Online travel agencies and Web-based travel management companies are taking big steps into the meetings market in a bid to grab market share.
The recent launch of Orbitz for Business Meetings is the latest development in the OTA battle for the meetings market. It follows on the heels of Travelocity and Expedia, which both already had meetings-focused products.
“Moves like this by Orbitz and its counterparts solidify those brands within the traveler’s mind. It’s a way for Orbitz and the others to entrench themselves with their Fortune 1000 clients,” said Jan Freitag, senior vice president, global development, of research firm STR Global.
Meetings represent a tremendous opportunity for OTAs, said Susan Steinbrink, senior research and corporate market analyst for PhoCusWright. “Aside from potential money saving for corporations, it creates greater opportunity for OTAs to increase wallet share against their competitors.”
'Sweet spot for meetings'
Offering online meeting tools also helps OTAs target small to medium size companies, said Steinbrink, who called that market “the sweet spot for meetings.”
Spend consolidation, a consolidated reporting platform, and cost savings resulting from using the same platform for transient and meeting travel are among advantages promised by online travel agencies and travel management companies.
The new Orbitz product – Orbitz for Business Meetings – will be powered by StarCite, a meetings management company that offers Web-based tools, and delivered through the website of Orbitz for Business, the Orbitz corporate travel management arm.
The offering will allow Orbitz for Business customers to access thousands of potential venues, compare rates, send electronic RFPs and review project status using an integrated online booking process, according to Orbitz.
Reining in meetings
On the client side, corporate efforts to gain more control of spending on meetings is a key driver. Corporate procurement divisions are looking to OTAs to improve compliance with their rules and procedures, Freitag said.
Steinbrink predicted that “you are increasingly going to see this aggregated and consolidated approach to meetings and corporate transient travel.”
She noted that meetings has been an area of spend “that has fallen outside the high level of compliance achieved in transient travel. The technology has become innovative so they are now able to do that.”
Seeing the data
The reporting capability is another crucial piece.
“Travel buyers or travel managers want to be able to see the data. When travelers go outside the preferred tools, they don’t have the visibility on that data until after that spend. By going through an intermediary like an OTA, it all becomes centralized,” Steinbrink said.
The Orbitz pitch
Orbitz for Business has offered services for meeting planners in the past, according to Anne Marie Razza, vice president of product development for Orbitz for Business. However, the primary focus had been attendee management – setting up invitations for meetings, registration and other logistics.
The new tool will make it easier for planner to look for available venues, Razza said. Planners will be able to focus on venues that meet their needs before creating a single e-rfp that can be sent to those venues.
“In the past, a planner would have to use all sorts of features to find potential venues, and eventually pick up the phone. Now everything is made convenient for them,” Razza said.
“The meeting space has had a need for more innovation,” Razza added.
Orbitz will derive its fees through a revenue share with StarCite when hotels and other venues are booked, Razza said. For planners, the tool is free.
Orbitz for Business Meetings currently offers venues in the U.S. only, but international venues will be added soon.
Travelocity’s meetings product
Travelocity Business entered a partnership with meetings management firm Meetings & Incentives (M&I) early in 2010. The partnership brings a single solution to corporate customers, said Blake Goodwin, vice president, marketing and product development, for Travelocity Business.
“We combine M&I’s capabilities with our travel expertise for a seamless solution,” Goodwin said. He noted that “transient travel and groups are two completely different animals and require completely different skills.”
Travelocity, a subsidiary of Sabre, is able to integrate its meetings services with GetThere, Sabre’s travel management tool and other Sabre services.
“It becomes much more than an RFP tool,” said Goodwin. “It becomes a heavy tool, because sourcing is important. To be a good sourcer you had need to have understanding, know-how and leverage; M&I brings in that expertise.”
Making it seamless
The ultimate goal for Travelocity Business, according to Goodwin, is to “leverage our transient pieces with our meeting piece to develop a seamless solution from a reporting and leverage standpoint.”
With Travelocity Business already delivering an adoption rate of more than 90% on the transient side, the company can move toward those levels in meetings, Goodwin said.
Expedia’s full-service product
Expedia entered the meetings arena in 2002 when it launched Expedia Corporate Travel. Today, the Expedia subsidiary Egencia Meetings & Incentives offers what it calls a comprehensive meeting planning and meetings management service.
The service differs from its competitors’ offering in that it has “a full staff of in-house meeting planners and is a full-service, in-house meeting management company,” said Debbie Gross, director, North America meetings and incentives.
Egencia also works with in-house planners at client companies.
Egencia also has a partnership with Cvent, another major meetings management firm, for registration services and sourcing.
See related story: “Biz Travel Managers Focus On Reining In Meetings,” July 28, 2011.