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HotelPlanner CEO Tim Hentschel Talks AI and Future Plans

How did the idea of HotelPlanner come into play? How did it all start?

It was way back in 2003, so we just celebrated our 20-year Anniversary last year. I graduated in 2001 from Cornell University’s School of Hotel Administration with a minor in computer science and engineering. I knew I wanted to do something in the digital space for hospitality. At that time, there was nothing on the internet that would take care of group travel, but there were plenty of options for individual travel sites, such as I was reading about the top 10 web companies, and one page had e-brokers, while the other page had eBay, and I thought that there had to be a site that allowed people to bid on a group basis, as that would be the perfect way to facilitate group booking online. That’s where the idea came to my mind, and along with my business partner, John Prince, who was top of his class in computer science from Northeastern University, we developed the patent from our apartments in California. It’s been a fun journey, and soon after, we were the official accommodation partners for the NFL team, the LA Clippers, the NBA, and a lot more. We got huge popularity in San Diego. In 2009, before we moved our headquarters to Palm Beach, Florida. The company doubled and then tripled; we got the Expedia account, and that was what sparked the expansion internationally, and we opened our office in London.


Which are your key markets?

For us, North America produces 80% of our business, 15% is Europe, and about 5% is Asia and growing. We have made some key acquisitions in the last year, such as a trade show-focused media company called Cleverdis, which gave us a big footprint in France. Our goal is to be the official accommodation, registration, and media partner for the top 1000 trade shows in the world. We have already signed up for 100, and by the end of 2026, we want to have 1000 more. That would be almost 50 million customers who would go through these shows. We look at them as connectors and decision makers; these are definitely the kind of people we want to do business with.


How important is the Middle Eastern market for you?

We do fairly well in Dubai and Abu Dhabi, and we need a higher push in Saudi Arabia, where there is a 1.2 trillion-dollar investment in the Red Sea and other tourism is picking up so well.

Which segment is big for you?

Sports are very important for us. 30% of our 5,000 group requests that go through our system every day are sports related. People travel for big sporting events. Sports make people travel across the globe.


Do you think sustainability is playing an important role in our lives right now? 

If you are middle class, it does matter, but not for the rich. It’s funny if you look at how many people are flying rockets, sponsoring F1 teams, and flying in private jets all around the world. The impact has to happen with the masses, and if we want to talk to the West, where the majority of carbon pollution originates, you have to convince the middle class. The biggest carbon burners per capita are in the West. On a company level, we became greener early on, as we adopted electronic signatures before anyone else in our industry did, despite initial reluctance to do so in 2003-2004. It only became popular in 2011–2012; now everyone uses it every day, everywhere.


Are there any current trends that you think are doing extremely well in your industry?

The biggest trend for our industry is AI right now. It's revolutionary; the whole backbone of online travel is based around the search engine, which is where people began their transitional search for vacation. For the first 15 years, it was a search engine. Now the industry is seeing 25–35% searches for AI.


What are your favorite travel experiences?

Recently, we were at a great Radisson Mountain resort in Norway, Trysil, where you can ski in and ski out. There is an indoor pool with a climbing wall where you can surf at night. And there was a bowling alley right next to that, and my family loved it. My second favorite is Sentosa Island Resort World. If you are looking for family holidays, they have Universal Studios, a waterpark, an aquarium, gambling for adults, a beach club, a gondola, and so much more. People talk about Disneyland, but Sentosa is the place that is a Disneyland for kids and adults.


What are your favorite dining experiences?

My go-to for corporate and family that is even reasonably priced is NOBU. You know the food quality and service are always the best.


Do you think culinary travel has gained popularity? It did face a hit during COVID, but now do you feel its back?

I think it never left. Some of my friends are huge foodies; they are fanatical about food, like they want to know who is going to be the next Top Chef. Celebrity chefs and Michelin-starred restaurants are such a huge thing.

The Future of HotelPlanner in 2024 and Beyond?

It has been a great recovery post-pandemic, and we are very excited. We are talking to so many companies. We have just celebrated our 20th anniversary. The hard work is paying off, and things are easier for us now than they have been. We have never taken any funding from outside, so we are doing fantastic and in a great space.




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