Jay Dardenne: Louisiana budget messier than previously thought; tax increases on table _lowres

Advocate staff photo by PATRICK DENNIS -- Incoming Commissioner of the Division of Administration Jay Dardenne discusses the current budget crisis in Louisiana during a press conference Wednesday.

Louisiana state agencies will no longer be required to use a Web-based, out-of-state company to book hotel reservations.

Commissioner of Administration Jay Dardenne announced Monday that he has ended the mandatory use of HotelPlanner.com because it has not yielded the savings promised under former Gov. Bobby Jindal’s administration and has hurt the state’s travel industry.

“Based on my experience and input from other departments and agencies, my first act as commissioner is to enable you to use the least expensive and most convenient option for arranging travel for state employees,” Dardenne said in a memo to cabinet officials.

Several government leaders — including those in higher education — have frequently complained about the 2014 policy that required they use the website to negotiate rates and pick accommodations.

Dardenne, who previously served as the state’s chief tourism executive as lieutenant governor, had also been a critic of the online booking portal because of its impact on the local travel industry.

Louisiana Hotel and Lodging Association executive vice president Bill Langkopp praised Dardenne’s decision a “win-win for the hotel industry and the state” in a news release.

“He is creating an environment where state employees will have a better selection of lodging accommodations and will be able to negotiate better rates,” Langkopp said.

HotelPlanner.com was awarded a no-cost state contract in 2013, and Jindal’s administration made its use mandatory in October 2014 as part of a package of efficiency and cost-cutting measures.

The company operates on commissions from businesses it deals with as it handles hotel reservations for individuals and groups traveling on the state’s dime. The contract called for the state to receive a 2 to 2.5 percent rebate from the business. The state has received about $140,000 over the course of the contract through that arrangement, according to the Division of Administration.

The company defended its record in a statement to The Advocate following Dardenne’s announcement and said that it had saved the state more than $1.2 million in hotel booking costs.

“We understand that different individual agencies are able to make their own decisions on the hotels they make agreements with, however this traditionally lessens their ability to negotiate collectively for the best price possible,” HotelPlanner CEO Tim Hentschel said.

Hentschel added that he hopes state agencies will continue to use the portal voluntarily.

Follow Elizabeth Crisp on Twitter @elizabethcrisp. For more coverage of Louisiana state government and politics, follow our Politics blog at http://blogs.theadvocate.com/politicsblog .