While discount online travel sites are wreaking havoc on meetings whose attendees are shopping for deals rather than booking the negotiated block or preferred carriers, at least one site is hoping to be part of a solution. Orbitz recently launched a corporate travel management technology — and a meeting-focused product may not be far behind.
Orbitz, the discount travel Web site formed in June 2001 by five major airlines — American, Continental, Delta, Northwest, and United — began offering Orbitz for Business September 1, according to David Cerino, general manager of corporate travel. Orbitz for Business allows corporations to integrate negotiated rates and preferred carriers and hotels into the Orbitz online display and to generate booking reports. “Initially, we're going to be doing corporate travel. That's really our entree,” says Cerino. “We're only a month into it. I've got a firm list of future requirements, and, obviously, meetings and group planning is on it.”
Even as is, TripTracker, the new tracking and reporting function, has applications in the meeting arena, says Cerino. The system is based on having the e-mail addresses of everyone in an organization. When an attendee searches for a particular city over the meeting dates, the Orbitz system recognizes the e-mail address and floats the blocked rooms or negotiated fares to the top of the page. “And I can customize the top of the screen to be the [organization's] name,” he says. Importantly, the system also allows attendees' choices outside the blocked space to be tracked.
The nascent system raises many a question for meeting planners: How would it integrate with a housing provider? What would hoteland room blocks look like? And what privacy concerns arise when sharing e-mail addresses? Cerino says interested planners are knocking at the door, but he is also quick to note that the new business-travel management system is not necessarily Orbitz's long-term meeting solution. “I think our long-term solution is to build a significant amount of functionality, which is something we want to do.” TripTracker, he says, “is an option you've got if you want to take it. Are we all the way there? No. Can I give you daily reports? No. There are things that I won't be able to give you initially. But we'll get there.”
Orbitz ticket transaction costs are competitive: $5 per ticket for online corporate bookings and about $15 for telephone-assisted bookings. For a fee (based on volume), TripTracker is available to organizations that do not want to designate Orbitz as their travel agency.
Online travel booking site Expedia, which purchased Bellevue, Wash.-based Metropolitan Travel as a step into the corporate travel market, says it will launch a corporate travel technology by year's end, but it is not considering a meetings product at this time.