Direct booking for groups requires real-time inventory and trust in the right technology to serve both planners and suppliers
The current industry standard for booking hotel rooms and conference space is like a canyon, with meeting planners and hotel inventory separated by a massive chasm — a lack of trust and transparency filling the void between.
Now, imagine a bridge linking each side of the canyon, making the booking of rooms and space a direct and trustworthy process. That’s what direct booking technology for groups has to accomplish.
The advent of direct booking
Restaurants hit a new stride when online booking became easily accessible. With apps like OpenTable, managers could fill tables by allowing guests to fill out reservations online. Phone reservations, restaurant flow and wait times harmonized, improving guest experiences as well as restaurant income, rating and reviews.
Soon, technology emerged that allowed companies and planners to book event space at these restaurants, as well as office spaces and meeting space in other venues. But renting a vacant space does not amount to booking a meeting. Booking space doesn’t automatically orchestrate a catered lunch, presentation tech, guest amenities and other ancillary services.
The standard for booking a meeting depends on the planner’s ability to book these other aspects of the event at the same time, whether they choose to do so or not. A booked meeting room is a blank canvas. Until you paint in the necessary event details, you don’t have a full picture.
The importance of rooms plus space
Hotels need to sell guest rooms alongside their meeting space in order to earn adequate revenue. Groups can’t be “space hogs” without also spending on sleeping rooms, catering and other hotel services.
While online travel agencies (OTAs) helped sell guest rooms, up to nine rooms at a time, there has lacked a way to do both — sell group guest rooms in bulk and meeting space — online, directly to event planners and group organizers. Online group booking doesn’t work when the event professional can book one half the equation online but still has to submit an RFP for the other half.
Who is going to complete one half of the process online and then call the hotel for the other half? No one. The planner will simply call the hotel for both. (The exception to this rule are hotels that don’t have meeting space for sale. An online group booking tool would still be valuable for properties that want to offer inventory in excess of nine rooms at a time, the booking limit currently in place with OTAs.)
What the hospitality industry needs is a solution that bridges this divide and brings these aspects of group booking together on one online platform.
A single guest can use OTAs to plan their entire vacation, and patrons can go online to set a dinner date. And planners should be able to organize gatherings and conferences in the same way, all in one place, entirely online, with group rates, meeting space or both, as well as catering and amenities, at their fingertips.
Changing industry behaviors
The adoption of direct group booking will require an adjustment in industry behaviors for both planners and venues. Any time an industry has shifted sales from in store or over the phone to an online transaction has required nurturing consumer behavior to adopt the different medium.
When OTAs first came on the scene, the booking process wasn’t so automatic — hotels didn’t even know they had sold a room. They received faxes or other manual notifications of bookings, which then had to be inputted into their system.
In early 2000, when I was general manager of the Gaylord Palms in Kissimmee, Florida, our staff had to check the fax machine every morning for bookings and make sure they were manually entered into the reservation system, while figuring out which OTA the guest had used. It didn’t matter if the booking wasn’t communicated to us or if the OTA had sold a room type that wasn’t available — when that guest showed up, we’d be the ones who looked bad if their booking was missing or incorrect.
Given that booking a meeting online is still in the nascent stages, some planners may be reluctant to change their previous processes and workflow, even if the new way turns out to be simpler and more efficient.
Most important, planners have to trust that the technology will deliver on what it promises. They have to have confidence that the online group booking is connected to and integrated with the hotel’s sales and catering system. They also have to have confidence that the transaction will be easy.
To meet planners’ needs, suppliers have to provide better information and more transparency so that the end user will trust the online technology and have confidence that their transaction will be completed accurately.
The hospitality industry has come a long way in the past 20 years, and direct booking for groups is a highly anticipated development for our tech stack. It’s time for the hospitality industry to embrace building connections, trust and easier transactions between buyer and seller.
Originally published on Hospitality Net.