Last year meeting management Web sites boomed. This year, companies may actually be using them. Online sites that can help you find a property, send out an RFP, and much more--like StarCite, EventSource, AllMeetings.com, and the relative grand- daddy, PlanSoft--are pitching their meeting services as faster and more economical replacements for faxes and phones. And some major companies are heeding the call.

One of those is high-tech giant Hewlett-Packard, whose corporate meetings manager, Rich Del Colle, likes the AllMeetings.com concept. Del Colle is particularly attracted to that site's emphasis on cost control and its ease of use for people who aren't professional meeting planners.

That's why Hewlett-Packard logged on to AllMeetings.com, says the Web site's vice president and general manager Brian Ashton. "Hew-lett-Packard recognized that 70 percent to 80 percent of its meetings are planned by secretaries and administrative assistants, not by professional planners," he says. "HP was looking for some tools to help these non-professional planners make the right decision."

And quickly. AllMeetings, for example, can supply information on some 5,000 domestic hotel properties in 15 seconds, and suggest the best value for a particular meeting in terms of location, type of hotel, rates, and airfare from various locations. (See story, TM, March/April 2000, page 13.)

"When you have an $800 million companywide travel budget and 20 percent of it is meeting-related," says Del Colle, "a lot of money can be saved with the sites' cost-analysis feature. It really is a quantum leap in terms of efficiency."

HP's use of AllMeetings appears to be part of a growing trend in which major firms are suggesting--if not mandating--the use of Internet meeting management tools. Another example is hardware retailing chain Home Depot, which now requires event planners to work through StarCite (www.starcite.com). "Our message to corporate America is that for the first time, you can effectively communicate policies on travel and meetings, and you can track the data and the money spent on meetings," says Tom Flanagan, head of marketing for StarCite. "Home Depot is mandating that its meeting planners use StarCite, and we are in the process of training them." Flanagan says similar arrangements are under negotiation with other companies. StarCite has also worked out a relationship with site selection company HelmsBriscoe. (See related story, page 14.)

"It really is a quantum leap in terms of efficiency."

--Rich Del Colle, corporate meetings manager, Hewlett-Packard