Expedia has rolled out its white-label business events technology in Asia with Thailandâ€™s Minor Hotels Group as the first customer. But it remains to be seen if RFPs will be a thing of the past, as Expedia thinks they will be, with its business events online booking engine.
Meeting Market by Expedia automates the booking process for meeting organisers and hotels in real time. In the case of Anantara and Oaks hotels, planners visiting the two Minor brandsâ€™ websites when they go live with Expediaâ€™s booking engine this week can instantly check availability, pricing, configure their meeting room, group lodging, F&B, equipment, and book directly.
The hotels, on the other hand, can yield prices for meetings and groups, filling a gap in events space revenue management which still is a new discipline in the sector.
The automated process, as opposed to the current manual, and time-consuming back-and-forth between the planner and the hotelâ€™s business events sales manager, will free up time for the sales team to focus on the acquisition and personal care of their customers, Expedia said.
According to Tariq Janmohamed, Expediaâ€™s senior director – new businesses, the average response time for quotes has been reduced from five hours to 14 minutes, going by the experience of Best Western Central, the first global chain in Germany with more than 300 hotels to tie up with the technology last year.
â€śThe current process is manual, inefficient with static prices, no revenue management for meeting rooms, and no adjustments for seasonality. Throw in changing customer expectations â€“ their digital impatience â€“ and our research shows thereâ€™s a problem with the current process and just how big this industry is,â€ť he said, in a press briefing in Singapore on Monday.
Expedia is lusting after the prospect of 60 million events per annum globally worth US$400 billion.
â€śThe majority of meetings are small, i.e. less than 25 people, typically taking place in hotels. There has to be a better way to organise this,â€ť he added.
However, Tariq could not elaborate on other results achieved at Best Western Central, such as percentage increase in sales, whether bookers are end-users or consumers, or feedback on areas to be improved, saying these details were being compiled.
Expedia Lodging Partners Services’ spokesperson in Singapore said: â€śThe Best Western MICE solution went live in May this year. In these five months, working closely with Best Western, we were about to gather metrics for response time. This is why we do not yet have other metrics to share, given the recent launch.â€ť
Questions remain whether business event RFPs can really be automated, with hotel chains boasting they have dedicated sales persons to look after each enquiry, and to service the client from when they make an RFP to the end of, or even long after, the event.
Business event bookings, unlike rooms, are not commoditised and Tariq also had no answer to what happens when there are special requests, only saying that Expedia will keep enhancing the technology based on feedback from clients.
As well, Meeting Market by Expedia currently is unable to search by destination. Therefore, planners must know a specific hotel group, and its various brands and properties in its portfolio, in order to go to its website and make a booking.
- reporting from ITB Asia 2017