April 01, 2000
Meetings & Conventions - Where On the Web? - April 2000 Current Issue
April 2000

Where On the Web?

A side-by-side comparison of Internet sites for meeting planners

By Sarah J.F. Braley

Ever type in a Web address, hit “return” and find yourself in Internet limbo? Many a site has debuted and withered in the time it takes to say “Web revolution,” but in the ever-expanding cyberworld, the original tenet still stands: The information on a site is only as reliable as the person who posted it.

For instance, a visit to a site called the Meeting Guide (www.mmaweb.com/meetings) opened with promise. There seemed to be a lot of useful information in store with just a click of a button. But visits through the pages proved parts of it were alive and well and other areas were more like a ghost town. Messages on its boards were current, but options on its trade show search page only went up to 1998. This phenomenon prompted M&C to take a closer look at the meetings sites and report on our findings.

AllMeetings.com’s claim to fame is a meeting-expense calculator that helps planners compare costs. The patent-pending technology factors in airfare, hotel rates and more to give planners an idea of where they will get the most for their meeting. The comparison search can be done nationwide, by region, by state or by metropolitan area. Planners choose criteria for the ideal property, and AllMeetings.com returns a list of qualified hotels ranked by total meeting cost, including air, room rate and other expenses for that destination.

Once the list is generated, the planner can send a request for proposal to one or many properties. The site monitors the process and compels hotels, using e-mail, faxes and phone calls, to respond to the RFP within 48 hours.

AllMeetings.com generates its revenue through final transactions. If the planner books with one of the hotels revealed in the search, the site gets a 10 percent commission. At press time, there were about 5,000 participating hotels; that number was expected to reach more than 9,000 by this month.

The site also has a budget estimator, which prepares a budget based on the estimated meeting costs and allows the planner to input actual costs once the event is over to track its history. Online checklists are available, where planners indicate what day they want to be reminded to fulfill tasks, and an e-mail tickler will be sent out. AllMeetings.com can be customized to adapt to a corporation’s travel policy and to the needs of corporate intranets.

This site, which is partnered with travel giant Rosenbluth International, is primarily a search engine, holding 55,293 venue and supplier listings at press time. BusinessMeetings.com has a decidedly international flavor; for instance, in February its database offered 8,350 U.S. locations and 24,137 in Europe.

Registered users’ search results come up in either green or red. Green venues list all pertinent details, including some meeting room specifications; red means the listing only has the name, address, and phone and fax numbers of the property. When viewing details about a hotel or convention center, users can add it to a “wish list” of properties they might want to look at again; the list is saved for a month.

The simple search uses such criteria as country, city, hotel category (luxury, first class, midprice and economy) and number of meeting rooms. The advanced search enables planners to specify amenities the property should have. Users also can look for suppliers, and a general-information section links to related Web sites for the chosen destination. BusinessMeetings. com offers an online RFP, but the form is very simple, asking only for meeting dates; whether breakfast, lunch and/or dinner will be served, and “comments.”

A content-heavy planner source, this site opens with a quick search of a 9,000-facility database, links to information on more than 1,000 cities, and a hot-dates listing for the upcoming six months or so (although, when we visited in February, January’s hot dates still were listed). Links to hot dates are featured on the destination pages, and the dates are on individual venue pages. The site also sends out an e-newsletter.

After narrowing the property search, planners can use EventSource’s RFP process, which is called BookIt! The site promises a response in less than 48 hours.

The Resources page offers a group air calculator that looks up fares for American Airlines flights within the 48 contiguous states and Canada. Other services include a calendar, links to industry associations, tips on becoming a planner, and descriptions, key contacts and e-mail links to 2,000 suppliers. The Resources page’s “invitations” and “RSVPs” buttons are links to services at SeeUThere.com (see page 66).

EventSource.com will begin offering The Auction this month, where planners can get hotels to bid on their meetings (see “Web Sites for Meeting Auctions Proliferate,” Newsline).

Hot Dates Hot Rates
This site lists value dates at more than 1,500 properties around the world. It also sends out an e-newsletter of hot dates. Planners can search the database five ways: by city, by state/region/country, by individual property, by destination and by hotel chain. In 1999, HDHR reported individual searches conducted at the site represented potential group revenue of more than $125 million.

