While hotel rooms can be booked online at the click of a mouse, MICE (meetings, incentives, conferences & exhibitions) have been left behind as regards the digitalisation of the booking process.
Indeed MICE events continue to be done via email exchanges, phone or in person.
At the same time, fielding incoming RFP's (requests for proposals) can be very time consuming and ultimately costly for hotels since many enquiries don't result to an actual booking.
Now, Expedia, one of the world's two leading OTAs, has developed a tool which allows event planners to search and book meeting space online just as they would do for hotel rooms.
Expedia's MICE automates the booking process for meeting organisers and hotels, thus effectively eliminating the RFPs process.
I recently spoke with Felix Undeutsch who heads up the team that developed Expedia's MICE booking tool. He had this say about the new technology:
Felix, as I understand it, MICE Booking Technology is part of Expedia's "Expedia Powered Technology" offering. So are hoteliers obliged to sign up for the whole package or can they cherry-pick just the MICE functionality, for instance?
Felix: The MICE tool can be selected by hotel partners as an additional technology and naturally only works for hotels with meetings and conference space to fill.
The online MICE booking engine can act as a white label technology solution that can live on hotel websites, as well as other third-party sites such as meeting booking agency websites.
When you say small/medium-sized MICE events, where do you draw the line in terms of size? I suppose complexity of the event is also a factor?
Felix: In theory, there is technically no limitation in terms the group size that this technology can cater to. We have already had transactions for conferences with 200+ people.
What our research into the global MICE industry found was that around 75% of meeting requests were for 30 participants or less, but in fact this segment only delivers relatively small overall revenue to a hotel because booking values are low, making it a segment ripe for automation through technology.
Automating smaller, less complex meeting requests with our technology means that hotel sales' teams can focus on handling larger scale, more complex meeting requests that deliver a higher margin and contribute more to overall revenue.
What are the search criteria (I presume cost per participant, location, size of event, type of F&B service, grade of hotel, etc.)?
Felix: Event planners can search for a variety of elements, including: specific seating layouts and room combinations; by different day combinations and, of course; and by specific destination.
They can also add more specific criteria, including food & beverage requirements, AV & equipment options, as well as accommodation options at the hotel.
When a customer performs a search does the technology search all hotels connected to the network in a defined geographical area or is the searcher obliged to focus on one hotel at a time?
Felix: The technology can do both – a destination search and an individual hotel search.
The planner can either search for a whole destination (i.e. a country or a city) and all available hotels with meeting space in that destination will show up.
Planners can also focus on one specific hotel. From there, they can compare different dates available in the hotel and, if the hotel is fully booked, alternative available dates will be shown.
Or if they need to find something cheaper, the different price options will be shown to them too – for example, the total meeting price might be cheaper one week later because of lower occupancy in the hotel.
What is the cost to the hotelier of installing and using MICE Booking Technology, i.e. what does Expedia's revenue stream consist of? MICE Booking Technology is presumably working on the agency model, not the merchant model.
Felix: We operate a transactional model for this solution; hotels only pay us when a booking is made.
The technology itself is complimentary for our hotel partners; both in terms of set up and ongoing usage.
As I understand it, your MICE product has been rolled out in Germany and recently in the US. What's the programme for the rest of the world?
Felix: That’s right, and it launched in APAC at the end of last year, too, with Minor Hotels being our first hotel group to adopt the technology in Asia Pacific.
From here, we are mainly focussing on English-speaking markets such as the US, UK, Dubai, Singapore and Australia.
However, the booking engine is also currently being localised into additional languages and adapted for different geographies. French, Spanish and Italian will follow later this year.
Which chains and how many hotels in all are currently signed up?
Felix: Currently more than 1000 hotels are using the technology, including chains like Best Western Central Europe and Minor Hotels (including the Oaks and Anantara brands).
The results we’ve seen from our current partners so far are very promising.
Best Western Central Europe for example has been able to reduce its response to RFP time by 95%, going from over 5 hours handling time to just 14 minutes, from the RFP first being received by the customer to the quote being sent back.