The Internet and e-mail might be great for the mainstream, but they're still not much help for people planning meetings, says Nan Ives, manager, community relations and special events with Fidelity Investments in Boston.
Ives, who is also familiar with the supplier side of meeting planning after five years as director of sales at the World Trade Center in Boston, handles about 25 events per year, including senior management meetings, annuals and semiannuals for salespeople, and Infofest, a 4,000-attendee, 150-booth internalfor software developers. But even with all her experience, she admits that her methods for finding meeting space could use some improvement. Here's how it usually goes: She makes lots of phone calls, leaves lots of messages, receives lots of voice mail messages (which, she says, rarely contain specific information, such as, "Yes, we do have the space you need."), and then begins a second round of calls.
"It's just amazing how long it takes," Ives says. "I almost always end up doing business with the people I make contact with first."
Ives would like to leave the phone tag behind and do more of her initial site research on the World Wide Web--but she hasn't found it to be of much help. While Web pages are great for gathering general in-formation about hotels and destinations, she says, "unless hotel pages have dates and rates, they're not useful. They should let you post your needs and get a response by e-mail."
That's certainly possible. For example, when Ives was in the market for a new car, she found a site that allowed her to specify her needs--estimated purchase date, model, color, accessories--and submit the information. In three hours she had a response from the site, which provided her with a dealer in the area, a name and contact, and price--just $49 over invoice. "It was the most simple thing I had ever done," she says.
So why can't the Web sites of hotels and other suppliers offer a similar service? Ives says she'd like to be able to send a lead with all the details of her meeting through the Internet to potential facilities and get immediate responses from their sales staffs with the specific information she requests, such as availability (or alternate dates) and rates. Then, having narrowed down her list, she would follow the more traditional route: a phone call and, later, a site inspection.
But, Ives acknowledges, "it's going to be challenging to get the hotels to think this way. [The hotel industry] is not very technologically advanced at all." But with new innovations hitting the Web, such as MeetingPath (see box, left), she expects some exciting changes.
The Web is not the only type of electronic communication Ives would like to see used more efficiently. "E-mail is a way of life in corporate America," she says. "Suppliers should start to think about using e-mail with planners." In fact, an informal poll of meeting planners at the New England Meetings Industry Conference & Exposition in April indicated that 65 percent prefer to work with suppliers via e-mail.
Besides the regular contact that helps maintain planner/supplier relationships, Ives would like to receive by e-mail new hotel information and hot dates.
Andshe adds this request: "Notify a planner if a salesperson leaves!"*
Nan Ives's Wish List * Facility Web sites would offer a standardized request for proposal (RFP).
* Meeting executives could just check boxes on online RFPs, rather than type in meeting information.
* Attendees could access agendas, directions, special offers, etc. from hotel or city Web sites.
www.meetingpath.com: One Wish Come True
Fidelity's Nan Ives will soon see some of her wishes fulfilled with therecent launch of MeetingPath. Now, instead of wasting time playing phone tag, she can visit the Web site, designed by the Greater Boston Convention & Visitors Bureau and MarketStream, LLC, and endorsed by the New England Society of Convention & Visitors Bureaus, to access information about 2,000 suppliers in New England and send those suppliers information about their meetings. MeetingPath will let planners narrow down a selection of hotels in a particular region by specifying the number of guest rooms, the number of meeting rooms, and/or the capacity of meeting rooms required by their group. They can then send RFPs to the list of hotel possibilities, and they'll get a yes-or-no response, with the date they can expect to receive a proposal, via e-mail, from the hotels.