Sleeping With Teenagers… and Other Large Conference Hotel Issues

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I could read it on his face.  Disgust.  Horror.  And major annoyance.

“I can’t believe this.  Ridiculous!” he fumed as he stomped onto the elevator, rolling bag trailing behind him, and headed to the lobby.

I totally felt his pain.

The hotel was overrun with over a thousand high school students for an event.  And four days of teenagers taking over a large conference hotel can test the patience of even the most seasoned traveler.  That includes those of us who were there with that group, many whom were running on less than six hours of sleep each night.  Sleeping with teenagers, most of whom were four to a room, in the same airspace was certainly a challenging scenario.

It is a situation I have found myself on both sides of – many times as a hotel guest and many times as a member of the offending group (including the last two weekends in a row where the bulk of my fellow attendees have been 14 to 20 years old).

But it’s not just students that can be the issue.  I can think of a few conferences that I have consistently attended where our group of attendees caused issues for other guests, whether it be from noise, elevator crowding, or spillover of activities into hotel common areas.

And I’ve had several stays where it was impossible to ignore that a group had taken over the hotel (from costume play afficianados to swingers, beer can collectors and quilters) – all of these groups have managed to be impossible to ignore when they are spread around the hotel.

What can you as a traveler do when a large group has overtaken your hotel?

1. Ask for accommodation away from high traffic and/or high noise areas. 

For me, the best room when there is heavy activity in the hotel is a high floor room away from elevators.  A club floor request is always a plus and some hotels will be willing to upgrade guests to these areas to avoid inconveniences to guests.

In lower floor hotels, avoiding rooms near stairwells can mean less traffic as individuals often use the stairs as a faster means of transport when elevators are full, leading to heavy noise at times.  I’ve also found that at some conferences with a younger demographic, the stairs are used as a place to smoke, drink, and sneak between rooms so they can be more heavily trafficked at night than one might anticipate.

2. Request to be moved to another property.

Often conference weekends can be total sell-outs with a waiting list for rooms.  By asking to be accommodated elsewhere, you may be freeing up a room that the hotel needs.  If its obvious a large group is in, you might consider moving properties if there is no penalty.  If you check in and notice signage for a large event, it’s always worth asking.

3. Obtain a schedule of key events.

If elevator access, restaurants over capacity, or common area overcrowding is preventing you from enjoying full use of the facilities, ask the front desk if they can obtain a schedule of group events for you.  You may be able to plan your movements around that of the group – avoiding the elevators at the time all attendees are coming/going from sessions, for example.

4. Ask if elevator movement can be controlled. 

At some properties, management can control elevator flow.  This might mean having the group post someone near the elevators to control  traffic flow from their group.  I’ve seen other hotels limit how many elevators will stop on a conference room floor to allow others to have normal hotel access.  While these types of requests cannot always be accommodated, I’ve seen them deployed by hotels I’ve stayed in.  With our teenage group, we now have an elevator monitor to help students queue up – and regular hotel guests are given the opportunity to board elevators first before the kids leave their line.

5. Pack earplugs.

I can’t underestimate this one.  If you have noise sensitivities, be sure you have earplugs for sleeping.

6. Do your research in advance.

If you are worried about being in the middle of a group booking, don’t be afraid to do a bit of sleuthing to determine weather a hotel has booked out with a large group.  A hotel reservations agent (at the local property) might be wiling to share whether a group/function is onsite for planned travel dates.  If not, try searching for events at the hotel (I will use the property name PLUS key words like conference, group rate, etc.)  If you are staying in a large conference hotel, especially during peak conference times, it’s more likely you may run into such a scenario.

7. Don’t be afraid to ask the front desk to make things right.

If you experience service delivery issues (no hot water, lounge overcrowded or unusable due to a group, significant noise), don’t be afraid to address them with the front desk.  Its better to do this as the issues are occurring, not at check out, as management will often have some latitude to deal with the problem as it’s occurring.  They may be able to address a noise issue with the group’s leader, help you plan around large movement at specific time, or upgrade you to get you away from high traffic.

8. Try to enjoy the chaos.

Sometimes the best thing to do is enjoy the spectacle and interact with participants.  I’ve had interesting conversations about hobbies with groups staying in the same hotel as me (nothing quite like learning about someone’s bottle cap collection!) and I’ve seen others ask my sorority sisters questions while stuck in an elevator with a dozen of us.

And if all else fails, perhaps you can even do as George Clooney did in Up In The Air… grab a spare nametag and crash the fun.

About Jennifer Moody

Jennifer is a management consultant and avid volunteer. Her career and volunteer duty travels have helped her log top-tier airline and hotel status annually for the last nineteen years. In addition, she embraces the opportunity to maximize her vacation time by planning extracurricular trips that have taken her to over 60 countries and 48.5 US states. Once an "every week" road warrior, she now only travels around 100 days a year. She resides in her native Fort Worth, Texas where she enjoys cooking, gardening, sewing, needlepoint, wine, and playing with her Border Collie/Great Pyreness mix puppy Harley Quinn.

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