Expedia's under-the-radar site Meeting Market is looking to expand beyond its current German base and become a pan-European, if not global, portal for the MICE sector.
The site brings Expedia into a new vertical, although there are clear crossovers with its established hotels business. Meeting Market aims to automate the many and various "inefficient and manual" processes which still exist when it comes to booking meeting rooms and event space, equipment, food and beverage.
Importantly, it can also offer mass bookings of up to 50 hotel rooms at the same time, and claims to be the only platform capable of doing this.
It is the brainchild of Andreas Nau, head of Expedia Central Europe, and was quietly launched into the German market last July. He said that the idea "was presented to Dara [Khosrowshahi, CEO of Expedia Inc] and the senior product team and we were given the go-ahead to test and invest. So we're using a lot of Expedia's existing expertise to launch what is basically a startup."
The scale of the opportunity is compelling — Nau believes that around 70% of the meeting room bookings which are currently handled manually can be standardised. The market is fragmented, and using tech to automate processes is an area Expedia is familiar with.
As a start-up, Meeting Market has initially focussed on demand and supply. The demand for meeting rooms already exists and comes from German SMEs which manage their own meetings, or from specialist event organisers which work with the SMEs. Some TMCs also offer clients a MICE option as part of their overall proposition.
The supply side is more dynamic and is all about Meeting Market being able to get access to inventory which can then be distributed via the site. It is building supply in a number of ways - local market managers in Germany are talking to their hotel clients and looking to find businesses whose property management systems allow not only meeting rooms to be booked and paid for online but also group bookings of the hotel rooms.
Nau noted that there are start-ups in Europe which are doing a lot of the legwork in terms of getting hotels to bring their meeting space bookings online. Last week Meeting Market announced a partnership with Book2Meet, a multi-lingual online platform which has access to more than 32,000 meeting rooms and conference venues in over 10 countries.
Book2Meet's inventory will be integrated into Meeting Market, and Nau said that some other the big partnerships will be announced at ITB Berlin next month. He added that Meeting Market was able to package hotel rooms with the meeting room supply coming via partnerships.
Since the July launch, Meeting Market has grown and now offers rooms in 12 German cities. Nau is looking to expand, and said that the UK is next on the list. Beyond that, he believes that the platform is scalable on a global level.
He also thinks that there is an option to transition the Meeting Market platform into leisure group bookings.
"At the moment there is a gap in the leisure market because most OTAs can only book up to eight rooms at once and we're looking at whether we can work with hotels who want to be able to book bigger lesiure groups."