Buyers See Some Success In Hotel Talks - Business Travel News

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Buyers See Some Success In Hotel Talks

February 25, 2013 - 04:40 PM ET

By Michael B. Baker

Corporate hotel rates for 2013 spiked in Latin America and select U.S. markets, meeting expectations for a tough negotiating season. But increases were more moderate in Europe and some emerging markets in Asia.

In the United States, the average corporate hotel rate for 2013 increased by 5.3 percent compared with the previous year, "maybe a little more than expected," said Yon Abad, director of Carlson Wagonlit Travel's Hotel Solutions Group in the Americas. In New York, the average corporate rate is up 10.2 percent following challenging negotiations that saw hotels initially propose increases north of 16 percent, he said.

Bob Brindley, vice president of business solutions for BCD Travel's Advito consultancy, reported a slightly lower average corporate rate increase for New York. "Markets like Boston, San Francisco and Chicago had higher increases than New York," he said. "New York has had such high increases the past few years, that it's gotten to the point where clients were doing whatever they could to decrease demand."

Walt Disney Co. vice president of global travel Alda Garone noted particularly difficult negotiations this year for New York as well as for locations in Asia. Even so, she kept the overall increase below average. "We were glad that, overall, it was only a 1.5 percent increase year over year, globally," Garone said during The BTN Group's Travel Management 2013 event in December. "There were about three rounds of negotiating, and we also narrowed the number of hotels we will be using globally."

Speaking at the same event, JP Morgan Chase vice president of global travel Erin Barth said she similarly was successful after multiple rounds of negotiations.

"We realized less than a 3 percent increase worldwide, which was a very large achievement for us considering where we started," she said. "We also secured a very large percentage with two-year agreements."

Barth partly attributed the relatively low average price hike to increasing by 300 the number of properties in major markets that were sent requests for proposals.

"We decided to shake it up a bit and look at some brands we hadn't looked at," Barth said. "It was an eye-opener for us, because people want to get into our program."

The number of properties in the JP Morgan Chase hotel program ultimately increased, but Barth said the cause was the company's global expansion. "So, in essence, we remained flat," she said.

Garone said this year she decreased the number of hotels in the Disney program so "all of our suppliers know that we made a concerted effort to make absolutely sure that if we're receiving good discounts, we're going to give you the number of room nights we feel that discount warrants."

Like Garone, Barth said New York was one of her most challenging markets. Latin America was another, although "it was a lower percentage of our room night usage, so it's not so painful."

In a January research note, Morgan Stanley noted that its own overall average hotel rate increased by less than 3 percent, below its expectations of a 4 percent increase. The average New York rate increased between 2 percent and 3 percent, and the average São Paulo rate rose 10 percent, though the company had braced for increases there as high as 20 percent.

Global Rate Performance 

Latin America this year was the region where corporate rates increased most from the prior year, according to Advito. It reported average rate increases between 8 percent and 14 percent, with average jumps in major Brazilian markets as high as 22 percent. Part of that was due to currency fluctuations, but the much bigger reason is that "capacity hasn't caught up with demand," Brindley said.

The Pacific region, particularly Australia and New Zealand, also had significant year-over-year rate hikes. Advito reported increases as high as 12 percent in Australia—though much of that came from big increases in areas where the mining industry is active, outside such business centers as Sydney and Melbourne.

In Asia, new supply tempered rate growth to 1.8 percent, according to CWT. In China and India, where hotel companies in recent years have concentrated much of their development, the average rates were down 0.2 percent and 3.2 percent, respectively.

Europe, meanwhile, "seemed to be pretty soft in general," said JP Morgan's Barth. Overall, the average rate in the region was up 1.1 percent, according to CWT's Abad. Some countries had larger increases, including France, where the average rate increased 5.5 percent, largely due to increases at high-end Paris hotels. In London, rates increased 3 percent, he said, where "it's not the usual kind of post-Olympic recession/depression."

The Middle East was the only global region where the overall average rate decreased, down 1.1 percent, according to Carlson Wagonlit.

"It's still the same issue that we've had in the region for some years: oversupply and a lot of competition between the hotels," Abad said. "Demand is robust, but not as strong as expected some years ago, when they launched all these hotels."

Negotiating Beyond Rates 

Despite global rate challenges, buyers this year generally were successful in retaining key amenities as part their rates. Overall, about 12 percent more hotel agreements than the prior year included Internet access, Abad said. In Europe and Asia, Internet-inclusive contracts were up 18 percent.

"A lot of hotels had been blocked by contracts they had with IT companies, where they had to charge for the Internet," he said. "These contracts are being negotiated, so hotel properties have more flexibility."

At the same time, Abad said hotels, particularly independent hotels, increasingly are tiering Internet pricing. For example, they will provide a limited amount of time for free but charge after that, or will allow basic Internet access but charge for greater bandwidth use.

Disney's Garone said she added a number of "soft benefits" to her program this year, "including breakfast to about 70 percent [of included properties], in addition to the typical amenities: free Wi-Fi, discounted parking and discounts on meals."

In the current seller's market, buyers are looking for other ways to generate savings. Speaking at the December event, Wellpoint manager of strategic sourcing for travel Cindy Heston said she recently benchmarked with peers in the healthcare industry and realized her tier mix was at a slightly higher level than others. As such, she put additional midprice properties into certain markets.

"We're going to make sure that such properties receive a certain share in the market, by biasing the booking tool," Heston explained. "This will ensure value back to the organization, right-size us with our peers and stay out of the high-end properties from a basic transient business travel standpoint."

In a webcast conducted last fall by The BTN Group, OSI Systems director of global corporate travel and expense Frank Dolce said he found alternatives to supplement his negotiated hotel program and save costs. Because OSI is a midmarket program, large chains traditionally had been disinterested in its business, leaving it to direct dealings with local hotels around the world, he said.

More recently, however, InterContinental Hotels Group approached the company to join its midmarket program, which lets buyers set up and manage bookings for properties through an online tool. Dolce said it has been "working out very well." OSI also has found savings by reimbursing travelers for AAA memberships.

"A lot of hotels around the world, especially American chains, offer an AAA rate that can be lower than a consortia rate or a TMC rate," Dolce said. "It's good for morale as well, because people get a basic AAA membership out of it."

This report originally appeared in the February 2013 issue of Travel Procurement. 

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