Managing the Masses

Meetings & Conventions - Managing the Masses - March 2000 Current Issue
March 2000

Managing the Masses

How to choose and use online registration products

By Sarah J.F. Braley

Ten years ago, the most significant technological challenge for planners was how to bring the meeting database in-house and produce rooming lists and badges without the help of a service bureau. Now, with online registration widely available, the task of inputting attendee information is being handed over to meeting-goers.

In the meetings technology world, online registration is the current must-have feature. Software providers are adding it to their packages, Web sites exist just to offer the service, and any third-party registration management company worth its salt offers a sophisticated, glitch-free process. Is the hype well-founded?

Polly Collins is sold. "The money and the time that are saved are incredible," says the director of meetings for the National Society of Professional Engineers in Alexandria, Va. "When the majority of attendees use it, it's amazing."

For the NSPE's Winter Meeting, held in Washington, D.C., at the end of January, Collins tested RegWeb, an Internet-only product from Berkeley, Calif.-based Cardinal Communications. About 66 percent of attendees registered on the web. In 1999, the online registration for the summer meeting was outsourced, and 75 percent of the attendees used the online forms. In 1998, the online form had to be printed out and faxed to the meetings department.

The quest begins
"This is the hot area in meetings management software right now; everybody wants to have it somewhere, somehow," says Corbin Ball, CMP, author of The Ultimate Meeting Professional's Software Guide (Meeting Professionals International, Dallas, members $25, nonmembers $35). "But it is a tremendously difficult decision. The problem is you're comparing apples to oranges a lot."

The biggest challenge is marrying the information input by attendees with an existing database. "Peopleware has a pretty interesting solution; it sort of reaches out and handshakes with what has been gathered on the database," says Ball. "Isis Gold does that, too."

Some might assume online registration is only for associations whose attendees register and pay on their own, but the technology works well for corporations, too. "The only difference for corporate planners is they would want it running on an intranet," says Wimberley, Texas-based meetings technology consultant Jeff Rasco, CMP. "The planner would be able to draw from HR files to get the names of people who are invited to an event. All the attendee would need to do is go in and say, 'yes, that's me,' click, and the registration is complete."

Lucent Technologies is one of the many corporations using online registration for its events, switching in September to the Gold System to handle the data. "We've been doing online registration for a while, pouring information into a Microsoft Access database using our own forms," says Eric Van de Water, events and marketing manager for the Murray Hill, N.J.-based company. "We bought the Gold System knowing we were going to be doing Web registration. It manages all the information and is able to help us control how many rooms we have available."

Van de Water, who evaluated three products before choosing the Gold System, plans to use the software for four yearly meetings of 500 to 2,000 attendees, as well as many smaller events. The forms are on the Internet, so Lucent employees and customers can register through the site. "We're hosting our database ourselves, running it off our own server," he adds.

Adding to the suite
Planners who already use a meetings management package, like MeetingTrak, the Gold System or Peopleware Pro, should research whether a module has been introduced to allow their software to integrate online registrations. Chances are, it has.

  • Oakland, N.J.-based Isis Corp. ( offers a solution that works with its Gold System meetings software or on its own. "The attendee fills out the form, creating a file that either can be e-mailed to the meetings department or downloaded into the Gold System," says director of marketing Jay Reilly. "The manager has the ability to check the incoming record for duplications and updating of information." The module can work from a preformatted template, but Reilly has found planners prefer custom forms: "The notion that one template might fit a customer's needs sounds great in the sales pitch, but each meeting is different, and planners want to treat them differently." Clients are charged from $1,500 to $4,500 per form, and Isis often hosts the page on its server.
  • MeetingTrak users now can buy WebTrak, which works with Microsoft Access 97, for $1,495 (a version for Access 2000 was due mid-February). "Let's say you're planning your annual convention," says Bob Walters, president of Pleasanton, Calif.-based Phoenix Solutions ( "WebTrak would look for relevant information that already is in your database. It picks fields that MeetingTrak needs to process a registration, and then the planner can ask for custom fields to be included on the form. It generates a template, which is given to the Web developers, who then create a page for the Web site." Once an attendee fills out the form, WebTrak generates an ASCII-formatted file that the planner then posts to the database.
  • Scheduled for release in mid-February was a more robust version that generates and publishes the Web page, lets planners put any information in their MeetingTrak databases on the Web (for example, allowing attendees to check how many CEU credits they have), and provides broadcast e-mail functionality.

