Comparing Group Travel Planning Services: HotelPlanner Vs. Groople

With the U.S. economy very close to a recession and the price of gas at an all-time high, Americans are seeking various ways to tighten their financial belts. Many are cutting back on leisure expenses such as travel, either by eliminating vacations altogether, traveling for shorter amounts of time, or taking their vacations closer to home.

Group travel presents consumers with another option. Instead of giving up the dream of seeing a specific part of the world, they are choosing to take advantage of the group rates offered by airlines, hotels, cruise lines and other amenities by planning vacations for large groups of friends. People planning family or school reunions or other special events are also looking to take advantage of the various group rates that are available to them.

On-Line Options

Web sites such as Groople and HotelPlanner have made planning group excursions much easier. Both sites advertise special rates for large business meetings, family reunions, student trips and other multi-person getaways. They allow you plug in possible destinations, departure and arrival dates and will respond to you with names of  hotels, flights and car rentals with corresponding rates.

Rating the Competitors

How well to these travel sites serve consumers? How many options do they offer travelers? How user friendly are the sites? These are important questions to ask when deciding which site is best suited to your needs. The following review might help you to make the decision a bit easier.

HotelPlanner -A Quick Review

HotelPlanner's home page had separate tabs for hotels, flights, car rentals, cruises and event tickets as well as a tab for travel agents and one for "event services". That in itself makes the site pretty user-friendly, but when I tried to search for hotels, I couldn't get any information unless I gave them my name, phone number, email address and even a password! After submitting the information I was told I would be emailed quotes form the various vendors associated with their site. HotelPLanner lost points with me right then and there; I like instant gratification and want to peruse travel sites for quotes without making any commitments or submitting information. I also started receiving emails (bids from hotels) from the site right away. The cruise tab, after submitting a request with the prerequisite departure/arrival times and destinations, only promised to send quotes to me within 48 hours. The site is partnered with Hertz car rental, so it does not offer consumers any rates from competitive vendors.

HotelPlanner does have some positive features in addition to the well-conceived layout of the home page. Its "event services" section offers lists of vendors (with links to their sites) one would need for special events such as weddings, reunions or business excursions. Included are caterers, limousines, musicians, event designers, wedding chapels and even private jets! The site offers group rates for events such as concerts, plays and sporting events. It has a very comprehensive FAQ section that answers questions regarding payment methods, autobidding and other important issues. Lastly, it guarantees the lowest hotel rate for groups of ten or more and offers to pay for the trip coordinator's room if the group finds a better rate elsewhere.

Groople's Offerings

The home page for Groople does not have all aspects of a vacation divided into tabs like HotelPLanner, but it does have a box that allows you to plug in the necessary information and instantly get rates on hotels, flights and car rentals without submitting any personal information. This is a big plus for people like me who like to play around with dates to see which time frame yields the best rate-and who like to do so anonymously. The home page also has a box listing the various types of group events (reunions, weddings, ect.). Each item is a link that connects you to a page where you can find the best rates that are offered for your specific type of event . For example, some hotels offer special rates for business conferences, while some destinations have special wedding packages.

The best part of Groople - aside form the fact that you can obtain so much information instantly and anonymously - is the option to create a trip page - basically you own web site-and share it with other participants. Called "Groopvine", it lets you keep others in your group updated on the details of your event, such as hotel bookings and flight information. Your guests can sign up and pay online for their rooms, book flights and car rentals and provide you with feedback. You can even schedule activities for your group as well as send mass or individual emails.

The Verdict

Both travel sites are excellent and offer users the opportunity to book all components of their group vacation at great prices. However, my money's on Groople - it edges out its competion for the instant gratification of getting rates simply by plugging in destinations and dates of travel. The Groopvine web site is a brilliant idea and can help you provide your guests with up-to-the-minute information about your event.

For More Information

Check out the websites for yourself:

www.groople.com

www.hotelplanner.com

Also by googling "group travel infomation" you will get a list of other specialized group travel websites. Have a wonderful trip!

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