"These days, it is as important for me to find a spot on the golf course where NBC can put a camera as it is to find sleeping rooms," said Ed Simeone, CMP, meetings and events director with EMC Corp., a data storage systems supplier based in Hopkinton, Mass. "My company believes in events as a sales and marketing tool."
Simeone's comment arose during a roundtable discussion at Sonesta Hotels and Resorts' annual Meeting Planner Advisory Board meeting, held May 29 to 31 at the Sonesta Beach Resort and Villas on Anguilla in the British West Indies.
He was one of a dozen planners attending the roundtable. While Simeone and fellow high-tech planner Nancy Burke (head of Preferred, Inc., a Minneapolis-based independent planning firm specializing in the high-tech industry) commented on the special needs of high-technology companies, including the much higher expectations for presentation equipment, all those at the table had choice words for the hospitality industry's attempts to join the wired world.
While participants--all of whom had e-mail addresses--were satisfied with their ability to connect via the Internet with hotel salespeople, they were clearly dissatisfied that e-mail access hasn't gone further, faster. "The problem is, there's no e-mail connection yet at the convention services manager level," said Corbin Ball, whose C.W. Ball Associates in Bellingham, Wash., offers high-tech meeting planning consulting.
"And the convention centers have nothing at all," added Al Sears, director of meetings and conventions for the Quincy, Mass.-based National Fire Protection Association. "There are exceptions, like Boston, Orlando, San Diego, New Orleans. And the CVBs are connected. For most centers, it's archaic--the CVB prints out our e-mail and faxes or carries it to the center's sales staff!"
With the exception of Ball, who argued that the infrastructure was finally in place, board members cast a jaundiced eye at such Internet-based planning solutions as PlanSoft's Ajenis. "Nobody is waiting for PlanSoft," said Phyllis West, director of meetings for the American Petroleum Institute, Washington, D.C. "I think the concept was good, but they tried to solve world hunger, you know?"
On the upside of the technology revolution, attendees were pleased with the power of word processing. "Hotels used to have the jump on us when it came to," said Richard Porth, meetings manager for consulting firm McKinsey and Company. "[They] still send out a front-line and hope somebody signs it--probably half the time they do--but it's no big deal any more for us to have six contracts on the computer with different clauses we can plug in."
Planners were also pleased with the presentation equipment market, where performance has increased even as prices have fallen. "It's cheaper to own presentation equipment now than to rent it," said Ball. "If you use a $6,000 projector six times, it pays for itself."