If the quick search does not produce results, a service called Tracker hunts down space that matches the criteria. Tracker works two ways, depending whether the planner is an independent. The self-employed fill out a form, and the information is listed for subscribing hotels to see. Every evening, the site automatically looks for matches to these Tracker listings. If a match is found, the planner receives an e-mail. Corporate and association planners fill out the same form, then someone from HDHR’s sister company, Helms Briscoe Performance Group, does the legwork, getting paid through a hotel commission.

Meetings and Destination Search
This site’s facility database can be searched simply or through a MADSuperSearch, which enables planners to narrow the process. MADSearch is crammed with information, which is apparent in the navigation of the site; even using a T-1 connection, the pages take a while to load. About 150 of the nearly 4,600 facilities in the database have pages called MADSites, and some of those online brochures offer 360-degree views of a meeting room or hotel areas. (A special plug-in is needed to view them.) Other properties have video tours provided by HotelView (www.hotelview.com).

The MADJobs section lets planners and hoteliers post or search for résumés and positions. There were 17 jobs in the planners’ database at press time.

MADSearch also has Front Desk area where users can post questions or comments, some of which appear on the page. All questions are answered by e-mail. a weekly newsletter is available featuring hot dates and industry news.

The database of suppliers is limited; searching under entertainment in Los Angeles and New York City turned up the same single supplier, a magician.

This portal sends visitors to other sites to fulfill their needs. For instance, its database of 60,000 hotels comes from Hotelguide.com. A site search was not very helpful; when looking for properties in Grapevine, Texas, the engine returned 890 hotels from Abilene to Waco (none in Grapevine), from the meetings-friendly Wyndham Anatole in Dallas to the meeting-room-less Econo Lodge in Waco, which is actually a Comfort Inn. MeetingCity also offers an online RFP, promising a response within 24 hours.

The site has articles and a supplier showcase, which has some good listings but can be misleading. The ground transportation section returned four listings, but two of them were solicitations to “link your site to MeetingCity.com.” Windsor Consultants of Tucson, Ariz., which runs MeetingCity, plans to offer online auctions at www.meetingauctions.com (see “Web Sites for Meeting Auctions Proliferate,” Newsline).

The Meeting Guide
The Meeting Guide does not have the most comprehensive list of suppliers and venues there were only 155 hotels in its database at press time and some of its information obviously has not been updated in a while (as mentioned, at press time, its Search for Trade Shows Worldwide page only listed events through 1998). But it does have helpful tools, like an agenda worksheet and a calculator that figures out an approximate room size depending on setup and number of attendees or booths. A bulletin board lets those in the industry post questions and answers.

The Meetings Industry Mall
Launched in early 1996, the Mall was one of the first meetings industry Web sites. This portal continues to offer a number of services to planners. One of the two most popular at the moment is the MIMList, an e-mail community of about 600 industry members talking about everything from stress reduction to the finer points of contracts. The other is the MIM Job Board, run in conjunction with the Meeting Candidate Network, which listed 90 positions in February and was getting about 2,000 page views a day.

Also on the site are links to tools like currency converters and area code lists; meeting-support services listings; links to such travel sites as airlines, airports, bus companies and travel guides, and venue and product listings.

This Web site of an independent planning company, West Palm Beach, Fla.-based Designs Event Consulting, is a good place for planners who are new to the business, especially those who have decided to become independents. Articles cover such areas as information management, promoting yourself and getting started in the business. The meeting planning FAQ (frequently asked questions) section answers concerns of many neophyte planners, such as “How do I know where to hold my event?” and “What is negotiable?”

The Lobby at PerfectMeeting.com is a new bulletin board with sections on the hospitality industry and career strategies. The Lobby also holds a job and advertising board where positions are listed and suppliers hawk their services. At press time, the Lobby did not show much activity.

Here is the place to find the perfect property for a meeting. The database of 14,000 locations can be searched by just about as many criteria as a planner can dream up. The simple search results supply the square footage of the two largest meeting rooms, symbols for all the amenities at the property (pool, golf, ratings) and a box to check if you want to add it to the list of properties that will receive your electronic RFP. Some listings include facility specs, corporate profiles, photos, 360-degree images and scalable floor plans. Other details include contact names, numbers and e-mail addresses, and a full rundown of the meeting rooms and their capacities. An average of 750 facility searches are executed per business day on the site, which has 13,000 registered members.

The online RFP from PlanSoft is a full service unto itself. This section transmits meeting specs to selected facilities, saves planner profiles and meeting requests, and enables planners to call up old RFPs and reformat them for a new request. PlanSoft also has an RFP team that makes sure hotels follow up on each request and facilitates the communication between planners and properties.

