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Hilton will simplify its process for booking small events and meetings, too. All told, it's a promising sign that hoteliers are finally taking the pain points of small and medium-sized businesses seriously.

Hilton said Monday it’s taking steps to streamline how small- and medium-sized businesses book and manage billings for business travel and small-group meetings and events.

The hotel giant has quietly opened a waitlist for Hilton for Business, a platform to simplify how businesses book travel at its hotels. Hilton plans to make the platform globally available early next year.

Hilton will offer points rewards to businesses — not just frequent travelers — as an incentive to woo participants. Another Hilton effort that will launch by early next year is expanding its events booking capabilities.

“We don’t think anybody is serving this segment particularly well at this point,” said Chris Silcock, Hilton’s chief commercial officer.

Loyalty Program for Businesses

To encourage businesses to sign up, Hilton will run a “loyalty program” that rewards businesses in addition to letting road warriors earn rewards through the Honors loyalty program.

“We’re giving business owners the flexibility with those points to do whatever they want,” Silcock said. “They can keep them for themselves and use them for their personal travel. The owners can give them to their team members. Whatever works for that individual business.”

Hilton will offer bonuses through a few mechanisms, such as the volume of stays and the volume of stays over time.

The Problems Businesses Face When Booking Travel

Skift estimates that the company’s two initiatives may be relevant to roughly 70 million road warriors next year. Hilton said in May that business transient demand drove “close to 45%” of its mix of guests, and it said on Monday that roughly 85% of Hilton’s business transient guests are small-to-medium-sized enterprises.

Today about three out of four U.S. small and medium-sized businesses book their own travel. But it isn’t easy to get access to discounts, even if they book a lot with the same chain.

Some hotel groups let businesses apply for preferential rates. However, they require the typical applicant to send in a form and wait for a response. Or they might have to find a few hotels and call each and go through an individual negotiation.

Hilton for Business

Hilton’s new process aims for instant enrollment after a quick online attestation that the business qualifies.

Businesses that sign up will get to see discounted rates on and on the Hilton Honors app at more than 7,000 properties. Managers will then be able to assign different permissions for types of hotel rooms that different employees can book.

Today, when most businesses want to track and understand their company’s travel, they have to click through spreadsheets or go through bank statements.

Hilton will give business owners basic dashboards to see which employees are staying where and what they’re spending.

On this front, the hotelier is taking a page from interfaces from online travel players and startups such as Navan, for Business, and Groupize.

“We actually control the experience, which means we can offer businesses benefits, upgrades, and preferential service treatment,” Silcock said. “It’s very difficult or impossible for third-party managers of travel programs to compete on that.”

Hilton’s level of permissions to start is basic, but the hotelier said it has plans to add more controls over time.

“If you have an administrator who you want to book all your travel, they will be able to use the benefits on behalf of all of your employees,” Silcock said.

Simplifying How Small Meetings Are Booked

Booking small meetings has also been a challenge for small and medium-sized businesses.

“It’s been a long-standing opportunity across the industry to remove some of the friction from booking a small meeting,” Silcock said. “We’re taking on that problem, and we’re going to solve it.”

Hilton’s upcoming tool will enable customers shopping for meeting packages for up to 35 attendees to book guest rooms and meetings or event spaces, with or without 10 to 25 guestrooms, directly on its events booking site. The new process shouldn’t require a separate contract or the need to call someone.

One complexity Hilton had to overcome is that, for years, it has lacked a single inventory system for meetings across all of its properties.

“We’ve been on a journey for the last six years of standardizing our property inventory and pricing technology for meeting rooms to be able to do what we’re doing now,” Silcock said. “We currently have hundreds of hotels enabled with meeting booking. By the end of the year, it’ll be thousands, and by the end of the first quarter, it will be all of them everywhere around the world.”

“We’re using a third-party solution,” Silcock said. “But the secret sauce is how we integrate it and connect it so that we can combine meeting room availability and meeting room pricing with bedroom availability and bedroom pricing into one seamless transaction for the customer.”

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Tags: business travel, event management, event planners, future of business travel, future of lodging, group booking, hilton, loyalty, meeting planners, meeting planning, meetings, meetings and events, small businesses

Photo credit: A rooftop event space at the rooftop event space at theWit Chicago, a hotel run by Hilton. Source: Hilton.

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