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 of these sites is hoping to be part of a solution. Orbitz announced in July its plans to launch 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—will have Orbitz for Business ready 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 generate booking reports. "Initially, we’re going to be doing corporate travel. That’s really our entrée," says Cerino. "We’re really only a month into it. I’ve got a firm list of future requirements and, obviously, meetings and group planning is on it."
But even as is, the new tracking and reporting function, called TripTracker, has applications in the meeting arena, says Cerino. The system is based on having the e-mail address of everyone in an organization. When an attendee does a search for a particular city over the meeting dates, the Orbitz system is designed to recognize his or her e-mail address and float the blocked rooms or negotiated fares to the top of the page. "And I can customize the top of the screen to be the association name," says Cerino. Importantly, attendees’ choices outside the blocked space are also 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? What privacy concerns would arise by sharing e-mail addresses? Nevertheless, according to Cerino, interested planners are knocking at the door. "We have associations calling us now and asking us, ‘what can you do?" he says. At the same time, he is quick to say that the new business travel management system is not necessarily Orbitz 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 in the future." 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 at $5 per ticket for online corporate bookings, and about $15 for telephone-assisted bookings. For a fee (based on volume), the 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-end but is not considering a meetings product at this time.