* TRENDS Online Booking: When Will It Take Off? As much as the general public has embraced booking travel online, it looks like the trend will take a little longer to translate to booking meetings. "It's definitely the way that people are going," says Corbin Ball, CMP, Corporate Meetings & Incentives' technology columnist and an industry consultant. "The meeting industry is so tightly tied to travel that it's the natural next step."

Registering meeting attendees online saves time and money, says Ball, because it cuts out most of the need for mail, phone calls, faxes, and data entry. And using Web sites to promote meetings is a much cheaper alternative than mailings.

But despite the advantages, he predicts that it will take a couple of years before most companies use online meeting promotion and registration. "There's a lot of inertia there, but it's irresistible."

Travel recently surpassed computers as the top commodity sold on the Web. The number of online travel and hotel reservations is expected to soar to 65.5 million by 2003, racking up $29.5 billion in revenues, according to Forrester Research, Inc.

Stephanie Zeverino, national corporate sales manager at the Pasadena, Calif., Convention and Visitors Bureau, says her bureau hasn't felt the full effect of Internet booking yet. "Meeting organizers are using online services more and more, however they still seem to be more comfortable with the traditional way of receiving information via faxes and phone calls," she says.

Leslie Hogan, senior vice president of sales and marketing at the Greater Boston CVB, helped develop her CVB's Web site, where meeting executives can send out requests for proposals (RFPs) to suppliers and check out last-minute blocks of rooms at hotels throughout New England. She sees a coming proliferation of online RFP services that are private (like Plansoft), proprietary (owned by suppliers), and public (like the CVB's site, www.meetingpath.com).

But Hogan doesn't believe online booking will replace personal contact between meeting executives and suppliers. "It's kind of a jump-start to the booking process. But you still have to stay in touch, to talk, to tour. It will always be an industry built on relationships."

* IACVB STUDY Does a CVB being part of local government or a chamber of commerce affect its recommendations to meeting executives? "Ultimately it shouldn't," says IACVB President Ed Nielsen, but he acknowledges that bureaus funded by city governments run the risk of being politicized, and that chambers of commerce know a lot more about economic development than about the meetings industry. "That's why most CVBs are independent," he says.

A 1998 study done by the International Association of Convention & Visitors Bureaus found that two-thirds of convention and visitors bureaus are independent, while 22 percent are a government agency and 8 percent belong to chambers of commerce.

The IACVB polls its members every other year. Last year, 40 percent of its 460 members responded. Other findings of the 1998 survey include:

* The average total gross revenue of a CVB is $4.5 million.

* The typical CVB is funded from public sources, usually room taxes. The average hotel tax in communities represented by CVBs is 11.2 percent.

* CVBs spend 54 percent of their budgets on convention sales and marketing and tourism marketing and 18 percent on administration.

* The average staff size is 16 full-time equivalent employees, and two of those employees work from home.

What Can a CVB Do For You? * Need to arrange a last-minute site inspection, or print up brochures to promote your meeting to attendees? Just call the local convention and visitors bureau or national tourist office. Those are only two of the many services they offer--and best of all, they're free.

Also consider calling the CVB for help with: * Need a guide to the city? Ask the CVB

* getting permission or special permits from local governments for an event

* providing welcome signage for attendees at the airport

* cutting through union red tape

* arranging for a special welcome from the mayor

* helping with special assistance for the physically challenged

* arranging pre- and post-event tours for attendees

* promoting your next meeting by displaying promotional material at the prior meeting

* helping to create attractive spouse and children's programs

* scheduling airport shuttle services or limo pickups for VIPs

* providing supplier contacts.

* BUDGET BUSTERS Lodging Taxes Run the Range Hotel guests in Houston, Texas, may be thrown for a loop at checkout time, because the city has a 17 percent lodging tax rate--the highest in the country, according to Runzheimer International, a Rochester, Wis.-based management consulting firm. Travelers catch the biggest break in Billings, Mont., where the rate is only 4 percent--13 percentage points lower.

Where are the Taxes Highest? * Houston, Texas 17 percent

* Columbus, Ohio 16 percent

* Seattle, Wash. 16 percent

Where are the Taxes Lowest? * Billings, Mont. 4 percent

* Lancaster, Pa. 6 percent

* Salem, Ore. 6 percent

* CVB NEWS * The Orlando Convention and Visitors Bureau offers a money-back guarantee for their convention assistance. If clients aren't happy with the CVB's services, they'll get a full refund.

* The Metropolitan Detroit Convention Visitors Bureau introduced a new name and logo in July. The bureau will now be known as the Detroit Metro Convention Visitors Bureau (DMCVB).

* The Northern Kentucky Convention and Visitors Bureau will give meeting groups a free day's rental at the new Northern Kentucky Convention Center if they aren't satisfied with the 193,000-square-foot facility or with CVB services. A rebate check, which could be worth more than $12,000, will be written within 48 hours of the meeting for dissatisfied groups if they had booked at least 250 hotels rooms for a minimum of three nights and agreed to hold pre- and post-event meetings with the CVB.

* The St. Paul Convention and Visitors Bureau hosted its second annual S.T.A.R. (Service Training has Awesome Rewards) training session this spring, attracting 250 employees in all sectors of local services. The sessions teach front-line staff to provide top customer service and to become experts in St. Paul attractions. The next sessions are in October.

