Planning an event for 50 people or fewer? You may be able to skip the RFP. A smorgasbord of vendors is now making it possible to DIY the booking process Expedia-style. Each one offers different formats, inventories and support, but all are finding an eager market for planning how—and when—it is convenient for them. After all, these systems are open 24-hours a day and never take a lunch hour. Following are some of the options.
American Express Meetings and Events, a division of American Express Global Business Travel, is rolling out an online platform that will allow those with simple meetings to line up everything from meeting space to sleeping rooms, instantly. Linda McNairy, vice president of global operations and shared services for American Express Meetings and Events, explains that visitors can choose from thousands of venues in North America, across Europe and Australia. They can also “request to book” (this gives the property time to confirm dates) or submit an RFP to multiple properties. In some instances, planners can even order coffee, tea and meals through the self-serve window before confirming.
Companies can place budget or attendee parameters and approval process steps around the service, similar to travel and expense platforms.
“The RFP is just friction,” said Brian King, global officer of digital, distribution, revenue management and global sales for Marriott International. For small gatherings of 10-25 rooms, one-button meetings is the future, he said.
Planners can already access Marriott’s Quick Group page, pick a type of travel, search for properties, select an AV package, order breakfast and lunch options, and check availability whenever it is convenient for them. “It saves time for planners,” King says.
Lots of people are taking him up on it. “We already see self-service growing on our site exponentially,” he said. “Many of these are non-professional planners who are booking club meetings and group outings online in their spare time. They just want it to be easy,” he said.
“That will grow as technology grows,” he predicted.
Professional Planners Still a Priority
The idea of Expedia-style meeting booking concerns many in the events world who say there are too many moving parts. When asked about the possibility of meeting procurement going the way of the cruise booking, Jamie Murdock, vice president of sales for Experient, said he would have made that prediction years ago, but finds planners still rely on relationships and negotiations because there are a lot of moving parts.
The Venetian Resort
Another entry into the property-driven booking space is Venetian Meetings Virtual Planner, a tool designed specifically for MICE professionals. This unique application allows prospective customers the ability to customize and research venues prior to contacting a representative at the resort. Planners can design a configuration on the site in two and three dimensions and attach the customized layout to the automated RFP.
“This new tool encourages them to think differently when planning their meeting and allows us to showcase the resort’s offerings by helping professionals visualize the spaces and their configurations,” said Chandra Allison, senior vice president of sales at The Venetian Resort Las Vegas.
Everything from Carnegie Institution for Science in Washington, D.C. to InterContinental Montreal is at your service at the click of a button through SocialTables (which was recently acquired by Cvent). Planners can see scaled diagrams, read reviews and compare properties using the venue search engine. Once in your cart, an online RFP process kicks in.
Parent company Cvent offers the daddy of all venue databases with 250,000 destinations available for browsing and a system for managing the proposal process. Both also offer resources for planners on best practices.
This Open Space
Looking for “one-of-a-kind” spaces? How about a 600-square-foot playground in Vancouver’s Chinatown? You can book it by the day, week or month with access to a support team and $2 million in liability coverage using This Open Space. The Canadian-based company that allows Airbnb-style bookings has entered the U.S. market and recently started promoting pop-up retail spaces.
BCD Meetings & Events
Simple Meetings is the online solution for small events that require space and hotel rooms around the world from full-service planning consultant BCD Meetings & Events. Bonus, it plays well with most travel and expense management systems.