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MICE Space invaders ByAMON COHEN


New entrants are targeting buyers with technology that upends traditional booking processes and pricing


to feel the heat. Wherever you look in the travel world, well-established businesses suddenly face fierce competition from often well-funded digital start-ups challenging decades-old ways of working. The meetings booking process is no


H


exception to this trend. Though the new contenders may be hipper than smashed avocado toast from a pop-up vegan cafe in Shoreditch, they have done their homework. Consequently, the fresh ideas they are pro- moting should make even the oldest of old hands reconsider how, where and what they buy when it comes to groups and events. It’s time to meet the meeting disruptors. Or, at least, a representative trio of them,


because fresh names are pouring into this market seemingly on a weekly basis. Austra- lian company iVvy, for example, claiming to be the “world’s first real-time booking engine” for meetings, launched in the UK in June. Other names you may or may not recognise include Bizly, Social Tables, Meet- ingselect, Groupize and Spacebase, to name but a few. Major TMCs, hotel booking spe- cialists like HRS and Inntel, and meetings management technology providers such as Cvent, are also pushing new or improved booking tools to their customers. But who is going to emerge as the Airbnb of the meetings booking world? Ironically,


90 BBT July/August 2018


OTELS HAVE BEEN THROUGH IT WITH AIRBNB, taxis with Uber and Lyft. Even TMCs are beginning


for now, the answer is not Airbnb itself, despite the obvious similarities between selling accommodation and meeting space. The company launched Airbnb for Events earlier this year, but it is a tool for meeting planners to find accommodation for people attending events already booked elsewhere. There is “nothing to share at the moment” regarding launching an official event booking platform, an Airbnb spokes- person says, but “we’re seeing organic growth of bookings for meetings spaces. You can filter by ‘suitable for events’ to find Airbnb listings for these needs.”


BE MY GAEST One disruptor aiming to claim the gap Airbnb has not yet filled is Danish company Gaest. Its consumer-friendly user interface and even its logo are not so different – but perhaps even more interesting is seeing how Airbnb has influenced companies like Gaest to rethink the fundamentals of a marketplace like meetings booking. For example, companies traditionally


book meetings on their own premises or in purpose-built but somewhat dull rooms in hotels. On Gaest’s site, hotels account for only one-third of the venues offered. Gaest specialises in two types of meet-


ings location. One is venues mainly used for other purposes. Examples include Lumière, in London’s Southwark, a loft usually rented for photography and filming; and Hunter Collective, also in London, a co-working space for beauty and fashion professionals.


When to book Meeting rooms are most expensive


on a Thursday during the working week, according to MeetingPackage. The cheapest day is Monday.


The second, in true sharing-economy style, is hiring meeting rooms on the premises of other businesses. In Copenhagen, 40 per cent of the rooms in Gaest’s portfolio are clients’ own in-house meeting areas. According to Glenn Thorsen, UK head


of operations for Gaest, both buyer and seller benefit from the arrangement. Those renting out their meeting rooms make better use of expensive but under-utilised real estate. For those booking the room, it “gets companies out of the rut of being in their own space”, Thorsen says. “They can feel the vibrancy and energy from the businesses around them.” Thorsen argues that Gaest also motivates


bookers because they can use an attractive tool to book good venues instead of feeling like “someone is watching over their shoul- der” if forced to choose from a limited range of venues. Yet the paradox is that Gaest does help companies look over their employees’ shoulders. “We look and feel like Airbnb and Uber but it’s also a way for corporates to gain transparency on their spend,” says Thorsen. The argument is that, given some sexy venue choices, bookers won’t mind being told to use a platform that gathers


BUYINGBUSINESSTRAVEL.COM


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