How useful is it to work with one company that provides a variety of online services for meetings?
Online meeting services providers have been in a mad rush lately to partner, merge, ally, and otherwise commingle online services to provide a one-stop shop. But do association meeting planners care?
Apparently, the majority don't. AM's online trends survey found 60 percent of respondents saying that being able to go to one site for services such as group housing management, meeting registration, and group travel management was either not useful at all (27 percent) or only somewhat useful (34 percent). Fewer than a quarter of the survey's respondents found it useful; only 6 percent said it was extremely useful.
With more one-stop shopping available now than ever, why aren't more association planners filling their shopping carts online? Here are some varying perspectives:
Corbin Ball, CMP, a meeting and hospitality industry technology consultant who's heading up the Technology Advisory Committee for the Accepted Practices Exchange Initiative, says, “I think people are playing with it, but they're not fully embracing it yet.”
Data integration issues may have something to do with it. “You don't want to have to go with one set of data for travel, another for registration, and yet another for site selection if you can't integrate them into one database of information,” he says. “Now that tools are emerging that can integrate data seamlessly, the rate of acceptance should increase. I predict that within several months, we'll have the tools to solve the problem.”
Peggy Lee, president of b-there.com, Westport, Conn., agrees with Ball that “online tools are not integrated seamlessly into association management systems right now, so many associations may not be aware of the real value yet. I think this will change quickly as more and more first-hand ‘success stories’ get out there among peers.”
Richard Westerfield, vice president ofat Passkey, based in Quincy, Mass., says that corporate planners who are looking to wrap everything into their corporate intranet are more likely to use one-stop online shopping sites. “But the really high-end convention customers are just looking for the best products out there — if they all work together, that's great. But they don't have to be from the same vendor.”
Voice of Experience
Dennis Kirven, executive director of the Ohio Florist Association in Columbus, has a different take. “I think it probably has to do with not wanting to give up control over the process,” says Kirven, who began farming out his annual conference and's housing registration to b-there.com three years ago after his attendance doubled from 5,000 to 10,000. “We wrestled with it. We are very sensitive to our attendees' needs, and we felt more comfortable handling them ourselves. But we have a relatively small staff, and it's a huge job to try to coordinate everything.”
Kirven did a site visit to experience how the company worked first-hand, and found his comfort level rising. While he was in the dot-com's offices, he found out that the company also could do the program registration. He looked at the cost of doing both housing and registration through the site, and found it to be more affordable than he'd expected.
“You have to keep in mind that you can't just hire them and walk away — you do have to manage them as you go along. But working this way can really help alleviate some of the day-to-day work.”
Who's Who: Web Alliances
- Site Selection
Alliances include CommerceOne (auction)
mpoint by PlanSoft (www.mpoint.com)
Founded as PlanSoft 1996
Alliances include b-there, seeUthere (registration/housing); Leading Authorities and SpeakersDirect (speakers); Passkey (housing/block management)
Alliances include Cvent (invitations/audience lists/status reports); e-Travel (travel arrangements); RegWeb (registration/attendee management)
- Registration and Housing
Alliances include bcard.net (lead retrieval); eCal (calendaring tool); Get there (air booking); iConvention (communication/collaboration); Mapquest (integrated mapping); MarshaLink (downloading hotel rooming lists from Marriott properties); Pegasus (direct access to participating Pegasus hotels); PlanSoft (site selection/meeting management); Zenspace (post-con Web site); various third parties (travel management)
Alliances include BlueStep (association management); MapQuest (mapping); Passkey (Passkey's HotelDirect product); StarCite (site selection)
Alliances: Aelix Inc. (wireless content delivery); EventSource (site selection); Pegasus (direct access to participating Pegasus hotels)
Alliances include Cvent (integrated into HotelDirect), RegWeb, seeUthere (registration/attendee management); TravelCLICK (through HotelDirect, travel search and booking)
Alliances include Passkey (direct access to Passkey for Passkey clients); StarCite (online RFP/budgeting)
Alliances include Passkey (housing services for Passkey customers); mpoint (site selection); SeminarSource (integrated member benefits); Siebel Systems (eBusiness applications software); WebEx (outsourced Web-based collaboration services)
- Association Management
Alliances include ASI Advanced Solutions International (data synchronization); seeUthere (event registration)
(formerly myassociation — see related story, p.50) (www.myassociation.com)
Alliances include ConferenceDirect (event management); Conferon (tradeshow and convention services); Cvent (event planning/marketing); eTapestry (fund raising/donor management); Evoke Communications (teleconferencing)
Note: While all attempts were made to obtain the most current information, please contact companies directly for partnership updates and complete listings.