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Ta-da! Meeting Planning in a Flash

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October 01, 2008
Meeting | Technology
Jennifer Jones - jjones@rockitgroup.com

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© 2008 Hospitality Upgrade. No reproduction without written permission.

These days you can purchase just about anything on the Internet—hotel rooms, airfare and rental cars—to make your business travel almost complete.  But what about booking a meeting?  Meeting planners are driving the demand for a more streamlined process with quicker response times for booking everything from the meeting room and audio visual to catering.

Meanwhile, hotels are looking for a way to lower the cost of distribution and phase out the time-consuming request for proposal (RFP) process.  For planners and corporations that book recurring meetings, it’s a lengthy process to continuously send out RFPs.  A solution where one can search, compare and book online in real time would be a welcome change. 

Today’s tech-savvy meeting planners feel that they deserve instantaneous results about the criteria they use to select a venue.  Planners want to search for available meeting space as well as cross reference available guestroom space if needed.  For simple meetings, generally defined as meetings for under 100 attendees, products like Worktopia’s Universal Meeting Solution (UMS) help enable the online marketplace and focuses on these smaller groups. Planners log on, enter the date, location and host information plus meeting details. Adding ancillary items such as audio visual, catering and room setups are simple clicks of a mouse. The results are instantaneous.  This simple, online workflow allows the process to become manageable, trackable and auditable, and a company can easily measure how much they are spending on simple meetings.  There are tools that can also be used for attendee management and expense reporting, concluding the ultimate one-stop-shop meeting experience.

For companies with existing contracts with hotels, companies can designate rates, properties and other travel-related corporate guidelines.  Having terms and conditions already loaded within the search engine allows for less re-entry and more time booking.

To get started, hotels pay a one-time activation fee and then begin by loading location details themselves.  A group rate code can be loaded into the GDS for guestrooms and there are several revenue management rules that can be applied, such as only offering space as far out as 30, 60 or 90 days or setting a meeting space to guestroom ratio. Hotels don’t pay a monthly subscription fee for the service, instead it is a commission-based system for any space sold.  If the hotel doesn’t sell anything, there’s no fee.

One example is Newmarket International’s Web-based lead management application, MeetingBroker, that has partnered with companies like Worktopia to increase a hotel’s visibility of available space via several distribution channels.  MeetingBroker manages incoming leads from multiple channels and distributes automatically throughout the hotel’s sales team. 

As the manual process of e-mail, faxes and phone calls between meeting planners searching for space and bidding hotels is becoming outdated, the online RFP process has become the wave of the future.  Streamlining the RFP to an electronic process allows it to be tracked, and most importantly, can increase response times.  With online RFPs implemented, planners expect answers in hours, not days. Studies have shown that 85 percent of those who respond first to RFPs win the business.  When using MeetingBroker, if incoming leads are not responded to in a designated amount of time, they are escalated using property-defined business rules.

Hotels can make themselves visible on several of the channels that planners use simply by joining.  Many require little or no fee to join, like Starcite or Cvent, while premium placement within their supplier network will assess a fee.  Planners use these engines to setup details of their RFPs, while behind the scenes, MeetingBroker transports the data directly to the hotels and notifies the assigned sales manager. 

Used as a standalone application in a sales office, or integrated with Newmarket’s Delphi Sales and Catering software, with MeetingBroker the incoming lead creates an account, contact and prospect booking.  The sales manager can then check availability and respond, transporting the response back through MeetingBroker to the planner.  The process makes managing and tracking leads easier, more efficient and requires no dual entry.

In the day where Blackberry use and e-mail are the preferred methods of communication, and where people demand answers faster than ever, it is evident that the online revolution of booking meeting space isn’t a luxury, but a necessity.  Hotels need to be smart on how to market themselves better and surpass the competition.  Offering their product on several distribution channels, whether it be to offer last minute availability of space for simple meetings or getting location details loaded to position themselves better in front of planners, is a priority.  The technology options out there, such as Worktopia and MeetingBroker, among others, will allow hotels to increase revenues, control costs and streamline the entire workflow from a completely manual process to an expected automated process.

Jennifer Jones is a project manager at the RockIT Group. She can be reached for comment at jjones@rockitgroup.com.


For hotels that also focus on the social side of group business, booking a wedding reception has just gotten easier. Newmarket International announced its partnership with a new channel, The Knot Inc., an online planning site for brides to be.  Couples can plan every detail of their weddings without leaving their laptops.  Brides to be can enter the details that they are looking for when selecting their venue for the big day on The Knot, and available venue matches are instantly returned.  Location details can be researched online, finalists can be selected, and with hotels using MeetingBroker, will notify the property in seconds.  Busy couples can book their entire weddings without visiting a fax machine or picking up the telephone to talk to a sales person.

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