Was it just last November that you crossed New York City off your site selection list for a meeting in 2001? You knew the dates you wanted would be impossible to get, or that you would pay through the nose to get them. Well, you might want to rewrite that list. The softening economy means bad news for hotels but good news for meeting planners, particularly those looking for space in cities such as New York and San Francisco, which have been particularly hard hit by the downturn. Hot deals are out there, and through Web sites and e-mail promotions, they're easier to find than ever before.

Web sites marketing short-term bookings haven't been wildly popular in the past, but that may change with a buyers' market. “Those [hot] dates really have not been much of a bargain for the past couple of years,” says Jim Stanton, vice president of marketing for HDHR.com, a hot dates Web site affiliated with Scottsdale, Ariz.-based site-selection company HelmsBriscoe. “Now that the market's shifting, we're getting flooded by calls from planners saying, ‘We know there are bargains out there,’ and from hotels saying, ‘Do you take credit cards? Sign me up.’” (Hotels pay a fee to be listed on HDHR; they manage their own inventory, and planners access the site for free.)

In fact, the environment is looking so hospitable that another hot dates/hot rates Web site launched in June. (See our review, page 82.) Charlie Robinson, a Starwood/Sheraton veteran of 28 years, is the man behind the new HotMeetingDates.com. “Hotels are looking to fill short-term holes, and planners have a tremendous demand for space for short-term meetings. It's a natural.”

While hopes are high at the hot dates sites, planners say they still tend to go to national sales reps to find deals, or rely on mailers and newsletters.

Where to Search for Deals