Event Management

Attention Meeting Planners: Instant Booking Is Finally Here

A meeting planner sits in front of a computer to arrange a group booking through an online, instant booking platform.

Skift Take

Most industry players still insist that business meetings are too complex for instant booking to be a realistic option. Thanks to platforms like Groups360 working together with major hotel brands, those old assumptions are quickly becoming outdated. Instant booking and streamlined RFPs are finally here, and the tools are only going to get better. Find out what’s possible today, and what’s coming soon.

With many meeting planners and event organizers doubling up their bookings to compensate for postponed events from 2021 (and even 2020), it’s getting harder and harder to find hotel rooms and meeting spaces for groups both large and small. Never has there been greater need for an instant booking system designed for the B2B and corporate sectors.

Conventional wisdom has long dictated that the meeting booking process is too complicated to allow any kind of instant, online booking system to be much help. In reality, the real sticking point was a matter of hotel reluctance. Most hotel brands have traditionally been guarded about sharing their group booking rates on public platforms. Now, with client convenience now driving the agenda, this paradigm is shifting. More and more top hoteliers are embracing a new marketplace philosophy and partnering with instant booking platforms like GroupSync, powered by Groups360.

The New Marketplace Philosophy for Meeting Bookings

Ryan Morris, vice president of Americas sales for Groups360, said that the company conducted thorough market research back in 2020. During over 30,000 direct calls with planners, the same request kept surfacing: “Can we just get the information upfront?”

Meeting professionals are tired of sending out RFPs just to find out that a hotel’s rates are out of budget, or their event’s dates are already booked. More and more hotels, too, are realizing the advantages of a system that helps planners to find the right fit: RFPs that go nowhere are a waste of everyone’s time.

Instead, planners are looking for the clickable convenience of Amazon — not to order groceries or binge-watch box sets, but to browse and instantly book rooms that meet their event needs.

With more and more companies signing onto this new way of doing business, Groups360 now offers a portfolio of 200,000 hotels worldwide — all discoverable using advanced search criteria and capable of receiving RFPs. Over 7,000 are even available for instant booking, and that number will soon reach 25,000.

It’s now easier than ever to shop around for exactly the right venue, with exactly the right price point, on the dates that you need.

The Fastest Way to Bring Remote Teams Together

It’s a scenario that’s becoming increasingly common: A planner is charged with figuring out how to bring together a group of employees spread out across a wide geographic area.

With more and more companies embracing a remote work culture, the logistics of planning corporate retreats have become that much more challenging. It’s at times like these that advanced search criteria can be crucial for finding the right venue.

With Groups360’s online booking system, planners can set criteria to include specific locations or landmarks within a destination — for example, they can set a preference for hotels near office headquarters. You can also filter the results according to the availability of direct flights from any number of departure airports, so if you have employees flying in from Dallas, Seattle, and San Francisco, everyone is catered for.

The platform’s flexibility also means you can browse room availability by category and compare rates. Say you have 20 employees coming from out of town, two of whom are bringing spouses. By customizing your search criteria, you can book two king and 18 double rooms with ease.

An End to Tedious Email Requests

Meeting planning professionals are only too familiar with the painful process of long email chains when it comes to drilling down into the content they need to host their event. Whether it’s the resort taxes and fees, available banquet menus or detailed floor plans, getting this key information normally necessitates reaching out to a hotel — or multiple hotels — directly.

Groups360’s instant booking platform signals an end to this tedious back and forth, putting the power directly at planners’ fingertips, particularly for smaller meetings and groups. You can instantly see what meeting space is available, including the square footage and capacity for different seating configurations. Will some attendees be driving in for the day, while others will be staying overnight? You can set different numbers for your daytime and overnight guests within the same search.

Planners also have the option to set additional audiovisual needs and see available catering options — even going as far as browsing individual hotel menus and requesting dietary requirements.

Instant booking is already available for Hilton rooms and some Omni hotels, with Omni Frisco becoming the first hotel on the platform to offer it for both rooms and meeting spaces. Over 25,000 hotels will be live with instant booking by the end of the year — and in the interim, planners can send automated RFPs to the full portfolio of over 200,000 hotels. Because the platform is so efficient at matching planners with the right venues, these qualified leads have a conversion rate of over 20 percent.

If the last few years have taught us anything, it’s that sometimes the unexpected happens and plans are forced to change. For this reason, it’s vital to understand attrition and cancellation policies in advance of booking a venue. On Groups360’s platform, planners are given an opportunity to review the hotel’s contract details before submitting any payment, with little to no deposit charged at the time of booking.

Find the Best Choice From a Wide Pool of Options

Advanced search criteria isn’t just useful for planners who have very specific needs in mind. In fact, it can be just as helpful for narrowing down a surplus of options.

Increasingly, planners are finding that the best venues at their top destinations are already fully booked during the desired dates. Others might have two to three top choices in foreign countries, but have a new directive to keep corporate retreats domestic to avoid the hurdles that have become part and parcel of international travel.

What if you have a clear set of expectations for the type of event you want to book, but you’re just not sure where to host it? Ideally, your booking solution should be able to recommend destinations that fit your criteria.

AI-Powered Destination Recommendations

Groups360’s platform uses AI to score locations based on your specific meeting needs. Beyond essential factors like the number of rooms, dates, meeting capacity, and target rates, planners can also enter criteria such as outdoor temperature, the proximity to the airport, amenities such as a pool or fitness center, preferred brands, and incentives on offer during the specified dates. You can even rank these different criteria in terms of importance to find the overall best fit, either for a chosen destination or in the U.S. as a whole — or even across the globe.

All the Details Upfront

The results will show you the number of hotels that match your criteria in each destination, as well as a preview of those that are available for instant booking. By clicking on individual hotels, you can view extensive information about everything from restaurant menus to available meeting spaces.

Space Calculator for Every Room Configuration

If you’re not sure how much meeting space you might need, you can input the number of attendees, seating arrangements, and whether or not social distancing is required, and the platform will calculate how much space you need and filter the results accordingly.

Price Comparisons

Finally, if you want to prove to your CFO that the hotel you’ve selected is in line with average prices, you can click on the destination thumbnail to learn more about average occupancy rates for the time of year and the average room cost in each destination. If you’re open to alternative dates, the graph format provides a snapshot of how these numbers fluctuate across the year.

According to Morris, “Around 60 percent of planners end up going with recommended destinations instead of those they have selected themselves.” And for event planners looking to not only meet their existing requirements, but level up their game and discover new, fit-for-purpose destinations, this ability to serve up a welcome surprise is an added bonus of the platform.

This content was created collaboratively by Groups360 and SkiftX, Skift Meetings’ branded content studio.