The risk of poaching is not a new issue with events—and not an easy task to prevent from happening. Poachers, or unauthorized entities that pose as show-approved vendors, sell fake hotel reservations, registrations, and other services to your unsuspecting attendees and exhibitors. Technologies, such as mobile devices and social media, have increased the channels through which poachers target your audience.
Poachers use a variety of techniques to attract your attendees and exploit a wide range of your services including housing, registration, show floor sales, and attendee lists. Impersonating your content and brand to lure people into making purchases, poachers post general information on websites, social channels, or in search engines. In many cases, poachers pay the search engines to be listed above your site. With the increased proliferation of personal data, poachers are able to contact specific individuals with a targeted message—often using your event brand—to fool them into making a purchase.
There is no simple solution to the problem, but there are steps event managers can take to minimize and control the damage. An increasingly common practice is to distribute an authorized vendor logo using the event brand that approved event suppliers can include on their websites and communications with attendees and exhibitors.
Warnings on your event website, registration site, and other vendor websites can alert attendees and exhibitors to the presence of poachers, provide a list of approved vendors, and remind them to look for an approved vendor logo. In certain cases, sending an email to your show audience to make them aware of potential poaching schemes can be effective.
The implications to your audience are widespread. Fraudulent charges for rooms that are not reserved, higher than official vendor partner rates and fake registrations take a financial toll on your attendees and exhibitors. Switching services, such as booking at the host hotel and getting reservations at a motel, is a common practice. The impact is not only financial, but affects your statistics, marketing, and reputation as well.
Some poaching activities may affect you as the show owner, but have lesser consequences for your attendees. For instance, some housing scams actually reserve and provide rooms to your attendees but are not part of your room block, thus cutting you out of the profits. Attendee lists are another example. The list purchaser receives a list of contacts, but the list is not actual registrants—and show management did not authorize or profit from the sale.
When poaching gets out of hand and has too large an impact on the attendee experience or your event revenue, taking legal action is sometimes the only recourse. Typically, a cease and desist letter is the first step, but often this does not make the problem go away. Many poachers are based overseas, out of reach of our legal system. Contact Google and other listing sources to complain and request that fraudulent results be removed. Your legal team is the best equipped to provide advice on these problems.
Be aware of the issues, keep an eye out for suspicious situations, listen to your audience and vendors when they report scams, and most important—be ready to take action to help alleviate the problems poacher can cause.