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Thursday, 29 April 2010

The Randy Quaid hotel bill: time to use billback

The jailing this week of actor Randy Quaid (famous for being the drunken crop-sprayer in Independence Day and sheep farmer Joe Aguirre in Brokeback Mountain) and his wife shows just how expensive it can be if you fail to pay your bill when you leave a hotel. Expensive for hoteliers if you do a bunk and expensive for guests if they are subsequently caught.

The couple stayed at the exclusive San Ysidro Ranch in Santa Barbara, California last year, and it is alleged that they used an invalid credit card when paying the $10,000 tab. A standard room at the ranch, where Chris Martin of Coldplay and actress Gwyneth Paltrow got married, costs from around $545 a night. The Kennedy Suite, where JFK and Jackie spent their 1963 honeymoon, is a little pricier – $3,000 a night.

The Quaids were jailed not because of the bill itself – which has apparently been paid since - but because of their failure to turn up at court hearings. The judge was fed up with their no-shows and ordered them to be put behind bars. They got out four hours later after raising bail for a second time. Earlier bail payments of $40,000 have been forfeited, making it one very expensive hotel stay.

The couple wouldn’t have been in such a mess if they had been using the Conferma Settlement Plan system. The system uses virtual credit cards to make a payment on behalf of a travel management company, meaning that hotel guests do not use their own personal cards when they leave the hotel.

Monday, 19 April 2010

Volcanic disruption: how TMCs have been able to help stranded travellers

The eruption of the Eyjafjallajökull volcano in Iceland has stranded anywhere between 100,000 and a million travellers overseas, and it is travel agencies who have borne much of the brunt of helping those abroad trying to get home by whatever means necessary.

Many travellers who have not booked through a travel agency have had to resort to their own ingenuity to get home – buying bicycles to take advantage of cyclist fares on ferries and paying taxi drivers thousands of pounds to get home. If the latest news from the Government is to be believed, some travellers might end up hitching a lift on HMS Ark Royal.
It is at times like these that travel management companies come into their own for getting business travellers home. Consultants who deal with travel plans day-in, day-out for business travellers, are the best placed to know all the possible alternatives when flights are grounded.

Yet just knowing the travel alternatives is not enough, a consultant needs to know where the travellers are in the first place. Conferma’s booking API, used by a number of travel management companies, is a good place to start. It allows the TMC to search for travellers by location, helping them prioritise those travellers who are in the greatest need.

Several of Conferma’s agency customers have been using the API in just this way over the past few days, helping their corporate clients’ travellers extend their stays or find an alternative place to stay or means of travel.
It doesn’t yet include booking places on HMS Ark Royal but the wide range of options have come as welcome relief to many who have been caught up in this unprecedented event.

Thursday, 15 April 2010

Rate Analyser: a glimpse into the future

Fast forward 10 years. The days of the 9-to-5 job for life have gone forever. The Con-Lib-Lab government elected in 2010 decided that Britain could only emerge from economic ruin by doing away with traditional working practices and introduced the ultimate in flexible working.

A Europe-wide e-auction system, introduced in 2012 after a £20 billion cost over-run, means that when you wake up each morning, a list of jobs for which you are qualified appears on your iPhone 5GS-3D holoscreen, You then tap in the minimum rate for which you are willing to work for that day. If you are successful you get out of bed and head to work, guided by the sat nav on your iPhone since you have probably never been there before.

It may sound far-fetched for employers to use technology in this way to pay their staff as little as possible but it isn’t really. Already, there are websites out there that do something similar. If you have ever needed to hire a designer, web developer, writer or PR expert, you might have come across a website called Elance which hands out work posted to freelance professionals based on the best price.
It is just the logical conclusion of the desire by people of today to get the best possible price for everything. People want to pay as little as possible for everything, whether that’s a freelance web geek or the latest CD from an X Factor runner-up.

Our own Rate Analyser tool for hotel bookings has the same idea behind it. This clever bit of technology hovers around in the background after you have made a hotel booking using our Hotel Booker tool. If the rate goes down before you depart for the hotel, it rebooks you at the lower price.

It really is a little piece of the future that has somehow found its way into the present. And if any employer out there wants us to build them a Wage Analyser, just get in touch.

Monday, 12 April 2010

The General Election, MPs and Westminster hotels

So, we are going to have a General Election on May 6. That means we have weeks of claim and counter-claim, statistics and bare-faced lies, polls and more polls to look forward to.

Despite that, the election is an interesting one for a number of reasons. The fact that the outcome is likely to be the closest for years means that there is more to play for, particularly for the smaller parties, than for a generation.

Secondly, we will see a record number of MPs replaced, largely due to the fallout from the MPs’ expenses scandal. At least 150 MPs have announced that they are planning to stand down at the forthcoming election. Many others may elect to join them after it was announced recently that golden goodbyes of up to £65,000 will be banned from the next Parliament. Going now rather than in five years could make a big difference to their “retirement”.

Those new MPs will be working under a new expenses regime that is still currently being finalised. However, it is already clear that there will be new restrictions on MPs’ use of hotels, with a cap on the amount they can spend if they need to stay the night close to the Houses of Parliament.

However, even with a price cap they will have plenty of choice.

New MPs looking for somewhere to stay close to the Houses of Parliament – or their travel booker in their constituency, whether that is their spouse, an otherwise unemployed son or daughter or merely an employee - could do worse than looking at our hotel booking tool Hotel Booker.

The hotel booking tool lists 150,000 hotels around the world. Just within a mile of the House, there are at least 50 hotels available to book.

Hotel Booker, which includes a natty mapping function, shows that the five closest hotels to the Houses of Parliament are the Hilton London Trafalgar Square, the Sanctuary House Hotel, the Premier Inn London County Hall, the Marriott County Hall and the Park Plaza Westminster Bridge.

What that means is that our new MPs – whoever they may be – will still be within running distance of the House should the Division Bell sound while they are still sleeping off a late-night session (parliamentary of course) in their hotel bed.

Thursday, 1 April 2010

Booking the right hotel at the right price

This week’s Hotel Guest Survey, from research company BDRC, makes for interesting reading.

It shows that almost half of all business travellers have been asked to change their behaviour over the past 12 months in order to reduce costs. The survey showed that 44% of travellers have experienced an increase in the level of enforcement of their corporate hotel policies during the year. The most common change to policy has been the introduction of a cap on the rate that companies are willing to pay for their employees to stay overnight.

This is where a hotel booking tool, like Conferma’s Hotel Booker (http://www.conferma.com/Corporates/BookingEngine.aspx), comes in handy. A booking tool has the ability to enforce a new hotel policy without emotion. Yet a lack of emotion does not mean a lack of choice. Hotel Booker has a database of around 150,000 hotels worldwide, giving travellers a wide enough range of properties at every possible price point.

This works well for companies who just want to find the best rate on the day – something that is proving successful in a market where hoteliers are doing everything they can on rate to attract guests.

Yet Hotel Booker also helps those companies that have negotiated deals. Although the rate may not be the cheapest available, a night at a preferred hotel can come with other benefits – a better room, a more flexible cancellation policy or breakfast and internet access thrown in with the rate.

As well as cutting costs, Britain’s business travellers are also travelling slightly less. They spent four fewer nights away from home in 2009 than they did the previous year. Overall, UK plc spent 56 million nights in British hotels.

What is even more enlightening from the survey is the proportion of travellers who choose their own hotels – 53% of all travellers and a whopping 73% of frequent travellers. Since Hotel Booker can let you book a hotel in just three clicks, that gives time for highly recompensed executives to do what they are really paid for.