Memories like these are what makes a vacation “perfect.” Aside from the memories, available flights at convenient times, straightforward transfers to and from the destination and accommodation with competent customer service are all elements that make a vacation experience perfect.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Tim Hentschel. Tim grew up in the hospitality industry. His parents owned and operated several hotels and a touring company. Hentschel saw firsthand how group travelers were neglected in this industry. This led him to create HotelPlanner.com in 2002. Hentschel graduated from Cornell University School of Hospitality in 2001. He was recently awarded Cornell’s 2018 Hospitality Innovator Award.
Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
As a Cornell University Hotelier in the late 90’s, I was focused on travel bookings moving online. When I graduated in ’01, group travel had no online foot print. I teamed up with a top engineer from IBM, and we started Hotelplanner.com to provide online group hotel booking technology.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?
When I was 25, and only two years into the company, I turned down a buyout offer of tens of millions of dollars from the largest online travel company in the world. Money was never our prime motivation. We knew there was still a lot of work to be done. We felt we could be more effective and influential remaining independent therefore enabling our platform to connect with every major travel company worldwide.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
I’m not much into making funny mistakes, but in the early days I can remember venture capital banks turning us down for funding, and after each rejection the banker would tell me to call them when we made our first million. We were already making millions in revenues, but we didn’t see our first profits until year three. I still can’t understand why we would call a venture capital banker once we made our first million in profits. Did they want us to put money into their bank? We have watched so many venture capital and private equity funded companies fail in our industry; this first interaction with them taught me why.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
We care about people: namely our community, our customers and our employees. After my business partner and I mortgaged our houses to buy out our angel investors, we both gave shares to our employees. We wanted to be a completely employee owned business, so everyone was fully invested our continued success.
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”? Can you share a story about that?
This is an important question. I’ve seen a lot of burn out over the years. Online travel is a 24/7 business. Creativity is my greatest motivator and what keeps me focused, centered and passionate. My suggestion is to challenge yourself every day to create something new and make something better than it was before. We look to all our employees to have that same drive. Our team is constantly challenging why we do things the way we do them. They question nearly every aspect of our operation continually, asking, “can this be done a better way to make the customers happier?”
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
There has been a lot of help along the way. Some of our greatest supporters will know who they are when they read this. I appreciate every single one of them, and unfortunately (or fortunately), there are too many to mention each one by name. The two most important ones are my wife, Julie, and my business partner, John Prince. The former continues to work for the company for free and the latter hasn’t taken so much as a vacation day in the 15 years we’ve been in business.
Let’s jump to the core of our discussion. Can you share with our readers about the innovations that you are bringing to the travel and hospitality industries?
We invented online group hotel booking technology that guarantees the lowest rates at over 100,000 hotels worldwide, and completely automates group bookings. Our Meetings.com offering is further automating the event planning process for consumers worldwide. We have event planners spanning the globe to bring hundreds of years of aggregate experience to help the consumer book and execute an event from their smartphone. We are also keen to stay with consumers as they advance in the technology realm and are adding artificial intelligence (AI) capabilities to our services to better understand how big data trends effect group hotel rates.
Which “pain point” are you trying to address by introducing this innovation?
In the days of old, anyone planning or booking a group was subjected to a long manual RFP and contracting process. It would take suppliers an average of a quarter to a half hour each to bid on prospective business. HotelPlanner.com leads may be responded to in less than 20 seconds or eliminate responding all together with our new international group rate technology. Traditional group contracts would obligate the customer into paying penalties for unused rooms in their block and never guaranteed them the hotel’s lowest rates, which our technology has helped eliminate.
How do you envision that this might disrupt the status quo?
It already has disrupted the status quo: over 10% of North America’s group hotel bookings go through our system and most hotels no longer quote higher group rates than individual online published deals. Our platform’s 100,000 hotel partners have a lot to do with making group booking more customer friendly.
Can you share 5 examples of how travel and hospitality companies will be adjusting over the next five years to the new ways that consumers like to travel?
The internet will continue to be a force for good in our industry for these five reasons:
1) More rewarding customer loyalty programs
2) More transparency on terms and conditions
3) More frequent discounts
4) Better customer service
5) No paperwork (even when it comes to larger transactions like group bookings)
You are a “travel insider”. How would you describe your “perfect vacation experience”?
I just had one on a Ski trip in Norway with my family. The perfect resort, the greatest snow, the perfect age when your kids go from first stepping into skis to going all the way down the mountain on their own in just a few days of lessons. They are so proud of themselves, and you are so proud of them: memories like these are what makes a vacation “perfect.” Aside from the memories, available flights at convenient times, straightforward transfers to and from the destination and accommodation with competent customer service are all elements that make a vacation experience perfect.
Can you share with our readers how have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
We have started the American Group Travel Awards and the European Group Travel Awards to recognize the best practices and suppliers in group travel, meetings and events. We have a charitable recipient for each event. In previous years, the charities we have raised money for include UNICEF and St. Jude’s. We are proud to say that we raise upwards of $100,000 for charities each year. Our company culture embraces all opportunities for charity, whether it be giveaways of hotel stays and scholarships to those in need, an employee representing HotelPlanner and Meetings.com at a charitable event for a partner, participating in charity athletic events as a group or coordinating office food and clothing drives which sometimes serve people in need thousands of miles away.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
“Bring People Together” is our motto. When you bring people together, powerful work gets done. There is strength in numbers, and as we help empower and enable people to organize in the spirit of service and helping others, this brings the most amount of good to the most amount of people.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
I’m HotelPlannerCEO on Twitter. HotelPlanner also has its own Facebook and Twitter pages with over 1.2 million followers. We are known for giving away thousands in free hotel rooms to our loyal fans so be sure to like and subscribe to our pages to increase your chance at a free booking!
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!
Thank you very much!