by Michael J. Shapiro | June 01, 2014
Getting Smaller 
Many hotels are seeking to better accommodate day meetings, too, by offering tech-outfitted workspaces, lobbies or restaurant nooks, or even private rooms that can be reserved in advance online. The spaces generally are inexpensive and charge by the hour; some are free. And many are being used for small gatherings that take place during larger conferences. Westin's Tangent rooms and Workspace on Demand by Marriott are designed for these purposes.
Marriott has grown the Workspace on Demand program relatively quickly and now offers it at more than 415 North American hotels. Customers are warming to the idea of booking hotel meeting space in that fashion, according to Crystal Christmas, general manager of the Crystal City Marriott in Arlington, Va. The property rents two spaces through the platform, a small meeting room that accommodates four people and a communal table that seats six.

"In a little over a year we've had approximately 200 users," Christmas says. The private room goes for $50 per hour, while the communal space is free. "It helps us drive incremental revenue," Christmas notes. "And more often than not, those booking the spaces book food and beverage as well." Before the Workspace on Demand program, she adds, both spaces were underused.

About 60 percent of the bookings are made in conjunction with a larger meeting on-site, Christmas points out. Previously, attendees were more likely to hold impromptu meetings in the lobby or in their guest rooms -- neither of which, she says, was particularly conducive to meetings.

Marriott is "wildly optimistic" about the potential uses of Workspace on Demand for planners, adds Geoff Heuchling, senior director of B2B eCommerce for Marriott International. "We've talked to some about the possibility of setting space aside for small pop-up meetings during their events, for which attendees could use the app to book and be done with it," he says. "We haven't worked out all the details yet, but we're looking now at how we can best deliver that."


Keeping Track 
The technology driving Workspace on Demand (and, previously, Westin's Tangent) is LiquidSpace, a software company and marketplace that employs the same shared-economy principle behind the success of sites such as Airbnb.com. Hotels and many other less conventional meeting venues can list their spaces on LiquidSpace for remote workspace or small meetings. Hotels do account for the majority of bookings, says LiquidSpace president and COO Doug Marinaro -- to the tune of 25,000 transactions per month. The typical meeting booked through the platform lasts 90 minutes, hosts two to four people and costs $150, Marinaro adds.

Meetings that small typically would not fall under a meeting manager's purview. But a new product from LiquidSpace called Travel Manager aims to change that. A corporate customer can add LiquidSpace's booking engine into its travel and meetings program and not only track employee usage, but also customize the site or app to favor venues with preferred suppliers.

"Those small day meetings represent a huge area of rogue meeting spend," says Autodesk's Laura Bell Way, an early adopter of Travel Manager. "By putting this platform in place, we are now able to gain visibility into that. Typically, these kinds of meetings would be done just by somebody picking up the phone, booking a room and signing an agreement. Now we have the ability to promote the program and show the benefits of using the tool, and  I get the benefits of knowing what people are booking, when they're booking, what types of spaces and what they're spending, so that I can take those numbers and add them into our overall meeting spend volume. It's a nice addition to our strategic meetings management program." Just as significantly, it turns Way's four-to-eight-email process into a simple online transaction.

Interestingly, Autodesk employees often are using LiquidSpace for meetings well beyond the two- to four-attendee average cited by Marinaro, to book space for up to 20 people. "I look many times for conference spaces that can hold 12 to 15," says Way. "And there are plenty of spaces that accommodate that," she adds, in hotels as well as a variety of nontraditional venues.