News For Planners

Should meeting planners use online booking agencies to book their hotel meetings?

Thursday, 8/11/2011  3:32:47 PM

This month, Orbitz.com and StarCite.com have announced plans for a new service: discounted hotel meeting rooms. For Orbitz, a travel-planning giant that is generally known for providing great discounts on flights, car rentals and air fare, this will be their first foray into the world of business. StarCite, on the other hand, has specialized in business meeting management for years.

Using the new service, meeting planners are able to go online and instantly compare prices of thousands of hotel meeting rooms with the click of a button, so that they can determine which location and price is right for them. This enables business meeting planners to map out an accurate budget ahead of time while hopefully scoring a little bit of savings.

But are there any downfalls to booking meetings through commercial websites, as opposed to direct booking with the hotels themselves?

There are a few. But depending on your needs, online booking may indeed be a viable option.

One downside to booking through these sites is that once you're locked in, it can be nearly impossible to make any changes in the reservation. In some cases, you can make cancellations or re-bookings, but the fees will be so hefty that they counter-balance the savings you've received from booking the room.

Another downside is that if, for any reason, there is a mistake in booking and the hotel either 1) has to record of the reservation or 2) has a double booking, it's the website and not the hotel who is accountable for setting things right. This could be a problem if you've got a number of business associates flying in for a face to face meeting and suddenly find yourself with no meeting room. The other problem with this is that it can be hard to hold the site accountable without having to endure multiple phone calls with customer service representatives that have absolutely no power to help you out. Customers who've used similar sites for booking travel arrangements have frequently complained that their service didn't meet its promise and that they were not compensated for the discrepancy.

In addition, you won't receive any of the extra frills that hotels sometimes dish out for booking with them, such as the complementary use of a hospitality room or restaurant vouchers.

The end result is that online booking sites can save you cash, but there is a little risk involved. Booking direct is more secure, but can also be more expensive. If you're willing to take the risk, however, Orbitz and StarCite are viable booking options for your next business meeting.

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