Online booking of group travel is a “tough, tough space to navigate,” but a group of entrepreneurs believes they have cracked the code.
Led by CEO Charles de Gaspe Beaubien and backed by several well-known travel technology players, the team has launched Groupize.com in beta.
The initial launch is a consumer site, targeting groups of five to 25 rooms, primarily in the SMERF market: social, military, educational, religious and fraternal.
Agent site planned
But Groupize plans to add a travel agency component in a couple of months, and it would enable agents to earn commissions, de Gaspe Beaubien told Travel Market Report.
The CEO said he has a good grasp of the frustrations endured by travel agents and meeting planners in booking groups.
“I come from the travel agency world,” he said. “I started out as manager of the customized group department for Yankee Holidays.” He then became vice president of product and operations for one of the world’s largest group travel companies, Group Voyagers, whose brands include Globus, Cosmos and Monograms.
De Gaspe Beubien said he is well aware of the history of attempts to build group booking sites.
They include Groople, founded in 2004 and acquired by Short's Travel Management in 2008, which used its technology to serve its sports division. About a year ago, Short’s sold Groople to Lexyl Travel Technologies, which operates another sports travel site called HotelPlanner.com.
Another was Group Travel Planet, which was founded in 2000 and filed a voluntary Chapter 7 liquidation petition in 2009. Other smaller and localized companies also have faded into oblivion.
Lessons from the past
De Gaspe Beaubien said he and his team have studied the methods of the pioneers in the field and have learned from their mistakes.
“You need to understand all the moving parts: people, social, web and hotels, and how it all comes together.”
For example, “some tried to connect with the GDSs. You’re not going to create a flexible system that way,” he said. Instead, Groupize is connecting directly with hotels’ central reservations systems.
Groupize also is attempting to bring sanity to the rooms-allocation process by enabling the planner to hold as many rooms as necessary. The planner then invites group members to claim their rooms, booking singles, doubles or triples as they wish.
The planner can release unclaimed rooms before the cancellation deadline with no risk. Planners also can add rooms later.
Social media a plus
One disadvantage that affected earlier attempts at group sites was that social media didn’t exist then – “so they tried to invent it,” de Gaspe Beaubien said. Social media makes the sharing of information among group members much easier than it used to be.
Groupize’s advisors include Gregg Brockway, founder of Hotwire, which he sold to Expedia, and of TripIt, which he sold to Concur; Chad Pytel, founder of thoughtbot, a software development firm, and Fred Bean, a hotel distribution specialist and founder of Rebel Travel, a digital marketing and travel solutions company.