by Cheryl-Anne Sturken | September 01, 2015

A model for success
The basic service is free to all users -- planners and hoteliers alike. Properties can apply for a free listing on Cvent's search engine, and many are added to the rolls by Cvent itself due to their prominence, amount of business, etc. "By not charging a commission for hotels to use their RFP system, Cvent has a business model that is sustainable and will allow them to grow," notes Richard Rheindorf, vice president, meetings and events, at Paris-based AccorHotels.

But of course there's much more to Cvent's business model than complimentary listings. Hotels have the option of buying advertising on the company's site, paying for factors such as size of ad and elements like photos and floor plans, and placement on the page. Cvent also makes money by customizing its meetings management technology for clients and for other services.

Additional forces driving Cvent's success, say users, include customer-friendly technology and straightforward integration with other corporate enterprise technology. "They designed a better tool that felt and smelled like the industry and won over a lot of people," says David Sachs, director, strategic meetings management, analytics, at Caledonia, Wis.-based planning firm Meetings & Incentives Worldwide.

"Cvent is the largest and best-funded of all the meeting-technology com­panies," notes prominent industry consultant Corbin Ball, CSP, CMP, DES, president of Bellingham, Wash.-based Corbin Ball Associates. "They have worked hard and deserve the success they are having. They have given the industry a strong set of tools."

Cvent headquarters in Tysons Corner, Va.

"With the market share that Cvent now carries in this space, the ability to have a solid cross section of visibility into trends in the marketplace are beneficial to the industry as a whole," says Michael Dominguez, senior vice president and chief sales officer for Las Vegas-based MGM Resorts International. Yet, he adds, it can't hurt for the company to face some pressure from rivals: "Competition traditionally continues to drive innovation, attention to the customer and a competitive landscape in any market."

Ball agrees. "The global procurement space is a huge pie," he says, "and I think there certainly are pieces for competitors."

Indeed, while few companies offer Cvent's sheer range of services, from sourcing to registration to strategic meetings management tools, many suppliers focus on one or several aspects of meetings management. (See "Marketplace Alternatives.")

Is it too easy?
Cvent seized on an industry pain point with its Supplier Network, but some question whether the technology made sourcing a little too easy. Specifically, it's simple to send bids to many hotels at once, which critics say has contributed to the paralyzing "eRFP overload" bedeviling the hotel industry. (See related story, "Building a Better eRFP.")

This past June, the Global Business Travel Association and the Convention Industry Council jointly issued a white paper on eRFPs, noting, "there is no question that their rapidly growing use has created significant challenges," adding that their sheer volume "has created bottlenecks for hoteliers and delayed responses for planners."  

Deluged by the growing wave of eRFP volume through online sources such as the Cvent Supplier Network, some hoteliers have been looking at more effective ways to convert potential leads into business. In 2014, Omni Hotels & Resorts added an option to its website that lets planners submit RFPs directly to the company, rather than through Cvent or another third-party platform. According to Tom Santora, Omni's chief marketing officer and senior vice president, not only has the number of group leads the company receives increased annually, the conversion rate of the leads coming directly to Omni has doubled compared with those from other sourcing companies.

Looking to stem the tide of dissent among hoteliers struggling with lead volume, in June Cvent launched Lead Scoring, a new technology that came from its acquisition of Atlanta-based Decision Street, a sophisticated hotel sales-intelligence software provider, in late 2014. Now, when a hotel that pays for the service receives a group lead, the RFP is prioritized based on size, profitability and best fit for the hotel, depending on inventory and demand.

Some hotel salespeople, like Linda Simpson, vice president of sales and marketing for the San Francisco-based Stanford Hotels Group, which owns and operates 13 full-service hotels, think it's a step in the right direction. "We're eager to leverage Lead Scoring to buy back precious hours lost in the RFP evaluation process," says Simpson.

Others, however, demur. "I am not a fan of Lead Scoring," says one sales executive from London-based Belmond, formerly Orient-Express Hotels. "I want to touch every RFP that comes to my inbox, without anyone telling me what they think is a good fit for my hotel."