AmEx Allows Meeting Planners to 'Hold' Meeting Reservations

As part of an exclusive agreement with meetings technology company Worktopia, American Express Business Travel this month said it negotiated with hotels and meeting venues the capability to reserve meeting space and rooms online without completing the purchase.

Meanwhile, American Express this month also unveiled its traveler Web portal with single-sign-on access to online booking, expense management, profiles and travel information. The company is testing the Explore portal in the United States, said vice president, general manager and head of sales Lane Dubin. In the coming weeks, American Express will deploy it in eight countries, including Canada, France and Germany. It plans further rollouts in Europe, Mexico and South America by year-end and in 2010.

While the American Express-Worktopia Small Meetings Expert tool—which is designed for group bookings of less than 50 attendees to procure guest rooms, meeting space, food and beverage and audiovisual equipment—has been in the works for several months, Worktopia's "hold" technology had yet to be implemented as part of its existing system because of the commercial agreements required with hotel companies and meeting venues to allow such an action to occur.

"It requires a significant negotiating leverage with the hotel for them to agree to the hold," said Worktopia CEO John Arenas said. "We don't have the same marketing muscle as American Express, so we didn't have the ability to negotiate that."

With hold capabilities in play, if a meeting needs to be cancelled or significantly altered within a certain period of time, much like an airline ticket, "the user can in effect book it and walk away," Arenas said.

"The biggest thing we heard from companies when we launched it is that the application did not allow a meeting planner to put on hold a meeting," American Express vice president and general manager of global business partnerships, advisory services and meetings solutions Hervé Sedky told Successful Meetings' and MeetingNews' sister publication Business Travel News. "You had to go on the application and make an instant purchase. The type of buyer that this application really targets is mostly non-professional meeting planners, typically administrators, assistants and training managers."

Other TMCs and Worktopia distribution partners are prohibited from using the hold feature for a period of time that neither Arenas nor American Express would disclose.