It may be 2019 but the processes involved in booking meetings and events are still inefficient and time consuming. You can book a hotel room, train ticket and even long-haul flight at the click of a button these days. But to book a meeting room for eight delegates with one tea break and an LCD projector takes several phone calls. And that’s just to find out if the venue is available!
We asked Anna Snoep, Inntel’s Director of Operations – Meetings, Groups & Events to explain the issues.
“This is a well-known problem”
Both corporate planners and intermediaries such as Inntel are calling out for solutions. It looks as if the meetings industry is gearing up for some exciting changes in this arena – and not before time. But to understand what may be about to happen, it is important to understand the terminology used for online meeting and event bookings.
Online sourcing is already widely available through a multitude of booking platforms such as Venuedirectory and Cvent. With online sourcing, bookers identify potentially suitable venues from the platform’s database. They complete an online enquiry form and their request is sent to the venues they have selected. The venues reply to the booker through the platform, providing information on availability and pricing. If the booker decides to go ahead with one of the venues, payment, final details and any amendments or special requests are usually handled offline.
The online sourcing process is therefore very efficient as it reduces the number of phone calls and emails that have to be sent, not to mention the time spent ‘on hold’ waiting to speak to someone.
Online booking or ‘instant book’ sounds like it should be better still, but in truth it is not very widely available. Many solution providers advertise an ‘instant booking’ service but most of the enquiries are still sent on to the hotel for approval. Hotels and venues would only be in the position to offer instant bookings if they made the availability and pricing of all of their meeting rooms available online. And that’s a big ‘if’. At the moment only around 10% of UK venues currently load their availability and pricing online. Even then it’s usually only on their own websites, rather than via a third-party booking platform.
The reason that venues are reluctant to share their inventory and pricing online is simply that meetings space is heavily ‘yield managed’.
This means that venues use a variable pricing strategy for their meetings space to increase their potential overall revenue. In practical terms, they offer discounted rates on smaller meetings spaces to secure a much higher value booking for their larger conference room, for example. Therefore it is not in the venue’s interest to offer all of their available spaces at a fixed price through a booking platform. In addition to this, while it is unusual for venues to be open to negotiations on accommodation bookings, it is common practice to negotiate on the price of meeting space. Therefore if the hotels and venues shared their inventory and pricing online they would lose the ability to drop their prices to win business.
The other huge challenge with online booking for meetings and events is the number of variables involved. When you book accommodation your options are usually limited to room only, breakfast included and paying up front or on departure. When you are booking a meeting, on the other hand, the options are almost endless. Even the simplest of meetings could require multiple coffee breaks, a hot lunch, particular equipment, off-road parking, free WiFi and special room features such as natural daylight. And, in the UK at least, many venues will offer a ‘day delegate’ package for groups of 10 or more that offers even better value than a per person rate. To book all of these options and pricing variables online would call for a very complex booking system indeed.
In short, creating an automated booking system for even simple meetings is going to be a challenge.
But the appetite for such a system is growing. Many are now looking to their venue partners for genuinely useful solutions that involve having inventory and pricing available online. Inntel is one of the many companies embracing the new technology. However, until it becomes a full and robust booking option, we will continue to provide the award-winning and reliably ‘hands-on’ booking service that our clients rely on.
For expert level help and hands-on support with your next meeting or event, contact Inntel on 0844 847 5500