Forget the bells and whistles offered by the Internet. Meeting planners want simple, thorough, accurate information, according to an informal survey by technology experts Corbin Ball and Rodman Marymor.
“They want the fundamentals: floor plans, capacity charts, services, and amenities,” says Marymor, CEO of Berkeley, Calif.-based Cardinal Communications and creator of the Meetings Industry Mall. “What planners are telling us is, ‘Give us the information you would give us in a meeting planner kit; we're not interested in fluff.’”
The survey analyzed responses from 274 planners evenly divided among associations, corporations, and independent planning firms, along with 153 suppliers (half hotels, half conference centers). Respondents were polled on their search habits, e-mail use, and opinions of Web site content.
Ball, president of Corbin Ball Associates, Bellingham, Wash., and a columnist for Corporate Meetings & Incentives, found several disparities between what people say they want and what hotels provide on their Web sites. With online requests for proposal, for instance, “Planners want to have it their own way, and suppliers are not providing that,” Ball points out. Nearly 90 percent of the planners said that they would like to submit their own RFPs, yet only 29 percent of hotels provide that capability.
“We're novices here at using electronic RFPs,” says Jan Hennessey, director of meetings and travel management for Novato, Calif.-based Fireman's Fund Insurance Co. “I hope it gets to be more what we want in terms of the end-format reports.”
Ball and Marymor were both surprised by the percentage of planners who prefer to research destinations through convention and visitor bureau sites. Of the respondents, 70 percent reported using CVB sites most often, followed by general search engines (66 percent). Well down the list were site-selection portals designed specifically for meeting planners (36 percent), such as PlanSoft or StarCite.
That's also a reflection of the adoption curve, Ball suggests. “People are getting used to them [site selection portals] and using their filtering capabilities, which are far superior to any paper-based facility guide ever made.”