In a year of economic turmoil, at least one hospitality company came up smelling like a rose. HelmsBriscoe, the Scottsdale, Ariz.–based site selection company, sent $70 million more meeting business to its hotel partners in 2002 than it did in 2001, according to Roger Helms, president and CEO.

In an annual speech to many of his 447 associates (40 of whom are located outside the U.S.), and an equal number of hoteliers and other travel industry suppliers in December, Helms articulated his vision for his company: to be the No. 1 group room procurement company in the world. The 11th annual HelmsBriscoe Business Conference was held at Mohegan Sun in Uncasville, Conn.

A goodly portion of that increase, according to one of HB's hotel partners, Wyndham International, was HB's procurement of the government's airport screeners' training contracts, says Jamie Walters, senior vice president of sales, Wyndham. "We received a good deal of that business because we decided to be flexible and efficient in our response. A lot of that business was very short-term, and over weekends."

Helms and partner Bill Briscoe created their model for third-party site selection companies more than 10 years ago to help meeting planners find dates, rates, and space for hotel-based meetings. HB associates, many of them former hotel salespeople, set up their own offices, find and cater to meeting planning clients, book and negotiate contracts at hotels, and collect a 10 percent commission from the hotel. Meeting management and logistics are fee-based to the client. Those clients, mostly corporate but also from associations, nonprofits, and the government, are repeat bookers. And all of the major hotel chains have created partnerships with HB.

Says David Scypinski, senior vice president, Starwood Hotels & Resorts, "HelmsBriscoe’s business for Starwood has definitely increased in 2002. It’s not just a matter of companies outsourcing more of their site selection, but of hotels, like us, being more accepting."

Michael Uhl, senior vice president of sales and marketing for ParkPlace Entertainment, which manages five hotels in Las Vegas, says HelmsBriscoe nearly doubled its production at his hotels in 2002. "In a bad economy, outsourcing site selection is a viable option for many companies. And as long as HelmsBriscoe brings us new business, we’re happy."

Helms says his company is as much a lifestyle as anything else, because associates, who work for themselves, can decide how much time they want to put into their jobs. "We’re all about choices," he says. Because the company was started by salesmen, "we understand the important of relationships. When good days return, and they will, our relationships will be of even more value."

Mohegan Sun, an upscale, 1,200-room hotel/casino with 100,000 square feet of meeting space, an hour from Hartford or Providence, hosted the ABC, and thinks of HelmsBriscoe as an extension of its salesforce. "Two of our three largest meetings in 2002 were booked by HB," says Jon Arneson, senior vice president, Mohegan Sun.—Betsy Bair l