Back in August 2019, four of the biggest hotel companies made a $50-million investment in Groups360, a provider of online meeting-sourcing technology. Now, one of those hotel companies, IHG Hotels and Resorts, is the first to debut the fruits of that investment: a direct event-booking platform called GroupSync.
The new product gives planners the ability to view and book event space and guest rooms as they view real-time availability of whichever meeting space and guest rooms a property has chosen to make available through the platform over an event’s preferred dates.
As for why IHG is the first company to activate GroupSync Engage, Groups360 CEO Kemp Gallineau told MeetingsNet that “they moved quickly on some of the integrations that needed to happen in order to make it work effectively for planners.”
With the product concept itself, “it’s not designed to limit the strategic selling ability of a hotel or brand” as it seeks meetings that can occupy most or all of its space, noted Gallineau (pictured below). “Their control lies in the total inventory of rooms and space each of them makes available” for direct booking over a given set of dates. In most cases, “it’s probably going to be for events needing 50 or fewer guest rooms.”
Then again, “you can start to see the next phase of this, where a repeat customer who uses a few hundred guest rooms for an event can go in and book because they already know what they need from that property,” he added. For meetings of any size, the platform allows planners to customize session-room set-ups, audiovisual requirements, and food-and-beverage offerings.
Accor, Hilton Worldwide, and Marriott International were also contributors to the $50 million investment in Groups360 and plan to eventually roll out the meeting-booking tool. Because each hotel company manages its inventories for guest rooms and meeting space through different technology systems, Groups360 must tweak its platform specifically for the data-sharing framework used by each.
However, Gallineau said that “there will be other announcements in the next 60 to 90 days” regarding the use of GroupSync Engage by other hotel companies.
On February 25, IHG launched the pilot across three full-service hotels: Hotel Indigo Los Angeles, InterContinental New York Barclay, and InterContinental Times Square. In the next several weeks, nearly 30 more IHG properties in the U.S. will begin offering it—though many are limited-services properties with just a few meeting spaces—and the program will widen from there. According to Derek DeCross, senior vice president of global sales for IHG, the goal is to have the platform available in 500 IHG properties across North America by the end of 2021 and across 80 percent of the company’s nearly 4,800 hotels by the end of 2022.
For hotels, a direct-booking platform allows their salespeople to spend more time tending to more complex meetings that require RFPs to coordinate all their elements. Given the attrition among sales staff at nearly every hotel company during the Covid-19 pandemic, such a platform is advantageous. For instance, in mid-February Marriott permanently eliminated more than 200 sales positions in regional offices that were dedicated to corporate travel and meetings; those employees had been on furlough since April of last year.
On the planning side, one important question is whether rooms and space booked through GroupSync Engage can be commissionable for third parties. Gallineau said that “we wanted the brands to be able to manage that themselves. The technology allows each brand or hotel to decide how they want to compensate people that use it; they can run specials to specific customers or verticals or regions. They can have a strategy against other sales channels.”