General Services Administration employees now must use FedRooms, the government’s official lodging program, when booking hotels, according to an agency memo issued last week.
Only about 5 percent of federal employees’ hotel reservations are through FedRooms, GSA spokesman Dan Cruz said in an email. Less than 10 percent of GSA’s own employees use FedRooms, which until now was recommended for bookings but not mandated, he said.
Hotels sign up to be listed on FedRooms, which GSA oversees, and offer discounts on room rates that are at or below per diem rates. The average discount is 5 percent below per diem.
GSA is pushing for 100 percent participation in FedRooms from its employees, Cynthia Metzler, GSA’s chief administrative services officer, said in the Sept. 4 memo.
By using E-Gov Travel Service, the government’s electronic reservation system, and FedRooms, “GSA will drive down travel costs for potential savings of $390,000 in FY 2013,” Metzler said.
GSA is also encouraging other federal agencies to commit to 100 percent use of FedRooms for their lodging needs, Cruz said.
“We will then use the best practices and success [stories] and further promote its use government-wide,” he said.
However, experts in the hotel industry say some companies may be less willing to participate in FedRooms since GSA decided to freeze the government’s per diem rate for 2013.
“It’s a safe bet that, in general, fewer hotels will participate just because it’s a lower rate,” said Scott Lamb, director of government sales for Hilton Hotels.
Lamb said he does not know of any hotels that are leaving the FedRooms program now, but hotels will be negotiating their rates in the coming months.
The per diem freeze itself may make it harder for government travelers to find rooms in some markets, since commercial rates have been rising nationwide, Lamb said.
“They’re not going to be as attractive to a customer as they were in the past,” he said.
Government travelers may have to stay farther from their destinations to find hotels willing to accommodate the lower per diem rate, Lamb said. Agencies should also consider booking earlier, he said.
GSA is creating an advisory committee to look at a long-term plan for calculating per diem rates, GSA spokesman Dan Cruz said in an email. The committee will include lodging industry representatives and government stakeholders, he said.
GSA officials said this year it may revise per diem calculations by removing more costly hotels from its averages, which would lower the per diem rate.
Lower per diem rates could mean government travelers would be priced out of even more hotels in major markets and urban centers, where federal facilities are usually located and conferences are typically held, industry experts said.