by Michael J. Shapiro | June 01, 2014
Small meetings are big business, according to Sherry Romello. "More than 70 percent of the meetings available to be booked fit into that under-25 sleeping-room category," says the senior director of Hilton Meetings and product management for McLean, Va.-based Hilton Worldwide. "It's also growing at a very fast pace, and it's the hardest category to track," she adds. "My guess is that percentage is even higher than we think it is."

Planners are faced with similar tracking challenges; the smaller the meeting, the greater the chance it won't be managed at all. And attempting to actually manage those gatherings is often considered a losing proposition in terms of value for the effort.

"If I have a planner who wants to book a one-day meeting at a hotel or a venue, that typically would take four to eight emails to process," says Laura Bell Way, global meetings manager at the engineering and entertainment software company Autodesk in San Rafael, Calif. "That would include a day contract, a booking agreement, what we call a nonstandard purchase agreement. The paper trail and email trail involved with a day meeting can be pretty tremendous, given that it's typically a very small spend."

Likewise, hoteliers often view small meetings as too much hassle for too little payoff, notes Romello. But the volume and potential significance of small meetings have caused some in the industry to reassess their value. By using different sales approaches as well as technology, hoteliers are looking at ways to streamline sales and booking -- and make life easier for buyer and seller alike.

Bundling Up 
Hilton launched its Meetings Simplified program in November 2013. The hotel chain set out to design a tool that would save time for customers as well as member properties. The result was a bundled-pricing program that aims to significantly reduce the amount of time it takes to book a meeting for 25 sleeping rooms or less, with a maximum of 50 attendees. The program promises a simplified contract and quick, per-person pricing quotes.

The technology remains behind the scenes, from the buyer's perspective: A price calculator aids the hotel properties in establishing that per-person price, maintaining some consistency across Hilton's portfolio. The buyer must pick up the phone and call the hotel, but can expect an immediate answer from the property regarding availability and price.

While bundled pricing isn't new, Hilton's ambitious goal was to design a program that could work globally, across nine different brands (excluding the new Home2 Suites flag, which does little meetings business). To accomplish this, Hilton studied the common characteristics of its small-meetings business to determine a happy medium of amenities and pricing that would work across the board.

The program today, available at more than 4,000 properties globally, includes a meeting room, basic Wi-Fi, a flip chart and markers, all-day nonalcoholic beverage service and per-person pricing, with additional options for meals, breaks and projectors. Since beginning the pilot for the program last year, says Romello, planner surveys have revealed every category of satisfaction rising exponentially for planners who were offered a Meetings Simplified package. That includes ease of contracting, ease of dealing with audiovisual components, the likelihood of rebooking at that property and overall satisfaction.