The digitization of group business 

With rising demand for group meetings and digitization touching every aspect of hotel bookings in the past two years, hoteliers and meeting planners alike want a seamless, automated process where bookings can be made online.

As a result, hotels and service providers have been rolling out technological innovations which allow planners to instantly and seamlessly book meeting spaces and associated guest rooms, often replacing the lengthy RFP process in many instances.

Stockholm, Sweden-based Scandic Hotels Group, in cooperation with Finnish hospitality SaaS company MeetingPackage, launched a fully digital booking service for meetings and conferences for up to 30 attendees on its own website. The feature, which was launched late last year, includes all of the hospitality company’s 195 hotels that offer meeting and conference facilities in the Nordic region, Poland and Germany.

“We’re seeing greater demand for digital self-service solutions in our Nordic markets, which is why we’re introducing a digital booking service for smaller meetings on short notice,” said Scandic Chief Commercial Officer Anna Spjuth. “This is a much-anticipated feature for anyone who wants to schedule and hold meetings on short notice, regardless of where they are in the Nordic region.”

The digital booking feature gives an overview of all Scandic hotels with meeting facilities, offering event organizers the ability to choose the hotel and number of attendees along with the duration of the event, from two hours to half or a full day. The service has been integrated as an organic part of Scandic’s website, with both booking and payment managed in Scandic’s regular booking system.

Last year, Accor partnered with Groups360, the online marketplace for meetings, for the global launch GroupSync, Groups360’s cloud-based tech solution for meetings and events, instant online group bookings, a simplified RFP process and housing solutions across Accor’s portfolio.

GroupSync gives hoteliers the flexibility of direct integration into their business systems or by uploading hotel room rates and inventory data into a secure portal. Either way, event organizers can access a comprehensive, group-focused marketplace, said Groups360 CEO Kemp Gallineau.

“Hoteliers boost productivity by adding an always-available (24x7x365) sales channel and prioritization — allowing sales leaders to focus their time on larger, more complex sales opportunities,” Gallineau said. “Event organizer benefits include information transparency, convenience and time savings. Since GroupSync has no paid placements for hotels, buying options are based solely on the organizer’s preferences and the group’s requirements. Convenience is enhanced since group rates and availabilities are visible before generating an RFP or making an instant book purchase.”

Designing such an efficient technological feature, however, has been challenging, Gallineau said.

“The three biggest challenges were completing complex integrations with hotel business systems that may vary by region or chain, overcoming COVID-related disruptions experienced by the hospitality and meetings and events industry and modifying human behavior to make large, complex purchases online,” he added.

Most of Hilton’s hotels also use Groups360 as a direct solution for group room blocks. GroupSync gives organizers a view into real-time inventory availability and group room rates, simplifying the experience for two-thirds of the RFPs seeking basic information for event planning.

Accor’s properties, which offer the instant online booking solution on Groups360 to over 5,200 properties globally, are also showcased in the GroupSync Marketplace to streamline digital RFPs and instant group bookings.

At present, Groups360 has 200,000 group-capable hotels within GroupSync Marketplace available for event organizers to book. There are almost 8,000 properties offering instant booking on GroupSync Marketplace with brands like Accor, Hilton, IHG, Marriott, Omni, and Premier Inn using the tool to make online bookings for group rooms, meeting space, or both.

“We expect 25,000 properties to be fully functional during the first quarter of 2023,” Gallineau added.

Earlier this year, Groups360 raised US$35 million in fresh funding. In 2019, the platform raised US$50 million from Accor, Hilton, Marriott International and IHG.

Amadeus Hospitality, the New Hampshire-based provider of technology solutions for the hospitality industry, along with Cvent, the event marketing and management platform, established Cvent Instant Book, which allows planners to book small meetings directly from the Cvent platform.

“The three biggest challenges were completing complex integrations with hotel business systems that may vary by region or chain, overcoming COVID-related disruptions experienced by the hospitality and meetings and events industry and modifying human behavior to make large, complex purchases online.” – Kemp Gallineau

Cvent Instant Book gives direct access to a global database of hotel meeting spaces to source and instantly book small or simple events, better comply with corporate policies and enhanced visibility into small meetings spend with a clear audit trail and better efficiency and revenue opportunities.

In September, Sonesta announced small group meetings can be booked online entirely through Cvent’s Instant Book. While initially half of Sonesta’s managed properties can be accessed on the platform, the rest of the managed properties will offer the functionality by the end of 2022. Users can view and book meeting spaces, select meeting room set-ups and review available options. Bookings will be handled through a single, online, all-inclusive contract.

Besides booking meeting space, organizers can also book guest rooms from these booking platforms.

Omni Hotels was GroupSync’s first customer to offer both group guest rooms as well as meeting spaces in a single transaction, Gallineau said. Hilton and IHG are already offering group rooms for instant booking in GroupSync. Hilton will add meeting space to their offerings in the first quarter of 2023.

“Additionally, Accor and Marriott International will launch instant booking for both rooms and space on GroupSync in the first quarter 2023,” he added.