Meetings & Conventions: Planner's Portfolio February
BY RODMAN MARYMOR, CMP, AND
JEFFREY RASCO, CMP
Will Jobs Be Lost to the Web?
The Internet may cut out some middlemen, but bypassing
people can be riskyRodman Marymor:
we have depended on travel agents for our individual travel needs.
After all, they had those big books with all the flight schedules,
the hotel information and plenty of snazzy brochures. We went to
agents because we didn't know how to do the bookings
Those same professionals are gradually being replaced by
Internet-based systems. There is already much debate among travel
industry leaders about how the agent's role must be redefined
because of technology's impact. It's inevitable, because we can now
go online to do all of the searching, consulting and booking on our
Meetings industry suppliers see this model succeeding for
leisure travel, and are working on providing the same kind of
resources for planners -- processes that could cut out many
middlemen. Comprehensive Web sites give planners a wealth of
digital detail that can influence buying decisions, but so far the
systems fall short of offering any kind of meaningful point of
sale. The technology just is not in place to let planners block,
negotiate and book electronically. The meeting planning process
still requires human hands-on to ensure success.
What will happen when profit-conscious suppliers develop
and implement online tools that let planners quickly and easily
compare hotels and negotiate rates, register and confirm attendees,
and control everything through powerful database applications? Will
suppliers deal directly with customers more than with agents? Will
the exchange mean fewer misunderstandings and greater profits --
or, dare I suggest, lower prices?
If sensible technology applications allowed planners to
bring this part of the planning process back in-house (where I
think it belongs), perhaps planners would find more choices, and
gain better bargaining leverage and the ability to give increased
value to their company. When technology enhances efficiency and
effectiveness, planners can spend more time thinking and acting
strategically, leaving many logistical chores to
And what about third-party vendors? When they are
ultimately replaced by online tools and resources, maybe they'll go
into the software business or become planners or hotel sales
fast. I think our agent friends need to keep their jobs a while
longer, even much longer. Not that I don't think the Web has its
promises. On the contrary, I'm an admitted technology junkie. But
the techno-world we live in today is a lonely one. We sit for hours
staring into a monitor, clicking away on the mouse, all alone.
Millions of people are in cyber-seclusion. This probably explains
the popularity of chat rooms, forums, and the heavyweight champion
of the Internet -- e-mail.
Strategic-thinking meeting professionals embraced
technology once it found its way onto their desktops. I found out
about the Internet and World Wide Web years ago from other meeting
planners who said, "Imagine -- we'll be doing site inspections and
booking properties all over the world without ever leaving the
office. We'll negotiate and sign contracts right at our desks!
We'll take vacations that don't include a site visit!"
This Jetsonesque world is pretty much upon us. From our
desks we can view properties around the world and three-dimensional
virtual reality clips of what a venue offers. Through Internet
conferencing we can speak with our suppliers and share files
simultaneously, signing off with a digital signature. Requests for
proposal and many of the other tools of our trade are now commonly
found on the Web.
So, why don't we have any of that spare time the
futurists were predicting? Because we can't evaluate a site
properly on a computer screen, and I would add that most people
probably prefer face-to-face contact at some point during
negotiations. Many of our processes have been streamlined,
but that doesn't mean we've been freed up to do absolutely
everything ourselves. So I say let the travel pro get that
commission. Our agents have certainly earned their keep by doing
the research and negotiations when we didn't have the time.
Computers can do the job, but it takes someone with industry
knowledge to do it right.
Am I still a tech junkie? Sure, I love this stuff. But I
love people more, and people will go the extra mile to help, where
computers will only go as far as their programming allows. Let me
know when you find a computer that can calm an upset speaker
stranded in a faraway airport in the middle of the night, and then
we'll talk about this again.Rodman Marymor, CMP, and Jeff
Rasco, CMP, are partners in San Francisco and Austin, Texas-based
hmr.associates, providing technology solutions for the meetings
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