by Michael Shapiro | July 12, 2017

Michael J. Shapiro, senior editor, Meetings & Conventions magazineThe way we've grown accustomed to sourcing meetings is ripe for disruption. For several years we've been hearing as much -- from hoteliers drowning in the deluge of electronic requests for proposal, and from planners desperately awaiting responses to said eRFPs. Sourcing-tech giants like Cvent have been trying to better streamline the process, and many other sourcing platforms have sought to funnel the eRFP deluge into a steady, more manageable flow. Still, this process has become the norm in meetings planning; the idea of better automating the search and booking process for meetings venues has been discussed many times but not yet realized on a large scale.

Lauren Hall, co-founder and CEO of iVvyNow, an Australian tech company plans to change that. "We're the holy grail of the industry," proclaims Lauren Hall, right, co-founder and CEO of iVvy, a rapidly expanding distribution platform for meetings suppliers. "We have live search," she notes. iVvy promises automated, real-time availability and pricing for meeting space, essentially eliminating lengthy RFP processes whenever possible. The platform bills itself as the first global distribution system for the meetings industry.

This isn't the first time live-inventory pricing and availability has been offered, but for the most part such platforms have been geared for relatively small meetings, often in more ad-hoc gathering spaces in hotels or unique venues. While there's a logical, definite need for automating that, the platforms haven't been able to account for the complex negotiations inherent in maximizing revenue for, say, a hotel's largest meeting spaces.

iVvy, however, aims to help a venue manage the entirety of its meeting space. "The whole goal in terms of building the meetings GDS is in terms of how we get the inventory," explains Hall. "Our method was to build enterprise software that manages the back-of-house processes in a sales and catering environment, for hotels, venues, restaurants, golf courses and the like." The platform integrates with other back-office systems to access availability and rates for group accommodations.

"And then we've created a top-layer tool that enables us to be able to distribute that inventory to hundreds of different sites," Hall says. "Our goal has always been to be the global distribution platform for the meetings industry."

In striving toward that goal, iVvy places a heavy emphasis on control and manageability from the venue side. "We actually are their operating system every single day," says Hall. "We've spent years building rules engines, AI, algorithms, all to automate the selling process -- to actually make these venues transact 24 hours a day."

The rules around each meeting space are decided by the venue, giving them the flexibility to balance automation with their yield management. "Our system automatically calculates how each piece of business can be yielded," explains Hall, "and ultimately allows them to determine what needs to go live and what doesn't." Going "live" means that availability and rate is immediately accessible to the planner; venues also have the option to allow planners to hold the space, subject to negotiation, or, if preferred, to kick off an automated RFP process. The goal, however, is to automate as much as possible, with the rules already set to prioritize certain business and maximize revenue without the need for RFPs.

iVvy has been around for eight years now, and has a marketplace in Australia and New Zealand of about 8,000 properties, says Hall, with live availability and book and pay functionality built in to the interface. The company also partners with a variety of channels to distribute the venue info, such as TMCs and tourism authorities.

The recent opening of a New York office is the beginning of a major North America expansion; iVvy plans to add 15,000 venues a month. Within six to 12 months, Hall expects iVvy to be ready to debut its North American marketplace. Leading up to that, iVvy will work with various third parties, TMCs and corporations. In some cases, the tech will be white-labeled and powering other platforms, so planners might not realize they're using iVvy.

When it's ready, says Hall, iVvy's marketplace will go beyond venues to encompass the entire event ecosystem -- a place to book entertainers, speakers, AV, décor, caterers and more. "We've got all the systems to manage their back-of-the-house processes, inventory, product and time-based services, to enable a meeting planner to be able search, pay, book and pay for all of that in real time. And that's a really exciting part as well, bringing the entire industry sector together."

Hall's goals are lofty, to be certain. When it comes to competing with meetings-tech giants like Cvent, she is looking beyond that -- even though, as she says, Cvent execs have long had an eye on iVvy. "They've reached out on a number of occasions to want to acquire us out of Australia," says Hall, "but we are very much focused on being a GDS. We want to work with everybody in the industry. I really want to create a competitive playing field. There is more than enough revenue in this industry to let everybody benefit. What we don't want is monopolies -- to hold the whole supply chain hostage, with costs and burdens on driving their distribution mechanisms. We are the disruptor. There's no doubt."