Phone and email are still the preferred tools of most personal assistants (PAs) and sales executives for booking small group hotel stays.
About four out of five of these arrangements are neither tracked nor done within a company's policy. That means that organizations fail to benefit from the group discounts and budgetary orderliness that travel managers and procurement departments can provide when they're looped in to bookings up-front.
Groupize, a travel tech startup, hopes to capture these transaction with a corporate group booking tool.
The tool is directed at the group bookings market of fewer than 25 hotel rooms and meetings with fewer than 50 participants. Groupize says it has the only solution for this market that is based on real-time negotiated individual and group rates and availability.
The company also claims that its software uniquely offers the choice of "booking now" and booking "on request", side-by-side, as an eRFP (electronic request for proposal) interface. That lets a person choose if they want instant confirmation, with self-serve room block management choices, or if they want to submit an eRFP, to gauge what the offer actually is.
Groupize says its tool is much more than an eRFP platform because it has connections with tens of thousands of hotels, powered through DHISCO, Sabre, and other switches. Bookings can later be managed and adjusted within Groupize's dashboards.
Step-change for a startup
It's been a couple of years since Groupize Solutions won most Innovative Travel Technology Company award at the annual Phocuswright Conference for its hotel group room booking engine, built after its business pivot.
The Boston-based company received funding and then focused on the supply side, signing up more than 100,000 hotels.
Today, the 10-employee-business is going after the demand side of the equation.
It is launching a browser-based software tool meant to appeal to the PAs and travel management companies (TMCs) that help plan the small group (between 1 and 50 people) bookings and meetings at corporations (primarily in the US, to start).
This market of multi-room bookings, extended stays, and small group bookings represents a wide-but-thin middle section, rather than a "long tail", per se.
On the one end of the spectrum, Concur, Sabre's Get There, Orbitz for Business, and similar companies go after transient one-room corporate stays.
At the other, large end of the spectrum, businesses like Cvent and Lanyon go after the MICE (meetings, incentives, conferences, and events) market for events with more than 50 participants.
Groupize is instead in the middle. It is trying to appeal to the corporations (and the TMCs that often serve them) that are in the middle of the group bookings and meetings market.
New concept: "Strategic group management"
The startup intends to bring the strategic meeting planning processes that have been standardized in corporate travel for large events since the early 2000s to these small gatherings, with "strategic group management."
A typical example is a university that has 250 people at the assistant level that today do small group bookings via phone and email. The university could require all assistants to place their reservations through Groupize's booking form, with the data funneled to a central desk.
The university could have a white-labeled tool where occasional and novice travel arrangers, such as PAs, would either fill out a request form or self-book their trips. The tool would let the staff shop at their preferred hotels and see the organization's negotiated rates for transient or group rooms.
The central desk, often managed by a TMC but sometimes by the organization's own procurement officers, would then handle the transactions within Groupize's third-party sourcing tool, compiling and updating bid summaries.
Groupize uses a commissionable rev-share model with TMCs. For organizations that aren't using a TMC, the startup also offers to own operational department to oversee the bookings.
Every six weeks it seems like there is a new group-bookings startup featured in Tnooz. But those startups tend to focus on leisure, sports, and weddings -- parts of the market that don't ramp up in a profitable way.
By focusing on corporates, and by helping to let travel managers grow the revenue pie, Groupize expects to dodge that dilemma and scale up at a steady pace.
In the past couple of weeks, it has signed up TMCs like Orbitz for Business, and Corporate Travel Planners.
Similarly, Groupize is offering day meeting type bookings as part of its service. But meeting rooms represent a minority of its offering, as hotels are less interested in booking meeting space than in putting heads in beds, says Groupize CEO Charles de Gaspe Beaubien.