Strategic Meetings Summit London, 26 September,
September 29 2022, Kimpton Fitzroy London
Friday 30 September 2022, JW Marriott Grosvenor
BBT teamed up with HRS and ITM to host senior travel buyers at a one-day forum focusing on hotel programmes.The conference, entitled ‘Hotels - Source. Book. Pay. The 2016 way’, was held at Landing Forty Two, with panoramic London views on the 42nd floor of the famous Leadenhall Building in the City.
The day saw speakers, case studies and panel sessions exploring key issues around hotel and accommodation sourcing, payment, policy and content. Areas covered included risk management, policy compliance, data reporting and analysis, serviced apartments, the sharing economy, multiple-channel distribution and suppliers directly targeting business travellers.
The event kicked off with an opening keynote speech from CEO of Scottish media group DC
Watson said, to make changes to your travel programme and influence behaviour, it is about understanding what a “big change can look like”. “You need to make sure you are getting people’s opinions,” said Watson. “It is remarkable how I still have people in my team who don’t spend enough time with the most important stakeholders in the business to fully understand what it’s like from their point of view.
“If you want to try and change something such as your company’s hotel programme, you have to make sure your travellers feel like stakeholders in your new idea. If you can do that then the word spreads out that you talk and listen, and they’re much more likely to adopt them.”
He added: “If you share the benefits and make sure you get other people to contribute, you can put together fairly dramatic ways of doing things.”
Sharing economyDuring the event, which took place under Chatham House rules, top global travel buyers presented case studies sharing details of their travel programmes, challenges and change projects.
One of hot topics of the day was the sharing economy, with issues around safety, insurance and data loss just some of the problems raised. Claudia Unger, corporate travel analyst and author, said Airbnb is having a “big impact” on the sector because it has a large presence, but its use still “raises many questions”.
“I think sometimes it makes sense to look at alternative providers but, at the same time, we need to be mindful of the risks involved,” she said. “Some of these providers make your travellers sign up using Facebook details and personal email addresses, so there is a risk of data loss... just be mindful of what your travellers do. It’s about having more personalised individual conversations to explain those risks.”
Speaking on the same panel, moderated by BBT editor Paul Revel, was Shaun Hinds, managing director for EMEA and APAC at Bridgestreet. The serviced apartment firm, like others, has distributed via the Airbnb platform. “We were one of the first to work with Airbnb, which some saw as the Antichrist,” said Hinds. “From our perspective, it’s a channel most are looking at, and it is growing and becoming influential, especially with the emergence of more professional hosts.
“However, the take-up is still very small but I believe it will continue to grow in this sector.”
Jean Squires, business development director at corporate travel software firm Lanyon, said buyers should look at how to consolidate their spend across departments such as projects and meetings. She said the best opportunities for cost savings, revenue generation and risk management are in a consolidated approach to hospitality sourcing.
HRS managing director Jon West spoke about changing traveller behaviour when booking hotels.
“We are seeing more people using user reviews to decide where to stay over the traditional star model,” he said. “I was really pleased to hear [from one buyer] how they do their hotel sourcing reviews on a regular basis. Wouldn’t it be great if the RFP [request for proposal] season was over the whole 12 months rather than a two-month period?”
Buyer’s marketThe final session of the day saw BBT columnist Amon Cohen moderate a session panel with HRS CEO Tobias Ragge, GTMC chief executive Paul Wait and head of strategy at Travelport, James Lemon.
Ragge mentioned how HRS was a disruptor, but admitted he was concerned about his company being disrupted. “I don’t think this will come from inside the travel sector, as it’s not generally a technology-driven industry,” said Ragge.
Ragge also talked about the recent levels of consolidation in the hotel market, especially after the recent Starwood/Marriot merger and responded to claims it could lead to less bargaining power for buyers in the RFP process. “We are not really concerned about this,” said Ragge. “The market has over-supply and apart from a few places, occupancy isn’t as high as they would like and is why the industry is operating at low margins.
“Balance of power is still with the buyer. There are certain places where it is a seller’s market, such as San Francisco and New York, but with the rest of the markets the power lies with the customer.”