A Product Story: How Instant Booking became the new standard for transparency in group travel

by | Jun 20, 2022 | Hotels, Planners

For years, the process that’s connected group travel planners with the right hotels for an event, meeting or group has relied on the Request for Proposal (RFP) system — a system which was, in large part, developed by hoteliers and catered to their own needs, timing and internal sales processes.

This “old school” way of doing things created friction and inefficiencies that have long been unaddressed, leaving planners shortchanged and facing hours of work to source properties without the information that would help them quickly and easily find the hotels that best match their needs.

While it’s understandable that the hoteliers’ need for a lot of specific information beforehand led to the older, complex RFP process. And to be clear, our flagship product GroupSync includes an RFP process, a process that will continually be needed as I mention further below. It’s one that has evolved to a faster, more efficient way to conduct RFPs – by providing deeper relevancy and a more streamlined process.

But now, advanced technology and new ways of thinking have opened the door to innovating a new solution for hotel sourcing and booking for groups — one that does a better job at bridging the gap between a planner’s need for information to more easily and efficiently source, and the hotel’s desire to simply and easily book the best groups for their property.

This is exactly what we set out to create when building one of the most game-changing features of our GroupSync hotel sourcing solution: Instant Booking. And while you are likely familiar with traditional solutions for direct booking or RFPs, we designed our product to be so much more than that. But before we dive into Instant Booking further, let’s do a quick recap of the more common terminology for group booking processes and their differences.

RFP vs. Direct booking vs. Instant Booking

The RFP

In the group travel business, there’s a decades-long practice of sending a Request for Proposal (RFP) to all the hotels a planner thinks might be a good fit to host their meeting, event, or overnight group stay. They do this, however, without any visibility into room rates or availability at these properties. The planner has no way to know if a hotel falls within budget, or if it has rooms or space to accommodate their group until a response to the RFP is received from the hotel.

Depending on the complexity of the request, this can create a long waiting and proposal process where event organizers find themselves in limbo before knowing which hotels may be able to accommodate their needs. This process becomes even more frustrating when the request is for a simpler, less-complex room block or meeting space booking.

Hoteliers, for their part, receive hundreds (if not thousands) of RFPs every month. They must dedicate resources to reviewing and processing these requests, sifting through the opportunities that fit their property’s inventory, availability, and align with the planners needs from a rate, amenities, and service offering perspective. Unfortunately, the majority of RFPs hoteliers receive do not fit — but they still have to be processed regardless. To Groups360, this felt like a process ready for improvement.

Direct Booking

“Direct booking” describes any room reservation that was made in one instant, online transaction — no RFP waiting period necessary. Direct booking has long been the practice for transient business and when individual group travelers reserve their own rooms. But when it comes to directly booking groups (which hoteliers typically define as a reservation of nine hotel rooms or more), it’s been a challenge to create the same efficiency and move away from the RFP process.

That’s partially because RFPs do have their time and place. While meetings of all size require at least some planning, there is a difference in planning a three-day corporate offsite that requires a dozen sleeping rooms, a meeting room and some snacks, vs. flying 6,000 people to Las Vegas for a week of networking, entertainment and speaking engagements in multiple ballrooms. Those larger events will continue to rely on the RFP process due to the sheer complexity and scale. But until now, planners were spending the same amount of time — an average of 75 days — to source and book both large and small group events.

Instant Booking

Which leads us back to why we created Instant Booking. Instant Booking is the industry’s first ever direct booking option at scale for groups — meaning event organizers can book both hotel room blocks and meeting space in one instant, online transaction. It’s exclusive to our GroupSync sourcing solution, and after spending years helping to develop the feature, I can point to many legitimate reasons why it’s taken hoteliers and planners decades to figure this out. But there were a couple pain points that created our biggest hurdles:

    1. It takes serious industry knowledge, connections and incentives to get the biggest hotel brands on board with changing industry norms. Groups360 was founded by hotel veterans, and our investors include the biggest brand names in hospitality. But it took the combination of all the above, plus an incredible time investment, to bring hospitality’s big players together and agree to make such a deep, permanent change in the way business is done.
    2. We had to find a way to make it work without paid placements in our search results. Kemp Gallineau, Groups360’s CEO and co-founder, was adamant about creating a transparent search platform that avoided pay-for-play placements. Many of the legacy sourcing systems that planners and hoteliers have used until now turn out search results that aren’t based on an event planner’s preferences, but rather, based on properties that have paid to show up in a similar search. Imagine how frustrating it would be if, every time you searched on Google, you had to sift through pages of paid ads that were completely irrelevant to your needs? We’re proud to have created a sourcing solution that generates the most relevant, specific options for organizers as they’re planning their event.

 

What group travel planners can gain from Instant Booking:

The game-changing new ability to instantly secure a room block reservation and the meeting space that they need in one single online transaction.

  • Without GroupSync Instant Booking, planners that need to book more than nine hotel rooms must go through multiple transactions, plus weeks or even months of waiting and back-and-forth with hotels relying on legacy RFPs before booking.

Get smaller meetings off their plate so they can invest more time planning large-scale events.

  • The back-and-forth of the traditional RFP process is too much overhead for smaller, simpler events. We save RFPs for larger more complex meetings that require a lot of collaboration and coordination and make it easy to get the small stuff completed quickly.

Access to an unprecedented level of visibility into hotel inventory and real-time pricing data.

  • Before GroupSync, planners tell us they tend to book with the hotels that they know about already. But our marketplace gives you information about destinations or cities that you might not have considered before, with search results delivered via our unbiased scoring algorithm based on the planner’s needs and priorities. And here’s the bonus: this level of visibility into real-time rates and availability also helps planners send a better, more qualified RFP should they choose to do so. By having the information and search results focus on those hotels that are within budget and have availability, we are creating a more efficient marketplace.

 

What hoteliers gain from Instant Booking:

An automated source of group business, lifting some of the burden to review RFPs so that hotel sales teams with limited bandwidth can focus on booking better-fit, more profitable events.

  • “Lead spam,” or RFP spam, is a real thing for most hotel sales managers. Instant Booking streamlines and automates booking for smaller group business so that there is more time to dedicate toward building planner relationships and ensuring large events run smoothly.

A higher volume of group business that’s streamlined and fills key need dates for a property.

  • With smaller teams on hotel staff and hundreds or thousands of RFPs coming in every month, there’s simply not enough time to address all the requests that hotels receive. This leads to dissatisfaction and poor customer service among one of the most vital customer types — meeting planners. Instant Booking enables a planner to book without having to engage directly with hotel staff, filling up group inventory fast and more efficiently, creating time for hotel sales to focus on providing great service to their clients.

 

It’s all about transparency

For more than 50 years, the older RFP process has been the standard operating model for organizing group meetings and events. It’s created a huge imbalance of information that gives hoteliers leverage over event organizers — but we’re trying to show that transparency actually creates a higher quality experience for the planner, the hotel, and at the end of the day, for the ultimate consumer: the attendee.