An Expert View With…

THTIM HENTSCHEL

CEO & FOUNDER, HotelPlanner.com

HOW DID YOU BECOME INVOLVED IN THE GROUP ACCOMMODATION BOOKING MARKET?

I studied Hotel Management at Cornell University, which I got interested in because my family has owned hotels in Hawai and California for two generations. When I graduated 12 years ago, online travel agencies like Expedia and Priceline were just starting out. I noticed there were no travel companies online offering group booking services so my business partner, John Prince, and I decided to start one. I met John through a mutual friend who was studying computer science at Cornell.

WHAT DOES HOTELPLANNER OFFER GROUP HOTEL BUYERS?

We are an online booking system targeting buyers who want block bookings for large groups or regular numbers such as contract staff accommodation and who look for the guaranteed lowest group hotel rates and the assistance of a knowledgeable regional planner, who manages the relationships with local hotels and is based in the destination your group is travelling to. We have 55,000 group-friendly hotel partners worldwide. We measure how group friendly a hotel is by scoring each hotel with an algorithm that considers 20 factors including how much discount they offer groups against an individual booking, how quickly they respond, how many rooms they allocate to groups compared to individual clients and how often their offer is declined by a group organiser.

WHAT THINGS DID YOU NEED TO DO – AND ARE DOING – TO PROVIDE AN ONLINE SERVICE THAT SUITS THE APPROACHES OF GROUP BUYERS?

We’ve worked hard to make our site suit the way group buyers work. That’s meant we are removing a lot of the obstacles to booking groups. For example, this year we have teamed up with DocuSign, the largest company in electronic signatures. This will dramatically speed up the contracting process for group meeting space and sleeping rooms. Once a booking has been confirmed, a group page is created that allows the organiser to track and modify bookings easily, amend occupancy lists and process payments as well as adding in additional requirements such as air transit or coach transport.

AS AN AMERICAN, HAVE YOU FOUND ANY DIFFERENCES BETWEEN GROUP TRAVEL BETWEEN GROUP TRAVEL BUYING PATTERNS IN THE UK AND EUROPE COMPARED TO THE US?

There are a lot of differences. The types of groups are different; youth sports teams are much more prevalent in the US, coach tour groups are more popular in Europe; packaged pre-paid holidays are bigger in Europe as well. Group travel volume is bigger in the US, more hotels in the US specialise in this market, but Europe is quickly learning the value of this travel segment and catching up, by building new conference hotels and renovating existing hotels with new conference and meeting facilities.

Tim Hentschel set up HotelPlanner.com in 2003 with his business partner and current COO, John Prince. The company has headquarters in West Palm Beach in Florida and opened its European headquarters in London in 2012. In 2014, additional offices were opened in Las Vegas. Hentschel is on the Board for the Cornell University Pilsbury Institute for Entrepreneurship, and co-founded the American Group Travel Awards with GTO magazine’s parent company, Landor Travel Publications, along with the European Group Travel Awards.