  • Meeting planners using Peopleware Pro (, can purchase its Internet registration module for $2,950, which includes the first year of hosting the Web pages, technical support and training. An advantage of the Bellevue, Wash.-based company's solution is the integration of Internet registrations and the Peopleware database. It automates the import of the registrations into the main database but still gives the planner inventory control, as registrations come from more than one source.
  • The module has three components: the site where people register; an administrative area where planners control the look, feel and options of the registration; and the transfer manager, which enables planners to upload events and subevents from the Peopleware Pro database to the site and to bring down registrations that are stored on the Web. Registration data is saved in a temporary database on the server; the administrator can retrieve registrations whenever she wants, with the option to look them over and throw out the duplicates and bogus ones.

    All online
    Several firms offer registration solutions that reside on the Web or on an intranet.

  • There are three versions of RegWeb ( The basic is for planners who are saying, "I need it now." The information generated by the online forms can be downloaded into Microsoft Excel or Access, and the planner does all the processing. It is for one meeting and costs from $2,500 to $10,000, depending on the chosen features.
  • Many planners, though, need the ability to create forms for multiple meetings and post them to the Web at will. For them, there is a more robust version of RegWeb. "It is a custom application built around the features and functionality of the meeting planning process," says Rodman Marymor, president of Cardinal Communications, which created the software. RegWeb "Pro," which is the unofficial name Marymor gives it, is template-driven and browser-based, meaning planners create forms while working in Netscape or Internet Explorer. An e-mail tool lets planners alert select attendees about meeting updates (for instance, letting those who signed up for a seminar know if it has been canceled) or send e-mails to everyone on the list. And just about any report a planner could need can be customized. The "Pro" version costs $25,000 to $30,000 and takes about 16 weeks to build.

    The third version, scheduled to be available by press time, is called RegWeb AS. It is the same as "Pro," but Cardinal hosts the information, and planners open an account with the company to create as many events as they want. The price is based on the meeting's guaranteed attendees, about $5 a head.

  • Another Web-only service is from ( "We have created our software to be self-configurable, so planners can create forms that capture any kind of registration information they need," says Karen Vogel, industry vice president for the travel Web site.
  • This solution also is template-driven, and offers an event wizard that leads planners through the process. Subevents can be created within an overall event, and individual price points can be offered to different attendees (for instance, students, early birds, regular attendees). Standard registration and financial reports are run easily, and there is a customized report generator. It also has broadcast e-mail capabilities.

    "We host everything on our server," adds Vogel. "But it is all client-controlled and secured through passwords. We don't do anything with the data." was created by the owners of a travel agency, Westport, Conn.-based Lee Travel, so it offers a number of peripheral options having to do with getting to and enjoying the destination. "We are building and integrating components so attendees can look at pre- or post-meeting tours and book them there," says Vogel. Users are charged a per-transaction fee, depending on volume and based on two structures. Simple registration 9 a profile and about 10 questions within one module 9 ranges from 90 cents to $1.90 (the more attendees, the lower the cost). More complex conference packages range from $1.50 to $3.

  • Web-based housing and registration management are the focus of WynTrac (, whose online registration module can stand alone or can be used with other features. Users can create forms allowing attendees to sign up for everything from a general session to a spouse or golf event.
  • "We store all the data," says Michael Foster, president of the Plano, Texas-based company. "If you were an attendee, the next year when you identify yourself by your name and phone number, the form self-populates and asks if there is any information you want to change." WynTrac can build the Web page for the meeting, or planners can build it themselves.

    One convenient feature of WynTrac is the 10-minute recovery window it gives users if they lose their Internet connection. In many cases, when a connection goes, you lose whatever you were working on and have to start over. WynTrac holds the information that already has been input for 10 minutes; if you come back within that time, it asks if you want to start from where you left off.

    The service costs from $3 to $5 per attendee. The registration process easily melds with WynTrac's room-tracking and reporting features. It also offers broadcast e-mail functions.

