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Open Letter to ACBL Board of Directors -- Housing Bureau, NABC Rooms, Montreal Summer NABC

Yesterday, I sent the following e-mail to all 25 members of the 2020 ACBL Board of Directors (plus BoG Chair, Montreal tournament chair and ACBL Executive Director Joe Jones).  I believe the issues are serious and worth discussion.  When NABC rooms sell out within hours, the ACBL is doing a disservice to its members.  

I have never understood the need for a housing bureau.  Conference Direct tells me we have no options but "Run of House" which implies whatever the hotel has available, they will give you.  There is no choice of one or two beds!  That is not acceptable to me. 

However, at the end of June, the Housing Bureau will send all the reservation info to the various hotels and then the players can speak directly to the hotels re: Membership reward status, bed type, other requests.  Which begs the question: Why do have to go through the hassles and frustrations of a third party housing bureau?

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 Thu, Jan 16, 6:24 PM (1 day ago)

to Jacqueline, Stephani, Bob, Brian, Carlos, Cindy, Claire, David, David, Dennis, Georgia, Jeff, Joann, Julie, Kevin, Laurie, Leo, Margot, Michael, Ned, Paul, Paul, Richard, Sharon, Suzi, Warren, Joe, Mark, Jean,

Good Afternoon Ladies & Gentleman,

There are so many issues with the Montreal NABC housing fiasco it is hard to know where to begin but I'll try to highlight some of the major ones.

The ACBL had been advertising that reservations would open on January 15, 2020.  At what exact time was a mystery because many players tried to call at 9 AM or thereabouts EST and the site had not yet opened.  As it turns out, the online reservations opened at 11 AM EST (10 AM CT).  Some people (perhaps retired with no life) were lucky enough to reserve the few rooms available at Le Westin, but many more could not.  Within a few hours, there was NO availability on Sun-Mon-Tues, July 19-21.  You return home from work or an afternoon bridge game and even though it was the first day for reservations, you were s__t out of luck!

At the moment, 31 hours after the reservations opened, Le Westin is sold out every night save for July 16-18, July 23, and the final Sunday July 26 is wait listed.  For all intents and purposes, it is unavailable.

The InterContinental is sold out on Thursday July 16 and Friday, July 24.  Once a mid week night is sold out, it becomes problematic to have to find one night to stay elsewhere!

There are three primary hotels: (All prices in Canadian dollars) The Queen E at Canadian $183 plus 18% tax; Le Westin at $192+; the InterContinental at $209+.  All three are highly rated and all three would be considered to offer the same class of service.  However, the Queen E is 1 KM off site while only Le Westin & the InterContinental are attached, adjacent, or across the street from the Palais des Congres de Montreal playing area.  I fail to understand why the room rates should vary so much for similar class hotels.  Le Westin, a Marriott Bonvoy property, was the least expensive of the hotels adjacent to the playing area.  It sold out in a couple of hours.  The InterContinental, just over one day after reservations opened, is now impossible to book for the entire stay because some nights are unavailable.

Something is very wrong with the above scenario.  Gross miscalculation of required number of room nights to service its members?  Special circumstances that no one could foresee?  One can make many excuses or rationalizations but the bottom line is that this is unacceptable service to ACBL members and it is clearly detrimental to NABC attendance.

In large metropolitan areas like Montreal, even when the host hotels are sold out, it does not guarantee a successful NABC.  To a large degree, that will depend upon the support (or lack of) from the local bridge playing population.  But when the most desirable hotel sells out within a few hours, all it does is anger the regular clients and pros who make up a large percentage of the room nights.  Other players who may be considering attending the NABC will just give up when they discover that there are no rooms available at their preferred hotel.

This a recipe for the demise of the ACBL.  It is a scenario that has played out far too many times in the past.  Why?

It does not help when the three primary sites range from $183+ to $209+ but there is a wide open availability at the Embassy Suites for $275.  A very expensive "free" omelet and happy hour drink!  The Embassy Suites is ranked lower than the other hotels, but is priced ballpark $80 a night more expensive. What were they thinking?

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A different but no less critical issue is the ACBL Housing Bureau.  Why is one required?  Players much prefer dealing directly with the hotel (as is done for Regional tournaments every week of the year).  There are multiple complaints about having to go through a third party.  There always have been and always will be. WHY does the ACBL insist upon using a housing bureau?

The ACBL recently terminated the unpopular On Peak agency and started using a new provider, Conference Direct.  The early reviews are not encouraging.

Their reservation web site is confusing and not user friendly.  Some have complained that agents on the phone have been rude.  To even use the website, you must sign away all your privacy rights and give Conference Direct permission to share your info with whoever they wish!

You are unable to specify the bed type you must have -- either one King bed or two queen/double beds.  When I deal directly with a hotel I can specify bed type and have it guaranteed.  Even On Peak allowed ACBL members to do so.  Conference Direct does not.

I called Conference Direct a few minutes ago.  The agent I spoke with was polite and friendly but firmly told me there are no options for choosing bed type. Everything is "Run of House" which generally means - when booking with Expedia/Priceline, etc -- that you are booking the cheapest rate and the hotel will give you whatever is available.  NO guarantee of the bed type you may require.  Is the ACBL's goal to force bridge roommates to sleep together?

IMHO, this is unacceptable service and not what ACBL members (older, wiser and well educated) are used to, or will accept.

Best Regards,

JONATHAN

PS. Bridge Winners has a thread on this topic at: https://bridgewinners.com/article/view/montreal-summer-nationals-in-july/ 

I encourage you to read what our ACBL members are posting online.

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UPDATE: As of 8 PM EST, Friday, January 16... Le Westin is virtually sold out while the InterContinntal, EmbassySsuites & Holiday Inn all have one or more sold out nights making it impossible to book for the entire stay.

On the plus side, the least expensive hotel, the Fairmont Queen Elizabeth at CDN $183 (US $140) plus 18% tax has rooms available every night.  It is truly a beautiful historic hotel that was closed for almost a full year between mid 2016 to mid 2017 for a complete top to bottom renovation.  The only "downside" is that it is 1 KM (0.6 of a mile), a 12 - 13 minute walk according to Google, from the playing areas.  The ACBL will provide shuttle buses.  How long availability will last is anyone's guess but it is well worth considering.

Check out this review: https://www.oyster.com/montreal/hotels/fairmont-the-queen-elizabeth/full-review/

Don't forget that at current exchange rates  $1 US dollar =  $1.31 Canadian

Good luck to all navigating Conference Direct and finding accommodations that will suit your needs and requirements.  Montreal in July is an awesome tourist destination, especially since the playing area will be so close to Old Montreal and all that it offers.

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