Web-Channel Group Business Increases
428% in 2003
Giant Dolce International Leverages Internet Technology
to Automate, Boost Leads from Web
April 2004 - An industry-wide shift in the way meeting planners are buying group rooms and function space is reshaping how hotel companies are finding and booking business. Until recently most meeting planners tasked with analyzing prospective sites for corporate functions traveled between properties to visit sites, distribute RFPs and sign contracts. Three years of economic downturn put the brakes on corporate travel in 2000 but this year, when meeting planners forecast a four percent budget increase (MPI FutureWatch 2004 survey), the booking environment has changed. Face-to-face conference sales are fast being replaced by Internet-based decisions as meeting planners move their group business to the Internet.
Pulp and Paper Industry – a Leader in Internet Booking Trend
The change in how corporate meeting planners on the ‘buy-side’ are researching and booking large conference business gained momentum during the past three years when industry mainstays like IBM put stringent restrictions on employee travel and off-site functions, and downsized their conference planning teams. "The economy forced us to cut our conference planning staff by 50 percent since 2002, so we began outsourcing event bidding," said Edward Robie, Event Planning Manager for the Technical Association of Pulp and Paper Industry. Across the country short-staffed event planners caught in the same position are sharing booking responsibility with giant conference providers like Conferon and HelmsBriscoe who use Internet technology to distribute RFPs and automate group reservations. Other corporations continue to manage their conference planning in-house but are partnering with online group event specialists for greater efficiency. Additionally, some buying companies now regard off-site meetings as a procurement item requiring a number of standardized bids from prospective conference properties before they fund the activity, which is driving even more planners to online RFP distribution companies.
The overall effect from these changes is a massive migration of conference booking business to Internet channels. With 20 percent of meeting planners reporting they will increase their use of the Internet in 2004 (MPI FutureWatch 2004 survey), the move to Web-based conference-booking services is forecasted to increase. How the hospitality industry, on the ‘supply side,’ is addressing the growing Internet-based conference sale opportunity varies by hotel company.
StarCite, PlanSoft Give Planners Faster Response From Hotels
What planners report they want most from suppliers is faster response to their RFPs and other inquiries; for properties this means moving into the Internet event-planning environment as soon as possible. To facilitate hospitality’s new reliance on the Internet a handful of third-party business-to-business meeting planning sites like StarCite (www.starcite.com) and PlanSoft (www.plansoft.com), which gather planner event requirements from planners and forward them to properties, are supercharging the e-bidding process. They provide ‘buy-side’ tools that distributed over 40,000 unique RFPs to corporate hotels and conference centers in 2003.
"The number of inquiries and leads distributed from our sites has increased 428 percent in the last two years," said Robert Bennett, VP of Marketing Solutions for StarCite, whose technology is used by HelmsBriscoe. On the receiving end of this huge flow of RFP requests and lead inquiries many hotels are employing advanced Web-enabled applications like the Delphi sales and catering system from Newmarket International. Over 3,500 hotels, conference centers and convention visitor bureaus use Delphi to automate the group and conference sales process. Hotels and conference centers without Internet bidding-response applications are rapidly upgrading their sales technology to take part in the transformed group booking market.
Book More Business in A Changing Environment:
© Graphic by Newmarket International 2004
Dolce Shares Leads Property-to-Property Via StarCite, PlanSoft
For hotels and conference centers the change in the group event-booking environment is creating an opportunity to book more business at higher rates. Many are doing this by upgrading their sales systems with new tools that not only receive and respond to the Internet booking opportunity, but also network together groups of hotels. "Our group of 26 conference centers has seen a huge increase in the number of RFPs it receives from both StarCite and PlanSoft," said Nelson Garrido, Dolce International Corporate Director of Property IT. "To capture Internet leads across all our properties Dolce uses an application called NetXchange MeetingBroker that is integrated with our Delphi sales system, which links our hotel sales offices together to share leads." The advantages of automated online lead handling are better communications with planners, shorter contract cycles, and stronger rate negotiating tools. When properties are connected directly to Internet booking channels through sales applications, the hotel’s sales system acts as ‘glueware’ linking suppliers to, by some estimates, 300,000 hotel inquiries and 6,000 RFP requests monthly. This type of property automation is what planners are looking for to receive faster responses to inquiries. At the same time this technology is giving hotels a better chance of closing business by streamlining the bid qualification process.
Large buyers such as American Express, HelmsBriscoe and others, as well as supply-side hotel companies including Hilton, Starwood, Hyatt and Omni utilize private label online group-booking technology from online services vendors like StarCite. This is adding an even larger incentive for the adoption of automated Internet sales applications. Event planner travel costs are also being driven down thanks to the use of the new booking channels, and this is causing an even greater dependence on the Internet. The only downside to the Internet booking trend is that hotels not connected to this new source of business are being excluded from many deals.
Internet Group-Booking Shrinks Sales Cycle From 12 to 3 Months
Familiarity with Internet buying has resulted in greater confidence in online business-to-business transactions, and this is attracting increasing numbers of first-time group event shoppers to Internet channels. Web group-sales has become so widely accepted that PlanSoft alone runs 70 outward-facing convention booking sites for companies like Hilton, and Wyndham, and the segment is growing so fast that leisure booking companies like Expedia and hotels.com are beginning to take notice. As the move to online group-booking gains participants the result will be an even greater number of electronically circulated leads. PlanSoft president Edward Tromczynski reports that because of lead automation on both the planner and supplier sides the sales cycle for closing group business has shrunk from an average of 12 months to as low as three months. He also notes that hotel companies using online group-booking technology are in the best position to close Internet deals and close more business over the new generation of Internet group-booking sites.
About Newmarket International
Director of Marketing
Newmarket International Inc.