Technology

AI-Powered Venue Booking Is Here


Computer keyboard with one key labeled AI with a blue neon light

Skift Take

AI-powered startup Nowadays features a virtual assistant that can communicate, negotiate and book event venues, all via email. 

AI startup Nowadays promises to take the hassle out of booking event venues. The company boasts a sourcing engine featuring more than 300,00 venues, with an AI virtual assistant – called Ina – taking on the bulk of the work.

Nowadays is a startup founded by two siblings. In an interview with Skift Meetings, co-founder Amy Yan provided insights into its operations, challenges, and future plans.

The Company

Nowadays was created to address the inefficiencies in event planning. The founders, both with technical expertise, were inspired by their college experiences as class presidents. They manually managed various event planning tasks, highlighting the need for a more efficient system. 

Since its inception, Nowadays has completed a Y Combinator (Summer 23) cohort, raised seed funding, and scaled its team to six, including an intern. It currently serves 33 corporate customers and handles events ranging from intimate executive dinners in New York to hotel buyouts in Thailand for 200 people.

“We have 33 corporate customers, and many of them have monthly or quarterly events, resulting in a lot of repeat business,” said Yan.

The Platform

The starting point is similar to many other venue-sourcing platforms. Users start by logging into the platform and filling out an event intake form. This form includes details such as budget, number of attendees, and location preferences.

Nowadays’ Event Intake Form (Source: Nowadays)

The platform then taps into its global database, including hotels, event spaces, private dining spaces, and unconventional venues. The system’s user interface feels like a dating app, which is refreshing and easy to understand. The AI is also trained to warn users of potential challenges in terms of destinations, such as weather issues or a large event causing the prices to spike.

Venue selection (Source: Nowadays)

Once the user selects which properties to get a proposal from, Ina (the AI virtual assistant) takes over. It sends the requests for proposals (RFPs) and then collects and collates responses, extracting and standardizing quote details.

Sample Quote in Nowadays (Source: Nowadays)

Ina has been trained to ask for certain concessions, so it also negotiates with venues, at least partially.

While RFPs can easily be standardized, pricing often is not. The parsing of email communication into standardized and normalized comparison tables is an impressive and innovative use of AI. The platform allows users to see all the emails exchanged and the original RFPs. 

Venue and hotel managers may not be aware of Ina’s digital self, but responding to automated RFPs is standard for most hotel and venue sales staff. The human team at Nowadays monitors Ida’s communications and can jump in if needed.

Once clients select the venue, they can make payments directly on the platform. Nowadays is IATA accredited, and collects a standard 7-10% commission on bookings and a 5% service charge to clients. According to Yan, the company only takes a commission when it does not affect the client rate. The commission is fully disclosed in the client invoice.

AI’s Potential and Limitations

AI did not build the platform’s extensive database from scratch. For this, Nowadays relied on partnerships with event agencies and CVBs. Regardless, with the AI continuously organizing and updating this data, Yan is confident this ensures high accuracy. The partner agencies also use a white-labeled version of Nowadays, contributing to the database’s maintenance.

While the list of 300,000 venues featured is impressive — Cvent’s Supplier Network boasts the same number — it’s the use of AI to interact with venues via email that is most impressive. This means the platform’s value to planners is not solely reliant on the size of the venue database. The AI also helps maintain the venue database, again via email interactions. It asks convention and visitors bureaus (CVBs) and venues for other suggestions when they do not have capacity. It then continues the email chain to gather contact information and venue specifications.

Handling large and complex events presents specific challenges. The platform can manage events like conferences with multiple breakout rooms, as they are normally all booked through the venue. It’s only non-standard vendor requests that pose difficulties. Specific entertainment or rentals from non-standard providers, such as live painters or classic car rentals, are not set up as standard as hotels and venues, making it harder for the AI to train.

“We’ve encountered challenges with non-standard requests because these vendors often don’t have formal processes,” said Yan.

Who Is the Platform For?

The primary client profile is executive assistants and chiefs of staff who are not full-time event planners. This demographic often handles event planning tasks on top of their regular duties. Yan says clients appreciate the platform’s transparency and efficiency. They also appreciate detailed cost breakdowns and a single-link payment process.

“Our main users are not full-time event planners. They’re often executive assistants or chiefs of staff who have to juggle multiple responsibilities,” said Yan.

Future Plans

Beyond venue booking, Nowadays already offers “flight sizing,” which gives clients an estimate of the total cost of running an event at different locations, including flights, accommodation and food and beverage. Clients can then track that against actual costs.

The company is developing sustainability features for its “flight sizing” feature, which will allow for CO2 emission calculations for different event locations. Additionally, the platform plans to expand its vendor database and further automate the event planning process to enhance its value proposition.

Nowadays fits into a broader trend of organizations using AI tools to gain efficiency. As AI technology advances, tools like Nowadays could attract businesses seeking to optimize operations and reduce logistical burdens. With the ability to automate and streamline the booking of event venues, the platform makes a valid use case, at least for simple event venue bookings.