GROWING THE ONLINE GROUP TRAVEL BOOKING MARKET IN ASIA

Exclusive trade interview: Tim Hentschel – CEO – Hotelplanner.com and Meetings.com

HotelPlanner.com is the world’s largest provider of online group hotel bookings and event management services. Meanwhile Meetings.com secures hotel accommodations, meeting space, conference venues, and hospitality services – and negotiates the most favourable terms possible. They research, create, and present a comprehensive report of all “best fit” venue options for those seeking “meeting solutions”. In the last month, group CEO Tim Hentschel has moved from the UK to Singapore. We asked him why.

We launched our Asia headquarter office in Hong Kong about four years ago. Then around a year ago, when we decided to expand more into this market, we decided we needed to look at some place new, and we decided Singapore was the best spot. We are happy to be in a place where things are very stable. We are happy to be in an area which is also growing rapidly. Singapore just took the number one award for the most business-friendly environment, and they overtook the US this year in that. They also took the number two spot among the top financial markets. It’s exciting to be here while Singapore is experiencing such great growth.

How are your companies performing and what are the sweet spots at the moment?

We are lucky to be in online group travel where we have a good mix of leisure group as opposed to corporate group, because corporate group has taken a considerable hit in the last year. When markets flatten out, the first thing CFOs do is to cut their corporate group spend. So, corporate groups have been down in the double digits. But luckily for us, we have a strong leisure group market too, and we also have a product that tends to see more growth during recessions, because more people are looking to save money. Our leads are up 20% year-over-year right now, and we have signed some really good deals. We acquired VenueExplorer.com.sg – a local Singapore start-up that specialises in meetings and events.  We just did a deal with One Championship. There’s a seven-figure sponsorship deal, and it includes a lot of exposure in the Asian market for what we do. That is unique, as there is not another online travel company in Asia that specialises in group bookings that has a global reach and that has the kind of traffic and history we do. We have been seeing pick-up in Europe ever since we got Bas Lemmens, the co-founder of Bookings.com to become the CEO of Meetings.com, our other brand which we headquartered out of Amsterdam now. And then of course North America continues to be our strongest market, where 80% of our revenues are still located.

Singapore itself seems to be growing as a MICE destination. What are your thoughts on that?

Yes, they are building a fourth tower at the Marina Bay Sands and are building a huge indoor stadium as well. They are anticipating bigger events coming down here, and I know the Hong Kong market has become tough – especially with the issues in transport there. I think there will be much more movement towards Singapore when it comes to MICE.