By Diana Chandler
BIRMINGHAM, Ala. – Online hotel reservations are still available for the 2019 Southern Baptist Convention Annual Meeting, but rooms within walking distance were exhausted shortly after registration opened Oct. 12.
Bill Townes, SBC Executive Committee vice president for convention finance, answered SBC 2019 housing concerns in an Oct. 21 blogpost at SBCVoices.com. An Oct. 17 post by SBC Voices blogger and pastor Adam Blosser, who was inadvertently waitlisted at convention housing venue the Westin Hotel, prompted Townes’ reply.
“In September, we were notified that the Sheraton experienced catastrophic water damage that resulted in a loss of over 400 rooms to our contracted room block at the Sheraton,” Townes wrote, “resulting in a nearly 60 percent drop in available rooms at the Sheraton.
“The net result to the SBC was an overall loss of nearly 50 percent of rooms in the two co-convention hotels,” Townes explained. “As you can imagine, that 50 percent drop in rooms caused the remaining available rooms to be snapped up very quickly.” The SBC EC first announced the change Sept. 28.
Within four minutes of online reservation availability, all available rooms were booked at the two convention hotels within walking distance of the Birmingham-Jefferson Convention Complex, Townes said. As others tried to book rooms, hundreds were waitlisted at the Westin who instead should have been referred to other hotels.
“Unfortunately, rather than just showing unavailable after the hotel room block was full,” Townes said, “the system mistakenly opened up a waitlist on 317 reservations rather than directing them immediately to other hotels.”
Lodging is available at 16 Birmingham hotels, ranging five to 13 miles away from the convention complex.
Blosser, pastor of Goshen Baptist Church in Spotsylvania, Va., thanked Townes for the update.
“We are thankful for Bill Townes’ willingness to address the housing issues in Birmingham here at SBC Voices,” Blosser wrote at SBCVoices.com in a comment on Townes’ post. “The staff at the Executive Committee works very hard to ensure that our convention meetings are a success. I appreciate their willingness to answer important questions when asked. I find the information Bill shared here very helpful.”
Those waitlisted at the Westin are being notified by email of the error as early as today (Oct. 22) by housing bureau provider, Experient, responsible for the error. As a concession, Experient has agreed to contribute $2,500 to SBC ministries through the Cooperative Program Allocation Budget and will work to secure rooms for those already waitlisted who have not secured lodging elsewhere, Townes said.
Townes wrote the blogpost after a team of EC employees spent a week in Birmingham planning the 2019 annual meeting set for June 11-12. He praised Birmingham officials and business leaders for their cooperation and assistance.
“The Sheraton has been extremely helpful in securing additional hotel rooms throughout the city and is also going to provide shuttle assistance,” Townes said. “With all of the inconvenience to us, we need to [keep] the staff of the Sheraton in our prayers as they are experiencing these same conversations over and over with multiple groups.”
The Birmingham Convention and Visitors Bureau (CVB) is helping the EC negotiate parking and ground transportation issues for the annual meeting, Townes said.
“We continue to work with the great Birmingham CVB team to facilitate these issues,” he said, “and are very appreciative of their dedication and service.”
Diana Chandler is Baptist Press’ general assignment writer/editor.