m.”
In addition, more than 300 people were mistakenly put on a wait list for the Westin Hotel, said Townes. The online system, managed by Experient, should have directed registrants to another hotel.
Townes said Experient is alleviating the inconvenience by making a $2,500 contribution to the Cooperative Program and “working behind the scenes” to secure rooms for those registrants who were waitlisted. He also said the Sheraton has been “extremely helpful” in helping to secure additional rooms at nearby hotels and will provide “shuttle assistance.”
He added that Birmingham is undergoing “significant” highway construction and hotels are spread across the city. Hotel shuttles will be available, he said, in addition to “park and ride” lots at local churches and ride share coupons for Uber and Lyft.
Visit sbcannualmeeting.net to register.