  • StarCite (, an offshoot of Philadelphia-based McGettigan Partners, is an Internet-only, total meetings-management product. Web registration is just one element of the whole, which also includes budgeting tools, facility searches and an RFP center. Users can customize all the registration features, including any questions that need answers ("What is your T-shirt size?"). All the data is hosted on StarCite's servers. Like other Web-based services, StarCite charges a fee of $5 per registration.
  • Do it for me
    Plenty of planners just do not have time to deal with registration, so they outsource. Companies like Galaxy Information Services and Laser Registration handle it for them, offering all the luxuries the do-it-yourself products have.

  • "For 90 percent of our clients, we host the pages," says Mark Kennedy of Galaxy (, which is based in Frederick, Md. "We put a form on the Web, and they [link] their conference site to the registration page."
  • Galaxy also offers real-time credit card verification on the Web, cutting down on the number of charge-backs planners deal with. "We found early on that we were getting incomplete credit card information," says Kennedy, the company's senior vice president of marketing. "This way there's no balance due, no bad credit cards."

    Galaxy's clients are mostly trade shows, some that have taken 50,000 to 60,000 registrations over the Internet. The basic Web page ranges from $1,500 to $2,500, depending on its complexity; other charges apply as features are added.

  • Many similar options are offered by Laser Registration (, based in Washington, D.C. Its service features many automatic functions that smooth the registration process. "For the attendee, it checks the member database, verifies if there is space available in seminars and automatically adjusts fees as options are chosen," says Tony Melis, vice president of marketing and sales. "If you book a hotel room for Tuesday but select a session for Monday, it will ask if you want to arrive earlier."
  • The planner accesses registration data through a service called RegBrowser. This gateway to real-time updates and preformatted reports is password-protected. For security reasons, however, financial reports cannot be viewed over the Web. Instead, a fax number is stored in the system; when the planner asks for financial updates, reports are faxed automatically.

    How About Hackers?

    Just as the new century dawned, a hacker cracked CD Universe's customer database and tried to extort $100,000 from the retailer. When CD Universe called the FBI, the hacker posted links to thousands of customer names, addresses and credit card numbers. The incident is enough to make a planner nervous about requesting such information over the Web. How do program developers soothe those fears?

    "All the credit card companies have a big stake in supporting your business on the Internet," says Jay Reilly, director of marketing for the Oakland, N.J.-based Isis Corp., whose meetings management product is the Gold System. "Any credit card processing is on a different server from the rest of the registration information, and it's encrypted." He adds that none of the database is stored on the Web server; files generated from the registration form are brought offline. Other Web-registration providers use similar measures.

    Rodman Marymor, CMP, president of Cardinal Communications in Berkeley, Calif., talks about the value of password- protected areas. "All the data is stored on a secure server that is accessed by password only," he says of information entered into Cardinal's RegWeb systems. "When files are transferred, they are encrypted and sent from the host server to the planner's desktop."

    Marymor scoffs at the idea of a hacker trying to crack a meetings database. "They're going to go for Charles Schwab or the Bank of America. Why take a chance with the National Urological Institute?" And, because the credit card companies want people to keep spending online, the cardholder's liability is only $50 if a number is stolen. - S.B.

    How to Shop

    The process of choosing a Web registration product starts with knowing the systems and networks your department already is working with, what software you use for other meeting planning tasks and what kind of database holds your attendee lists. Then, when evaluating online registration options, ask the following questions, contributed by meetings technology consultants Corbin Ball, CMP, based in Bellingham, Wash., and Jeff Rasco, CMP, in Wimberley, Texas.

  • How long has the provider been in business?
  • Does the firm have clients with needs similar to yours?
  • What operating system does the software run on? How will it mesh with your system? Does it need to mesh with your system?
  • How is the system set up for handling credit card transactions? Can it handle other types of payment, like Cyber Cash, a secure e-commerce payment service?
  • What security measures are in place? Who has access to the data?
  • How will registrants be handled if there is a problem with the network?
  • What other tech support is available?
  • If you are evaluating a registration service, what is its link to the Internet?
  • How is the data backed up and how often?
  • What are the costs for the system or service, and how are they calculated and itemized?
  • Will references be provided?
  • Is there a demo version? - S.B.
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