Growing up, Tim Hentschel’s family owned several hotels, so the CEO of HotelPlanner has deep roots in the hospitality industry. One of the challenges he noticed early on was how difficult it was for travelers to procure a hotel rate or quote. Traditionally, administrators would gather the complex information on group travelers, and the process would continue over and over until a figure was finally arrived at. Tim Hentschel soon realized the opportunity to simplify the process and launched HotelPlanner.com in 2004. Here’s how it works. When you visit the booking site, all you need to do is provide your desired location, dates, number of rooms and your budget, and then hotels instantaneously bid for your business. Having provided streamlined services to millions of event planners and travelers over nearly two decades, this travel entrepreneur and innovator is now looking ahead to see what it will take to navigate his business in a post-pandemic world.
Tim is also the recipient of the prestigious 2018 Cornell Hospitality Innovator Award, an annual award given by the Pillsbury Institute for Hospitality Entrepreneurship at Cornell University’s School of Hotel Administration, Tim’s alma mater. Importantly, Tim generously gives back to the community every year with major philanthropic and sponsorship efforts supporting St. Jude’s Hospital.
What do you see ahead for international travel?
Tim Hentschel (TH): We don’t foresee a full return until probably the second half of 2022. There are still so many questions about which countries are allowing travelers, and the requirements and rules are changing constantly. For instance, one minute a country is allowing another country passage and then all of a sudden, they change it. So, staying ahead of the shifting landscape becomes almost impossible, and there’s no way to reliably book international travel. As a result, people obviously don’t want to commit to a large price tag. That said, we’re hopeful that as vaccinations rates continue trending higher, things will eventually get back to normal.
In the meantime, do you think there will be more travel within people’s own countries… Or will that be a wait and see type of situation?
TH: We are reaching high levels of vaccination in the US, mask standards are coming off and there is a daily push to return to normal. So, we have seen a boom in domestic travel right now, and there are promising signs in the UK. But mainland Europe has not had a lot of progress in terms of coming out of lockdown, and I am living the same situation in Singapore as we speak. We are not allowed to go to our offices, and the restaurants and bars are shutdown. The Olympics in Japan are also in jeopardy, and in trying to prepare, the Japanese are doing what they can in super lockdown mode.
So within all these constraints, what are your latest initiatives and projects?
TH: As you know, bigger groups have been severely suppressed for a while. The days of group travel with 50 people may be over. A group five or six people is becoming more the norm. We call them a micro group. So, we’re really trying to focus on specific demographics and offer them the deepest discounts that we can. We have offered incentives like moving small wedding parties, booking sporting events, or the Memorial Day through Independence Day discount package we just offered all U.S. veterans and their families. There’s also a demand for friends getting together and couples looking for getaways. Anything to get to the open spaces, we are seeing camping, mountain trips and beach days. It is just a smaller group market.
What are you looking forward to the most as far as travel goes and a return to normalcy?
TH: I’d like to see the whole pandemic thing be over and have Covid go the way of SARS and MERS. So, I can’t wait to talk about the pandemic in the past tense. This way everybody can have the freedom to go wherever they want. But it’s still going to be very hard to get back to that normal – especially as doubt hangs over people’s heads. On the other hand, so many people want the end, and they’re itching for a vacation. One that will finally take their mind off everything else.
What do you think are the biggest opportunities for people in the travel industry and how will the landscape change?
TH: I still believe that mergers and acquisition will be dominant in the landscape in the next two years. The main reason is that travel companies got hit hard, and to survive, big and small companies are consolidating. For instance, the travel management arm of Expedia was recently sold to American Express Travel, and as corporate travel is coming back, mergers by nature spur efficiencies and innovation. The result across the industry will mean expanded opportunities.
And finally, tell us just a little bit about your background and how you got into this field?
TH: I graduated with a degree in hospitality management from Cornell, and my family had been in the industry for a long time. We owned several hotels and operated a tour business in California. So, hospitality was in my blood. Then after I graduated, I did a short stint in Manhattan in the banking industry. That got me into the entrepreneurial spirit. I was an analyst tracking and grading emerging companies that were coming out of the dot com boom. Out of that experience, I decided to move back to California and do my own thing. Travel tech made the most sense, and that’s how HotelPlanner got started.