August 2013
Untangled Web: Using Tech To Work For You Here

Sponsored by Starwood Hotels and Resorts

"A more tech-savvy planner is a better planner." For many, that statement speaks the obvious; for others, it may provoke an intimidated shrug. But the truth remains: Given the ubiquity of the Internet and social media, and their ability to seem both overwhelming and discriminating at the same time, the need to have a better understanding of tech has become an industry essential.

The proof of that is clear enough in a recent survey of 178 meeting planners and executives conducted by Northstar Travel Media and Starwood Convention Collection. No answer to the 20 questions listed brought a higher response than the query "What technology, if any, do you use to research your programs?" Of the respondents, 89% said they used "Destination/hotel/CVB websites" to make their job easier, smoother and better. Other answers included the use of meetings management software, and social networking sites.

"The Web is a great convenience and time saver as well," says Megan Cargile, Associate director, meetings and events for Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide, Inc. Cargile, who manages 12-14 events per year, specifically cites the Internet's versatility when it comes to planning any aspect of a meeting, large or small. "It is a huge convenience, having everything at my fingertips."

Starwood had that in mind—coupled with a great deal of user insight—when they relaunched starwoodmeetings.com in January 2012 and included a dedicated page on the site for the Starwood Convention Collection, the company's multiple-meeting booking program. The user-friendly site provides access to a wide array of decision points, allowing planners easy access to all 30 SCC hotels (viewable direct at starwoodconventioncollection.com), along with both quick bullet points and deeper information on facility specs and meetings content of each property. Hotels can be viewed comparatively and geographically, especially important when considering more than one meeting at a time with the SCC, and points of interest can easily be plotted to get a better feel for how various locations would fulfill all the needs of a meeting. Hard copies of hotel fact sheets and brochures can be downloaded and printed in a flash if a planner prefers this format. It's meant to be a win-win for Starwood and their customers: an aid to planners looking for quick access to key meeting information, and the ultimate tool for featuring a group of properties like the Convention Collection, which provides a special service to make doing business just a little easier.

"With large, complex platforms like this one—where we have lots of data sources and intricate technical considerations—it's critical that the user experience not become compromised or cluttered," says Jonathan Hills, founder of Domani, the creative agency behind the redesign of the site. "An effective user experience is critical, so by paying close attention to an ever-growing user base, we can optimize the entire experience for planners by providing only the most pertinent info."

That seems to make the site fit right in the wheelhouse of the planners surveyed, who understand the advantages of tapping into the advantages the Web can provide, and are also on the lookout for the best meeting experience for their clients.

"While Domani is responsible for implementing complex technologies with the work we do every day, we have a strong user experience design focus at our core," adds Hills. "StarwoodMeetings.com is a good example of this balance: under the hood, the site may leverage some intricate technology and integration points, but to the visiting meeting planner it is a streamlined intuitive experience that simply works."

Map Hotels, Plus Points of Interest
Side-by-Side Comparison of Hotels Across Destinations