Instant Brochure When the boss tells you to hit the ground running, the last thing you want to do is wait for every prospective venue to send a meeting planner's kit. Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin Resort hears you: It has made its brochure instantly accessible by putting it on a Web site. The Personalized Electronic Response Kit (P.E.R.K.) has 500-plus screens of resort information, covering meeting room floor plans (guaranteed accurate by the Professional Convention Management Association Space Verification Program) and set-ups, as well as guest rooms, dining options, and area attractions. Courtesy of a new little plug-in from IPIX (easily downloadable), the site offers 360-degree views of several public areas; meeting spaces will be added soon.
Here's how it works: Once you indicate interest, a salesperson e-mails you an ID and password that lets you access the Web site, where every page is personalized with the your name or company name. And you can communicate directly with the Swan and Dolphin through e-mail links on the site.
The hotel has been promoting this site as "revolutionary" and "interactive." Lower those expectations! It really is a personalized brochure, not a site where you can do work. The design work is very fine, though, and site developer Audrey J. Cornu promises more goodies at the site in the coming months. She brags that other hotel companies are already inquiring about buying the rights to the site's code. So run to your screen and see it for yourself at www.swan-dolphin.com.
Parisian Dining Online How to impress your boss, #314 in a series: When she tells you she has to entertain clients in Paris, ask her which arrondisment she'd prefer, and did she have a budget in mind. Then go to www.top-restaurants.com and find the right place with the right menu and right ambiance, at the right price--and make the reservation for her online. "I found a nice upscale bistro with a view of the Seine, two blocks from your hotel. I made the reservation for 9 p.m.--Is that all right?" Oh, yeah. Think of the points you'll score.
"Best Restaurants in Paris" lists 200 restaurants searchable by 10 style categories (from French haut cuisine to trendy to good value), by budget, or by neighborhood. There are 12 special selects that will screen for such things as whether the place takes reservations, has an outstanding wine cellar, a great view, valet parking, or requires a jacket and tie for men.
Once you've set up your criteria, you're presented with a list of restaurants. Click on the name to see the menu, pictures of the place, the chef, and the maitre'd (and their names!), the address, and which credit cards they accept. All information is presented in both English and French. Made your selection? Good. Now make a reservation using the site's online form. Within 24 hours (usually less) you'll receive an e-mail in English from Best Restaurants confirming your reservations.
This is not only a great way to find places to dine in Paris, but it's cheap, too: No overseas phone calls, no faxes. The only quibble: The site promises free drinks or other special favors from the restaurant for using this service. We made reservations at six restaurants, and while all but one were unfailingly pleasant and friendly, not one offered anything out of the ordinary in recognition of our using the Web site to reserve our table. (What was the bad one? Le Bookiniste, one of celebrity chef Guy Savoy's places. So-so food, and confirmation of every cliche about rude French service.)
Quick Conversions Some people can make the square feet-to-square meters conversion in their heads. A rough rule of thumb is to take the number of square meters and multiply by ten to get square feet. Not everybody has that facility with numbers, though. And sometimes you really need to know that 5.5 meters is 18.044 feet, or that 300 grams is 9.64 ounces. Have we got a Web site for you! At www.principalmetals.com/ven_Met.htm you can convert length, area, volume, weight, or temperature quickly and with an accuracy to 14 decimal places. The site belongs to Precision Metals, a specialty materials firm based in Littleton, Mass. Their accuracy requirements probably far exceed yours, but isn't it good to know you can be really precise?
A Big Broadcast To see what can be done with online conference registration, visit the Web site of the National Association of Broadcasters at www.nab.org/conventions. Visitors to the site can join the NAB, receive an early-bird rate to register for a conference on radio broadcasting,icheck out educational sessions (and create a personal schedule for attending them), see pictures and descriptions of the convention's hotels, and then check hotels for availability and reserve rooms.
The room registration portion is handled by Rogal America, Inc. (via a link to Rogal's site) and allows for selection of wheelchair-accessible rooms, nonsmoking rooms, rooms on low floors, and quiet rooms. Probably the niftiest feature of the hotel reservation service is that the list of available hotels also indicates how many blocks they are from the Washington State Convention Center, where most of the convention's sessions take place, and whether or not the hotel is on the show shuttle route.
Sometimes it's nice to get away from the sameness of the chain hotels and try something different. How about a B&B? Many city center B&Bs offer both the comforts of home, and the equipment you need: voice messaging, two phone lines, wake-up calls, the ability to send and receive faxes, in-room VCRs, and so on. The challenge is finding one.
The B&B Channel (www.bbchannel.com) would like to help out. It claims to have the largest roster of B&Bs on the Internet, and its search engine allows users to select "business travel" as an amenity for which the property is suited. Unfortunately, the search engine isn't yet powerful enough to be really useful. To find a business-oriented B&B, users can select "business travel" and "in-room phones" as a search parameters, but that's as far as it goes. If you must have voice messaging, for example, there's no easy way to know if the B&Bs returned on your search have it. On a recent visit, we selected Seattle B&Bs, "business travel," and "in-room phones." The site returned six B&Bs, but to find out if voice mail was available, we had to read through lengthy descriptions aimed at leisure travelers. It didn't take long to get fed up. This Web site has potential, but for now, we'll rely on word of mouth--or just head to the Sheraton.