We'll start with crashing and get to suitcasing in a minute. Most people understand the concept of "crashing" a party uninvited, but at a conference, convention or trade show it's a little different. Here the perpetrator was usually invited but chose not to pay and attend (crash) anyway. It's incredibly frustrating for a paid attendee, knowing that your registration fee is subsidizing the deadbeat that decided they were so special they didn't have to pay.
There are countless excuses and lame explanations for crashing. The greatest of these has to be "I just happened to be here anyway!", usually followed with some far-fetched story about how once they were seen near the event they were "literally" dragged into the breakfast/reception/dinner that everyone else was paying for it. They make it sound like they're the victim, forced into eating and drinking for free, and enjoying a valuable networking opportunity without paying for it.
It doesn't even pass the laugh test – an industry vendor "just happened" to be at that same remote resort or convention center than everyone else had a hard time getting to, at the exact same time.... truly remarkable. And to further strain credibility it is the same kinds of vendors, often the very same vendors, that try and peddle this nonsense at conference after conference.
Sometimes a convention crasher tries to justify it a different way. They'll explain that, well, the convention wasn't really for them, and they shouldn't have to pay. For example I recently attended a conference for florists, not because I am a florist but because I sell to florists. Some of the content (certain educational sessions) does not offer me any value, but the networking does. I'm happy to pay full price (supporting the association and their efforts to help florists in the process).
Other vendors take a different approach. Since the educational content isn't 100% targetted to them, they feel they shouldn't have to pay, while still enjoying the incredibly valuable networking opportunities, food, drinks, etc.
Such logic is, of course, completely ridiculous. You can't steal a DVD and argue that because you don't really like one of the secondary actors you shouldn't have to pay anything at all.
The really horrible thing about crashing a conference is that it is designed to take advantage of the fact that most people don't want confrontation, and they don't want embarrass anyone. Most small and medium sized conventions don't have security. That means it would fall to a volunteer or association employee to throw someone out – something they don't relish doing, and something the convention crasher is only too happy to exploit.
Suitcasing is different. At conventions and conferences, there is often a supplier expo or vendor trade fair – a smaller version of a full-out trade show. Vendors pay for the opportunity (usually in the form of a booth or table) to display their products and services and sell them to attendees.
In these situations the same kind of deadbeats that crash conferences and conventions use what as known as suitcasing:
International Association of Exhibitions and Events
Suitcasing is the act of soliciting business in the aisles during the exhibition or in other public spaces, including another company's booth or a hotel lobby.
Instead of supporting the event, the organizing association and their members, suitcasers loiter around, trying to connect with potential buyers, and do demos on sofas in the lobby, back in their rooms, etc. It's bad – it hurts the event and the attendees. You can read more about why suitcasing is bad in this excellent blog post.
Suitcasers probably assume that they are very clever – that they were the first to come up with the idea of suitcasing. The truth is that they're just deadbeats, trying to get something for nothing.
If associations can't crack down maybe public shaming is an option – posting pictures of these deadbeats online. It should be made clear that crashers and suitcasers not only refuse to support the event, they feel that the other attendees should be paying their way!
Think about it. At the florist conference I mentioned many industry vendors chose to support the association, the event and the industry by buying registrations. Most importantly they are helping the majority of attendees, retail florists, by supporting the event financially.
Some vendors go even further. Some purchase display space in the supplier expo, or exposure in the product showcase. Others sponsor speakers, or meals. In all of these cases they are spending their money to help the association.
The crashers and suitcasers are the exact opposite. Rather than providing support, they are a drain. Whatever they drink, consume, etc. has to be covered by the people they're supposed to be supporting.
The best solution is better awareness of crashing and suitcasing. These practices are absolutely shameful and if you ever see one of your vendors or suppliers crashing or suitcasing at a convention or conference you should stop doing business with them. Not only does the act of crashing, or suitcasing, reveal them to be completely unethical they are also stealing from you, your peers, and the association/event that you care about.
Think about it... if a supplier broke into your business, then helped himself to something to eat and drink before putting their feet up and trying to sell you on something would you even listen to them? No - of course not. Suitcasers and crashers are no better.