American Express Advisory Services within two months plans to offer midsize companies a new sourcing tool for small meetings. The tool, called Preferred Extras: Meetings, is an electronic catalog of properties with pre-negotiated rates secured by Amex in 25 U.S. cities and six Canadian cities.

"We've developed this as an end-to-end, self-service tool for, at this point, our [clients in the] midmarket segment," said Chris Wilkes, the meetings practice leader for advisory services at American Express Business Travel, New York. American Express defines midmarket companies as those with between $2 million and $10 million in U.S. booked air expenditures. Demand at midsize companies, she said “is exploding, and companies are really looking for ways to better control their meeting spend."

American Express is still finalizing the number of properties that will be listed for each destination, but limiting the number means that the agency can secure better rates from participating hotels, Wilkes said. Customers will have a significant range of tiers and destinations from which to choose within the tool, she said, and can search by city, price range, or location type (such as an airport area). Hotels that fit the meeting requirements are then listed with a discounted room rate and a per-attendee rate package for meeting services. By separating the room rate, the tool can better include attendees who do not need accommodations. Participating hotels also have the option to list additional incentives such as flexible contract terms.

Rather than allow direct booking, the new tool is based on the RFP model. By soliciting hotels on behalf of its clients and retaining a personal touch, Wilkes said, it is easier for American Express to offer customers alternative destinations or dates to drive cost savings or to secure availability.

The tool aims to drive savings, control, corporate contracting terms, and efficiencies in executing events in a turnkey approach that would be easy to implement without a large investment in resources, Wilkes said. The tool is tailored to meetings of fewer than 50 attendees who have basic requirements for space and services. Beyond that threshold, customers can find greater savings through customized solutions and individual event negotiations, she said