The site lets users search for convention and visitor bureaus and access a 20,000-entry database of industry suppliers. The resources in the Planning Guide address destinations, facilities, suppliers, contracts and negotiations. A job board is hosted in the Marketplace section. New to the site is a community area, where users can sign up for an e-mail address and mailbox, and a discussion section. (There were about 21 messages on the board at press time.)

PlanSoft recently teamed up with SeeUThere.com (see page 66). Users can access PlanSoft’s supplier search tools and online meeting planning products, as well as SeeUThere’s guest communication, registration and ticketing capabilities, from either site.

Managing communications with attendees is this site’s forte. There are two ways to create an event. The express setup asks for quick logistics details, a description of the event and e-mail addresses for the invitees. Just click “send out my invitations,” and the planning process is begun. Using the standard setup, invitations can be sent out by e-mail, fax or regular mail; RSVPs are gathered by e-mail or an automated phone-response system. Planners start by choosing the type of event (e.g. convention, association meeting, fund-raiser, awards dinner), then go through a series of steps to set up the invitation and response process. Many of the Web-based services are free; fees for credit card transactions are $1 plus 4.5 percent and are either charged to the event planner or charged to the participant’s credit card; and fees for offline services are 20 cents for faxes, 45 cents for postcards and 75 cents for letters.

The customer service for this site is excellent; when M&C tested it, filling out the form to create a fake event and running through some of the options, a representative called about our incomplete process to make sure we understood how the site worked.

Upon returning to the site, planners can review events, print reports and more. SeeUThere can import databases for use in the process, and the information is stored on a secure server. ces and Laser Registration handle it for them, offering all the luxuries the do-it-yourself products have.

The Event Marketplace is a resource area offering links for planners (to sites like PlanSoft, AirCharter.com and GiftRegistry.com) and attendees (Priceline.com and CitySearch.com).

Launched on Nov. 30, 1999, this young site has a lot of promise. Aside from the usual facility and supplier search capabilities of a 50,000-entry database, StarCite has full meetings management functionality. Areas include Create a Meeting, Update a Meeting, Reports, Sleeping Room Budget, Agenda/Budget, Meeting Notebook and Attendee Management. A fee-based option is online registration for meetings, which costs $5 per registration.

Special to this site is the canceled space manager. Planners can view bookings that others have canceled, post canceled space and broker it within their organization (a free service), post canceled space and broker it to all StarCite users (also free), or have StarCite broker the space for $2.90 per room night.

The online RFPs featured at StarCite can be sent either to a facility or to nonfacility suppliers. Planners fill out detailed templates that ask for general meeting information, sleeping room needs and agenda specifics. When sending the RFP to a property, users can choose to contact the national sales office or the hotel’s individual sales office. Suppliers respond by fax or e-mail, depending on which format the user prefers. The responses can be entered into StarCite’s RFP Management Center, where planners can compare the results either online or in a printed report.

The site, which had 1,000 registered users at press time, is introducing auctions of meeting space and meetings themselves this month (see “Web Sites for Meeting Auctions Proliferate,” Newsline).

Planners’ Picks

Which is your favorite meetings Web site?

image “I think PlanSoft (planner.plansoft.com) is comprehensive, up-to-date and provides multimedia functionality. I don’t have to waste time going to individual hotel Web sites. It’s easy to use.”

Linda Swago
Director of Corporate
Event Marketing
NAC International
Norcross, Ga.

image“I like the Meetings Industry Mall (www.mim.com). The Listserv is great. I’m learning a lot from it, and I contribute to it occasionally.”

Aline Greif
Industrial Research Institute
Meeting Coordinator
Professional Development Services
Washington, D.C.

image“EventSource is my favorite. I like the quick responses I receive when I request information. I also use CVB Web sites for cities I’m interested in.”

Sharon Foster, CMP
From Boardrooms to Ballrooms
Atlanta, Ga.

Quick Tip

Building your bookmark file from scratch? Borrow from industry technology consultant Corbin Ball. About 1,200 of his favorite Web sites (including meetings sites) are listed at www.corbinball.com/favorites.htm.

Back to Current Issue index
M&C Home Page
Current Issue | Events Calendar | Newsline | Incentive News | Meetings Market Report
Editorial Libraries | CVB Links | Reader Survey | Hot Dates | Contact M&C