by Cheryl-Anne Sturken | February 01, 2006
First there was the online request for proposal, and now this: A handful of online companies offer group booking from site selection to a sealed deal. The sites work like Expedia and Orbitz, allowing small, no-frills groups to reserve rooms and space in a few clicks.
    To see if they deliver, M&C test-drove three by attempting to book 25 rooms  in Washington, D.C., for an imaginary event, March 21-23, 2006.
illustration Mac users beware: You will need the latest version of Firefox to run this program. PC users can use Internet Explorer. The site is visually pleasing and user-friendly, but results were disappointing. Of the five hotels suggested, three did not offer online group rates, instead instructing the user to call the hotel. Two had no availability. On the plus side, the site allows searches without having to create an account. This one can search for a property using criteria such as distance from downtown, overall star rating and room rate. You have to create an account to get started, but it is possible to select options based on type of group (reunion, military, religious, etc.), along with discounts and concessions (e.g., one complimentary room per 25 booked), and a rate guarantee is stated on the site. Expect to input as much detail as in an online RFP. Maximum room rate, F&B needs and meeting space are just some of the required fields. Multiple kinds of events can be booked, such as senior-
citizen groups and corporate/incentive meetings.