Event Management

Instant Booking Apps — Help or Hinderance? 

People gathered around a conference table

Skift Take

While big-brand hotels and specialized apps tout the advantages of instant booking, the cons may outweigh the pros when it comes to professional event management.

Big brand hotels are invested when it comes to instant booking. Most hotels are still reeling from staffing shortages and both undertrained and underskilled teams. Automated sleeping and meeting room blocks theoretically circumvent these weaknesses while boosting revenue. Similarly, consumerization across the industry has inspired more instant booking applications.

There are instances where leveraging an instant booking makes sense. However, most planners want and need to retain a personal approach to venue selection. They feel there is too much at stake to surrender entirely to digitization. 

Instant Gratification vs. Speedy Customization

Ron Shah, founder and CEO of Bizly, shared that initially, Bizly had an instant booking business model. However, it soon became clear that there was too much risk for the planner. Another challenge is having too many space configurations for the software to handle. Combined, this made the company pivot away from instant booking.

“Even the smallest meeting has some level of customization, and instant booking does not solve the need for a reinforcement loop,” said Shah. For example, he described how the notes section for early Bizly clients would “go berserk” due to planners’ tailored approach needs.

Bizly revised its value proposition in response and now focuses on customized speedy proposals over more limited instant bookings. “Our service level agreement is twelve hours or less, and many proposals are five hours or less,” said Shah.

Limited Control

Many planners are reluctant to adopt online booking tools. They feel this leaves the buyer very vulnerable to not being able to negotiate. Hotel sales staff have been sharing their concerns too, but the global brands are still pursuing compliance.

“The world is in a ‘one-click buy’ mentality, and this is the industry’s way of catching up, but in my opinion, the instant book feature hasn’t really caught on with professional planners or the hotel community simply due to the lack of control on both sides,” said Judy Wilbur,  regional director of sales, Real Hospitality Group.

Making Things Work

Shah warns that online booking tools make planners more vulnerable to what he refers to as Monday morning Tetris. “Meetings make up about 30 percent of hospitality business, so most hotel teams meet first thing Monday morning to move groups around in order to optimize revenue,” said Shah. 

Booking online does not have guarantees. “Once an instant booking is received by the hotel, they (the suppliers) have a window of time to decline it if it isn’t a good fit. I would encourage instant-book customers to be sure to engage with a hotel representative within a few hours after reserving,” said Wilbur.

Instant booking does not prevent booking next to or near a competitor or polarizing group. Neither does it help identify peak periods or citywide, although this may soon change. “Bizly has a feature similar to many travel airlines tools that can identify peak pricing periods for planners,” said Shah. He added that Bizly is looking to launch features that could surface specific events and organizations.

Viable Instant Booking Scenarios

  • Time Crunch: There is no time to negotiate when you have an urgent need.
  • Blank Space: For booking blank space with no extra requirements.
  • Small Meetings: For those with occasional responsibilities for small, under-25-person meetings.