May 01, 1998
Meetings & Conventions: Planner's Portfolio May 1998 Current Issue

Net Gains


Hotel Sites Worth a Virtual Visit

Suppliers are making it easier to find the right property online

Just a few years ago - but ages ago in Net time - the Meetings Technology Advisory Council for Meeting Professionals International was in the process of launching and promoting MPINet, an online forum for meeting professionals. We tried to catch planners' interest from a small booth at MPI's trade show, sounding like carnival barkers.

"Step right up and view the future of meeting planning! Imagine conducting site inspections in full video and audio on your computer! Click a button, and talk with your sales manager! Edit contracts and banquet event orders online! Won't it be great?"

Reality set in quickly. MPINet was launched, but some of the strongest messages dealt with the lack of suppliers online. Planners were ready to do business, but there was no one to service them. Fortunately, in a few short years, this has changed.

Many hotel companies have made a commitment to the Web, realizing they can meet the needs of all their customers online - leisure travelers, business travelers and groups. We'll focus on some of the better sites for the meeting professional.

Hilton Hotels Corporation ( takes the lead in enticing planners to book from its site. Click on "Meetings & Groups," and you're met with an offer of triple bonus points for booking. Once past the pitch, Hilton Direct offers easy access to the worldwide directory, value dates and a request for proposal. The coolest feature is the ability to download floor plans from many properties and arrange your setups using the Optimum Settings room design program. You can download the software from the site.

Marriott Hotels ( gets kudos for a clean home page with an easy link to the meetings area. We also like the "What's New" and "Suggestion Box" buttons on each page, since many sites make it difficult to find new information or provide feedback. Unfortunately, the hotel search lacks adequate meeting specifications. Once a property is selected, however, the information is very complete, with the icing being an interactive mapping and driving directions feature.

ITT Sheraton ( has long focused on technology as a meetings marketing tool, and it shows: The home page features the "Online Meeting Planner" request for proposal and a Meeting Facilities section that allows planners to browse rooms, select properties that offer video conferencing, consider value dates and more.

Finally, Rafael Hotels Limited (www.rafael deserves recognition as a small chain that is using the Internet to its potential. The site for Turnberry Isle Resort & Club (www.turnberry is so comprehensive (including a complete planners guide), the other hotels in the chain have used it as a guide for developing their own sites.

Individual properties sometimes stand out with more comprehensive Web sites than their chains offer. The Boston Marriott Copley Place ( includes video tours of the meeting areas, lobby and a guest room. We should expect such extras from a hotel that runs high-speed T-3 lines into the conference space.

Using panoramic software to link photographs, the New York Swiss"tel provides 360-degree views of its exterior and a few meeting areas, with the ability to zoom in. To see it, download IPIX software from the Swiss"tel site (

If you're starting from scratch, put your scanners on long range. Hotels and Travel on the Net ( hooks you to more than 200 hotel chains around the world. The Guide to Unique Meeting Facilities ( lists venues "from colleges to castles." Another page to bookmark is All Hotels on the Web (, with links to more than 30,000 individual hotels, chains and travel sites.

PlanSoft's site ( has tens of thousands of hotel links, but the benefit to us is the focus on meetings. The search mechanism is extraordinary, pinpointing properties down to the weather for the month of the meeting. Some properties also offer multimedia views, floor plans and capacities. If you focus on events, EventSource ( is a good choice.

A young site with potential is Hotel View ( The selection of hotels is still small, but each has a number of video views with an audio track. It needs RealPlayer 5.0 ( to work.

Rodman Marymor, CMP, and Jeffrey Rasco, CMP, are partners in San Francisco and Austin, Texas-based HMR Associates, providing technology solutions for the meetings industry.

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