Automating the group booking process

Technology is playing a major role in driving Meetings.com’s business, says CEO Bas Lemmens

Bas Lemmens, the former co-founder of Booking.com, is focused on automating the group booking process in his new role as CEO of Meetings.com. We started by asking him what attracted him to his new employer.

I was surprised when talking to Tim Hentschel, the CEO of HotelPlanner.com, about how the company had very good technology and a proven track record where it’s grown the group business. I was surprised how big they were in the United States and I loved that one of the founders was a programmer. I like technology, as I think technology can really help clients and hotels with the amount of business that they are doing.

My main focus is around automating the group booking into just one session – not just for rooms, but also for venue procurement and the packaging of both together. Some 150,000 groups this year will already use this “instant group rate”.

What are the challenges in your role?
The major challenge is to educate the hotels and explain to them that processes can be made easier. Everyone has a smartphone, so why is the booking process so complicated? Hotels strive to understand that they can really give good availability and good pricing through a system, which makes it very easy for clients to book. In the old days, people were willing to negotiate rates; the industry has moved on now. We provide an IT solution today for any kind of club or company that makes group requests. These clients receive a response within less than 48 hours from hotels giving them the rates and possibilities to host the group. Automation of the group booking process is key and that’s the challenge.

How successful is Meetings.com in converting enquiries into bookings?
We have a high conversion rate on our requests, but I think we can achieve a higher rate. If 100 clients come to the website, I want a conversation rate of at least 10%. That seems high, but it is possible. I always look at revenue per employee. If we can reach, in the coming three years, €1m per employee, I think we’ll be a very good company.

THE MAJOR CHALLENGE IS TO EDUCATE THE HOTELS AND EXPLAIN TO THEM THAT PROCESSES CAN BE MADE EASIER.

Can you explain your commission structure?
We only charge 10% – so it’s a no brainer to join HotelPlanner.com. Hotels are afraid that they will be fined if they cut off an LTA. That is rubbish, they just need to negotiate better.
Groups spend a lot of money in hotels. Usually individual bookers go out for breakfast and go out for dinner, but groups stay in their hotel. Hotels pay us a 10% commission, but hotels will have an additional 20-40% of the value of the booking spent within the hotel.

Can you tell us about your work in the field of sports tourism?
Sport is one of our major revenue streams, especially in the United States. We look after a lot of sports teams. In Europe, we look after the European Golf Tour, as well as some football clubs like Liverpool and Swansea City. For us, this is one of our best clients. Sports teams want to be taken care of; it’s a little more work, but we like to do it.

How will the business grow and what are your key objectives?
If we get a bookable group rate – for a typical group size of between 10 and 50 people – then we think we’ll grow fast. I think hotels will really like it. The problem in hospitality is finding good people, so what hotels need to do is to diminish the amount of people working in bookings. To best do that, hotels need to automate their availability rates.


Photo: Bas Lemmens, CEO of Meetings.com