Event Management

Instant Booking Ushers in New Era of Transparency for Group Rates

An image of a meeting planner's hands typing on a keyboard, with the screen showing the registration page for GroupSync and Marriott's instant booking platform for meetings.

Skift Take

In today’s pressure-cooker environment, planners want the same immediacy and variety as in their online grocery shopping. GroupSync’s instant booking gives them the faster, smarter decision-making capabilities they crave.

Skift Meetings’ recent State of Business Events survey found that over 75 percent of event planners are now facing shorter lead times. At the same time, venue bookings are being snatched up quickly as the industry begins to return to 2019 levels — with small meetings even surpassing pre-pandemic numbers. All of these factors mean that planners have to jump on the best deals as quickly as possible, or risk being shut out entirely from their top choices.

In years past, meeting planners could rely on their network of contacts to scope out the best rates and strike a deal, but with so much industry turnover during the pandemic, those connections might have moved on. And neither planners nor hotels want to deal with a stack of rapid-fire RFPs sent high and low. Fortunately, instant booking platforms are emerging to help stop the gap and create a new culture of transparency around group rates.

The recent announcement of the launch of Marriott International’s U.S. and Canada properties on GroupSync Marketplace is a sign of what is soon to become the industry standard, with hotels allowing event professionals to browse real-time group rates and book group guest rooms, meeting space, food & beverage, and audio/visual services in a single transaction instantly, online. Marriott and Groups360 are celebrating the launch with a 1 million Bonvoy points giveaway.

Book Smarter, More Streamlined, and at Scale

Marriott International is the first brand to have a direct integration with GroupSync Marketplace to offer instant booking for both guest rooms and meeting space at scale. In a squeezed market where bookings are being snapped up at a record rate, the ability to browse over 1,500 Marriott properties across the United States and Canada provides some much-needed breathing space to meeting planners.

Instant Booking for Small Meetings

Planners have access to real-time best available group rates and inventory for small meetings at these properties, with more to be added in 2023. Marriott’s definition of a small meeting is 10 to 25 guest rooms on peak and/or events for up to 50 attendees, available to book as little as 4 days out and up to 1 year out with a maximum length of stay of 7 days. However, each brand or property may set their own on-peak maximums and booking windows, so these parameters may vary as more hotel groups sign onto the GroupSync platform.

Total Transparency for Group Rates

Importantly, planners are seeing exactly the same pricing that the hotel sales team would see on their internal systems. “Today, whether a customer tries to book a 10-25 room group on Marriott.com, GroupSync, or calls one of our hotels directly, they will receive the same rate,” says Drew Pinto, Global Officer Global Sales, Distribution and Revenue Management at Marriott International. “Keeping rates consistent across our direct channels is crucial to giving our customers confidence to use GroupSync Instant Booking.”

Faster RFP Responses

Marriott’s integration with GroupSync isn’t just about providing clarity over rates and the option to book small meetings instantly; it also speeds up the traditional RFP process on both ends. Because the system removes some manual entry steps on the hotel side, planners can expect a faster response. And while this automation might streamline the beginning of the process, planners can rest assured that their relationship with the brand remains intact. “Whether a customer submits an RFP through GroupSync or any of our direct sales channels, that customer and corresponding group rate will be negotiated based on the event details and relationship with Marriott,” Pinto says.

Established Client Relationships

Further, whether planners opt to book instantly or submit an RFP, the system will automatically apply any MSAs (master service agreements) that they’ve previously negotiated. By the same token, planners can expect all the same perks no matter which booking route they choose. “We make sure that all those special requirements that you have — the acknowledgement, the welcome gifts — that all still happens,” explains Pinto.

Saving Planners’ Most Valued Resource: Time

Meeting planners are working in a pressure-cooker environment as the demand for small meetings heats up. Thanks to the increase in hybrid and remote work, face-to-face time now comes at a premium. It’s in this new paradigm that GroupSync’s instant booking tools are emerging as a viable option — just in time.

The traditional sourcing process can be long and painful. Particularly when it comes to small, simple meetings, having to send an RFP and wait three days or more just to secure basic information about availability, specifications, and rates can be frustrating, especially when time is of the essence.