* The Atlanta Convention and Visitors Bureau has started a new certification program to improve customer service. Hospitality companies win certification if 80 percent of their employees take the program within a year.

* The convention and visitors bureaus of the Big 12 conference cities joined forces for the first time at the Destinations Showcase in June at the Chicago Hilton & Towers. The university towns located in America's heartland shared their similarities of size, style, and facilities with meeting organizers in attendance. The CVBs have links to each other's home pages on each of their sites and plan to host Big 12 fam trips. The Big 12 cities are: Ames, Iowa; Boulder, Col.; Bryan-College Station, Texas; Columbia, Mo.; Lawrence, Kan.; Lincoln, Neb.; Lubbock, Texas; Manhattan, Kan.; Norman, Okla.; Stillwater, Okla.; and Waco, Texas

* The Greater Boston Convention and Visitors Bureau nearly tripled its staff in a six-month period that ended in March, going from a staff of 10 to 28 to prepare for the opening of the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center in 2003.

* The Chicago Office of Tourism is offering a free V.I.P. service for small to mid-sized meetings and events. V.I.P. Chicago's services include connecting meeting organizers with local representatives, developing customized Chicago materials, and providing on-site, volunteer-run welcome centers.

* Meeting groups at Pittsburgh's David L. Lawrence Convention Center, which is undergoing a $267 million expansion, can ask the Greater Pittsburgh Convention and Visitors Bureau to have the mayor and/or a City Council member present or speak at sessions or participate in awards presentations.

* By the end of the year, the Indianapolis Convention and Visitors Association aims to offer a range of online services to meeting executives through its Web site, www.indy.org. Visitors will be able to send RFPs to local vendors and book hotels, and the CVB will set up areas on its site that companies can use to register attendees online for small meetings.

* There's a brand-new source of information for people planning corporate meetings, conferences, conventions, and trade shows in North America or around the world. conventionbureaus.com also offers a detailed online RFP option that will be reviewed by an official conventionbureaus.com representative within 24 hours.

* The Puerto Rico Convention Bureau launched a new Web site this month, www.meetpuertorico.com, that includes a database where meeting executives can detail their requirements and receive a list of properties that meet their criteria, an online RFP service, online brochures that can be downloaded for distribution to meeting attendees, and complete member hotel information with meeting room layouts and photos.

* The Convention and Visitors Bureau of Greater Cleveland recently took to the road to market their city with music. Meeting executives in New York City, Washington DC, and Columbus, Ohio were treated to performances by the world-class Cleveland Orchestra, one of the city's biggest attractions.

* CVB PEOPLE Changing Faces Terry Fuller has been appointed convention sales director at the Athens (Ga.) Convention and Visitors Bureau.

At Atlanta's Gwinnett Convention and Visitors Bureau, Hannah Hite has joined as director of sales and marketing.

Neil J. Mullanaphy, CHME has been named director of national sales for the Atlantic City Convention & Visitors Authority's convention development department.

The Baltimore Area Convention and Visitors Association has hired Debra Dignan as director of sales, while Casandra Brown has been promoted to associate director of sales.

Danielle Nunez has been appointed director of corporate sales at the Chicago Convention and Tourism Bureau.

The Greater Columbus Convention & Visitors Bureau has named Rob Hampton director of convention sales.

Nancy Lewis has joined the Dallas Convention & Visitors Bureau as convention manager.

At the Hawai'i Visitors and Convention Bureau, Sallee Pavlovich has been named director of sales/Eastern region. She will be based in Washington. Michael R. Votta has been named associate vice president of sales for the U.S. mainland territory east of the Mississippi and will be based in Atlanta.

Paul Catoe was recently named president and CEO of the Tampa/Hillsborough Convention and Visitors Association.

Shanna Fuller and Sandy Aarons have been named national sales managers for the Long Beach Area CVB.

John Chastan, CMP, and Barbara Douglas have joined the Greater Madison (Wis.) Convention & Visitors Bureau as convention sales managers.

Bridget Lindquist has been named sales manager at the Newport Beach (Calif.) Conference & Visitors Bureau.

Cathy Kretz has been appointed convention sales manager for the Portland Oregon Visitors Association.

At the Sacramento Convention & Visitors Bureau, Stephen L. Hammond has been named president and CEO.

Staff changes at the St. Louis Convention & Visitors Commission include the promotions of Carole Moody to vice president of marketing, and Bill Bohde to vice president of convention and tradeshow sales. In addition, Margaret Eubanks has been named convention services coordinator, and Robert Olson named convention services manager.

David Patterson has joined the San Bernardino Convention and Visitors Bureau as director of sales and marketing.

Angie Ranalli, CMP, has been promoted from director of sales to regional vice president, Midwest region, at the San Diego Convention & Visitors Bureau.

Jonathan Walker has been named president and CEO of the Metropolitan Tucson Convention & Visitors Bureau.

At the Greater Woodfield (Ill.) CVB, Thomas Dahlquist has been named director of sales.

Jonathan Guishard has been promoted to the newly created position of group and incentive sales executive for the Midwest region at the Bermuda Department of Tourism. Guishard will be based in Chicago.

The Tourism Authority of Thailand has named Boyd W. Christenson of St. Paul, Minn.-based Christenson & Associates, Inc., to represent its meeting, incentive, convention, and exhibition marketing and sales interests in the U.S.