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Skift Take

Smart hotels are rethinking the most profitable ways to make the most of their spaces, and it is no longer just about heads in beds. Mobile apps and on-demand services are just one piece of this pie, but they are an important piece.

— Greg Oates

Bizly has launched as an iOS app platform for users seeking last-minute meeting space at luxury and lifestyle hospitality brands, ranging from Mandarin Oriental to the Standard, Morgans, and Ace hotel groups.

A web and Android version are scheduled to launch in the first quarter of 2016.

There’s growing demand globally for remote corporate meeting space due to the rise in corporate workers on the go and contract freelancers. At the same time, hotel meeting space at upscale properties often goes unused for small events because it’s generally perceived as an expensive hassle to book in major urban markets.

In recent years, major hotel chains have been trying to bridge the gap between short-term meeting demand and empty meeting space by developing branded services to drive late bookings. Hilton launched Meetings Simplified; Marriott created Workspace on Demand in partnership with LiquidSpace, and Westin offers its Tangent all-in-one telepresence rooms.

Bizly, meanwhile, is targeting users and corporate planners interested in more lifestyle-oriented hotel meeting experiences at a heavily discounted price.

“We’re exclusively focusing on upscale hotels with a great experience and great service for the enterprise market,” says Ron Shah, CEO of Bizly. “A lot of people have never been in a meeting space at a luxury hotel. So there’s a bit of a learning curve in the marketplace, but we think we just need to get people to try it once to understand the value.”

Shah launched Jina Ventures in 2003 as an emerging markets venture capital advisory firm, investing in and seeing the exit of 12 Asian companies by 2012. He also invested in the Directr and Songza apps acquired by Google in 2014.

The Bizly app features a Google Maps interface above a list of available hotels. Each listing includes a general description of the property and what’s included with the meeting room, such as bottled water, sofas, LCD screens, etc. Listings also have a minimum booking and advance notice requirement, which go as low as two hours and one hour, respectively.

Each individual property is then tagged twice by overall vibe, such as “sleek” and “luxe,” or “charming” and “simple,” for added search functionality. To purchase space, customers simply add their company name and client billing code, and click “Reserve.”

“The problem with booking meetings at a hotel is it’s usually stressful and difficult to do, with 10 phone calls and emails to send an RFP (Request for Proposal) and negotiate a contract,” says Shah. “It’s a pain. It’s similar to what it used to be like booking hotel rooms before there was online travel.”

For short-term bookings less than one week out, Bizly offers negotiated rates, generally 50-75% off. Sample introductory pricing includes $75 per hour for a 22-seat boardroom at Ace Hotel New York. The penthouse at Royalton Hotel in New York starts at $165 per hour for up to 10 people.

Customers also have the option to choose from three a la carte food and beverage packages in the app, as well as other add-ons like video conferencing.

To date, Bizly has signed contracts with trendy hotels in six U.S. cities, including 30 properties in New York and 10 in San Francisco, with plans to go global by the end of the year. The company is also testing demand for a few select service brands, including Hilton Garden Inn.

On-Demand Meeting Growth Opportunities

While many Fortune 500 companies are scaling back their office space based on the shift in workplace mobility, department managers traditionally have encountered numerous challenges attempting to book offsite event space.

They had to either go through the time-consuming process of dealing with hotel contracts or in-house procurement. Or they used an intermediary planner or administrative executive of some kind.

Because, Shah says, “A mid-level marketing or production manager at Google, for example, typically can’t sign a hotel RFP contract, and the meetings are often too small for the events team to get involved.”

In addition, most large enterprises require a “duty of care” clause for offsite corporate events, stating that the host venue is responsible for the employees in the event of a crisis.

Hotels catering to business travelers automatically provide that while with other sharing-economy companies, including Breather, LiquidSpace and Regus, offer meeting space options. They promote a wide range of multi-use and non-corporate facilities that often don’t satisfy the duty of care requirement.

“So there’s a little bit of user confusion and you often don’t know what you’re going to get, because their meeting space is all over the map between different providers,” Shah suggests.

Actually, the hospitality sector itself could be a potent factor driving Bizly’s growth over the long haul. With Airbnb and similar booking platforms eating market share, and the continued growth of lifestyle hotels, the legacy hotel brands will potentially increasingly rely on group business.

That will only increase further as millennials become the dominant consumer segment five to 10 years from now.

“In fact, we believe in five years that many corporate hotels will begin to convert 10-20% of their guest rooms into meeting space, so they can continue to thrive without changing their corporate DNA,” Shah said. “We believe that we can help them do that.”

How exactly?

Unlike hotel rooms, which run on a global distribution system accessed by consumers and online booking agents, meeting rooms are off the grid. Shah wants to build the first universal network integrating all hotels to centralize their meeting room inventory in a seamless API, as well as provide the supporting online infrastructure to optimize the meeting room experience for hotels.

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