Would you agree to book a hotel for a meeting without being sure of which property you’re booking? A new booking engine for short-term meetings is betting you will.
Zentila launches July 23, the brainchild of Mike Mason, former senior vice president of sales for Gaylord Hotels. The system has a pleasant—even fun—drag-and-drop interface that planners use to build their RFPs, with a “veiled offer” twist that Mason believes is exactly what the industry needs to get planners extremely quick RFP responses, and to lower hotels’ acquisition costs and eliminate “lead spam.”
Here’s how it works: A corporate or association planner with a meeting happening within 90 days logs on to Zentila, creates an RFP, and chooses a destination. The system (free to planners) returns a list of hotels, which the planner can narrow down using a well-thought-out filtering tool. Factors such as largest meeting room, number of meeting rooms, when the hotel was last renovated, travel time (not distance) from the airport, travel time to the convention center, amenities, and average room size can help the planner focus in on appropriate properties.
At this point in the process, hotel names are not hidden. Users can select any property to see photos and get further information (more on that later). Planners then choose a minimum of three and a maximum of eight hotels to receive the RFP. Within three hours, properties will respond with a veiled offer, meaning that while planners know which hotels the RFP went to, they don’t know which offer is from which hotel. Planners see a chart comparing the rates offered, the availability of space, and responses to the concessions they’re looking for. They have 24 hours to respond.
Mason, who’s given himself the playful title of ZEO, says the veiled-offer concept frees the hotels to make some creative offers. “It really allows hotels to do some pretty remarkable things. It’s a last-chance sell opportunity for hotels. They can offer some deals that they might not be able to do publicly,” he says. “If they’re not picked, no one will know.”
Zentila has incorporated a couple of neattools into the system to help planners through the property-selection process. When users click through to get more information on an individual hotel, they’ll see the names of other planners (on an opt-in basis) who have booked the property through Zentila, and they can contact them using a Twitter-like system. There is also a section called, “Others Who Added This Hotel Also Added…” that shows the hotels that have typically received the same RFP.
Zentila charges hotels to be included in the system. However, hotels cannot advertise or pay for preferred placement. At launch, the system had an inventory of approximately 200 luxury hotels (all with 150 or more rooms) in 25 U.S. markets. Mason says that all Hyatt, Kimpton, and Gaylord properties have bought in and the company is in discussions with all the major hotel chains. He reports that the Zentila is “on track to be at 1,000 hotels by the end of the summer.”
In addition to Mason, the Zentila management team includes Mike Schugt, zenior vice president, a former vice president of sales and marketing for Hilton Worldwide; and James Murdock, zenior vice president of sales, a veteran of Gaylord and Hyatt hotels.