Instant Booking for Catering, AV, and Equipment

With GroupSync, planners can instantly book what and when they need to — including AV, catering, and any other equipment. “This deal marks a landmark for group booking,” says Kemp Gallineau, CEO of Groups360. “It’s the first time an actual planner or an organizer, whether professional or non-professional, can go onto a site and book rooms and space to include catering and equipment without having to send an RFP.”

Time to Focus on Creative Meeting Design

This streamlined booking process has the added benefit of freeing up time to spend on the more complex and creative elements of planning a meeting or event. And that means meeting professionals can focus more energy on designing the moments of connection that provide the most value to attendees. With small meetings now filling a vital role in fostering collaboration and energizing company culture, there has never been greater need for planners to think carefully about how to make the most of these high-value experiences.

Visibility Across Corporate Teams

The GroupSync system also creates more visibility across big corporations, which can create a company-wide account with individual account access, all of which is trackable. With more and more corporate departments organizing small meetings to bring remote teams together, this kind of visibility has never been more important.

Shaping the Future of Booking Meetings

The launch of instant group booking is timely, but it has been many years in the making. This long process is a reflection of just how much thought went into each element.

Having worked in hospitality for over 30 years, CEO Kemp Gallineau drew from his deep industry knowledge from the very earliest stages of product development. In fact, it was during his tenure as Chief Sales Officer for Gaylord Entertainment (now Ryman Hospitality) that he saw an opportunity for the group sales process to be made more efficient. Thus began many years of product development and hotel negotiations. In his words, Groups360 is an “overnight success, nine years in the making.”

Rather than reaching the finish line, however, the GroupSync platform is on the path to build further momentum. “It takes a while to make things happen, but we’re excited, and we truly believe this is the pinnacle of what’s possible in the years to come,” he says.

What’s Next

GroupSync is already in use and working effectively, but it also continues to evolve. Both Groups360 and Marriott are seeking to continually improve the system, and have put mechanisms in place to capture regular feedback. “As trust and confidence grows, much like you’ve seen in other online platforms, consumers get more comfortable with the transparency and the way it works,” says Gallineau. “What’s exciting is both Marriott and Groups 360 are going to learn from the consumer through the way we use it.”

For meeting planners, this marks a key time to shape the direction of a product that will soon be vital to their daily work. Customer success agents at Groups360 will be monitoring and polling meeting planners about their experience. Marriott similarly encourages customers to try it out and tell them what they liked, what they didn’t, and what could be improved. “We’re all about making their lives easier,” Pinto says. “We want attendees staying at our hotels to be able to take advantage of their own point plans and be treated to all their custom preferences and privileges.”

The next step is rapid expansion of the product. According to Gallineau, “Currently we have the ability to send RFPs to over 200,000 hotels worldwide. Over the next few months we expect to have somewhere in the neighborhood of 20,000 hotels, mainly in the United States and Canada, that will be able to have bookable online inventory — either booking group rooms, group space, or rooms and space together.”

A New Era for Meeting Planners

When people shop online, they expect to see prices and availability immediately for most things. Although booking group meetings online is more complex than buying a pair of shoes or sunglasses, planners still want to see enough variety to be able to compare options and make fast, confident decisions. GroupSync provides this immediacy and flexibility, meaning that soon meeting planners will be able to browse through venue options armed with the most vital information: pricing and availability.

In addition to Marriott International, the Hilton, IHG, and Omni hotel groups have already enabled instant booking of group guest rooms for over 8,000 properties worldwide. It will only be a matter of time before meeting space inventory becomes available for instant booking across the board.

In the current climate, it’s easy to see the appeal of a system that lets planners narrow down viable venues quickly. Thanks to a growing list of hotel partners signing up for full transparency, the GroupSync Marketplace is now able to streamline every stage of venue procurement, from initial research to final closing. So if an instant booking platform isn’t on a planner’s wishlist already, it should be.

Visit Groups360 now to request log-in credentials and begin accessing the GroupSync service free of charge.

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