By now, the covid-19 pandemic has impacted almost all industries in one way or another, but inarguably travel and events are among the hardest-hit industries. Takeoff Partners’ portfolio company MeetingPackage has been hard at work thinking how to help large hotel chains and small independent hotels in keeping their events and meeting venues business afloat.
During spring 2020, pandemic-related travel
restrictions were put into place. Hotel bookings plummeted, and many hotels
closed either temporarily or permanently. Although some hotels have been able
to re-open their doors since, the future at large still looks uncertain to say
the least. Second wave is a reality in many countries, and many others never
got the pandemic under control.
According to Joonas Ahola, the Founder and CEO
of MeetingPackage, the company has recently put much thought into figuring out
how to help the hotel industry.
MeetingPackage’s offering is focused on cloud-based
venue management software for selling meeting rooms and event spaces more
efficiently online. As hotels are remarkable players in the event spaces
industry, they form the core of MeetingPackage’s client base as well.
“The desire to invest is understandably zero but there
is a need for agility for when the reopening eventually happens,” he
Founded in 2014, MeetingPackage is one of Takeoff
Partners’ portfolio companies with Markko Vaarnas holding a position in
the company’s board for the past five years.
Commission-based model helps reduce risks
Before coronavirus, things were looking decidedly
positive for both the meetings and events landscape as well as MeetingPackage itself.
The company holds one of the largest meetings and events
distribution networks of globally with more than 300 distribution partners
ranging from global Travel Agencies such as CWT to more domestic providers such
as venuedirectory in the UK. MeetingPackage’s hotel customers include large
hotel chains such as Nordic Choice Hotels and smaller independent hotels
including Best Western Hotel International Brno in Brno, Czech Republic and Waterloo
Hub Hotel in London, UK.
In 2019, MeetingPackage raised
€1.5M for internationalization in Continental Europe.
Then, disruption arrived in the form of the pandemic
and lockdowns. Their impact on the hotel and events industry started showing as
early as in February 2020 when the first hotels closed down in Asia. In March, right
before WHO declared COVID-19 a pandemic, big US hotel chains, such as Hyatt Hotels
Corporation, Hilton, and Park Hotels & Resort, withdrew their Q1 and
full-year 2020 guidance figures. Hotels in Spain were considered non-essential
businesses and had to close, and Disney announced first the closure of its
parks and then all Walt Disney World resort hotels. By April, around
4 billion people, which is roughly half of the world’s population, were in some
form of lockdown. Events were cancelled as most work travel and
almost all leisure travel had become impossible.
Ahola says this had a direct impact on MeetingPackage
“Suddenly we had more cancellations than transactions.
Even though hotels had fixed costs still running, they were forced to close
their doors,” he describes.
The team at MeetingPackage put their minds into
figuring out how to help and came up with two separate measures
The first was to add flexibility to the offering.
Before the pandemic, MeetingPackage’s booking engine
was available with a fixed annual price. Now it is available at a much lower
cost while the bulk of the price is built into a commission. This way, the risk
of deploying the service is very low for the hotel, yet it allows them to win
crucial time by selling meeting spaces in advance.
“If hotels start selling their meeting services only
after reopening, they will essentially lose three months because that’s about how
long it takes to get the bookings up to a normal level,” Ahola explains.
In addition to pricing model, the second improvement
MeetingPackage made was to their service packaging.
“Until now, we had been so busy with serving large
hotel chains that we never had the time to develop our offering for small
hotels as much as we would have wanted to. Now we seized the opportunity and
did it. Competition is increasing so small hotels are especially impacted and
in need of agile solutions. Our self-serve software is available for them
easily and at an affordable price.”
Shutdown can be time well spent
According to Ahola, not everything that is coming out of the pandemic is
negative. There is a silver lining: it has given time for hotels to focus on
“There is a lot of legacy software in use that doesn’t work properly any
more. If a hotel or venue can afford to invest now, I strongly recommend
updating to modern property and revenue management software.”
Many have done so, and the team at MeetingPackage has often found
themselves acting as advisors on the matter while working together with their
“Traditionally, there aren’t any people working at a hotel that would
have natural responsibility over the company’s digitalization of meetings and
events, so we’ve felt we are in a position to help our clients by advising them
on the topic.”
Ahola believes that once the crisis is over and the industry recovers, it
will become apparent who used the time to evolve and who didn’t.
“I think digitalization will become an even bigger topic in the events
industry after covid-19 than it was before.”
As for MeetingPackage, they will not meet their pre-pandemic growth
targets but things aren’t looking dire either. Ahola estimates the company
revenue will grow by 1.5-2 this year compared to the previous year. Recent
deals include ones with Radisson Hotel Group, Davinci Meeting Rooms from the US
and Event Inc from Germany.
“We don’t serve any particular geographic as our clients include large
hotel chains. Our clientele comes from all over the world,” Ahola concludes.