Virtual Sell-out Imagine this: At a pre-appointed time, exhibitors get on the phone with you and discuss their needs for your upcoming show. At the same time, they go online and view your floor plan. By panning and zooming, they see where their competitors are located, and which booths are still empty. They tell you their booth choices, you punch them in on your computer, and within minutes, the floor plan is re-configured, with sold booths marked with the exhibitor's name.

That's how the North American Association of Food Equipment Manufacturers in Chicago sold booth space recently for its 1999 trade show. The one-day Web sale was orchestrated by Smith, Bucklin & Associates, NAFEM's association management firm in Chicago, and Applied Computer Technology, Inc.

"To our knowledge, this is the first time exhibitors selected booth space in real time over the Internet," says Buffy Schechter, NAFEM's exhibit manager.

Exhibitors wary of the Internet had the option to attend in person or communicate via fax. The virtual marketplace generated $3.2 million in revenue (including fax and in-person purchases). But the revenue was not the catalyst, Schechter says. The event was set up to offer exhibitors time- and cost-savings. NAFEM estimates that the event saved exhibitors $68,000.

out and about Notes from the Road * Convention center "dining"? That's usually an oxymoron. But David Berman, executive chef at the Greater Fort Lauderdale/Broward County Convention Center, Fla., proves that it can be otherwise, by using indigenous ingredients. Cases in point: cracked conch fritters with sweet chili sauce, and chocolate "beach pails" filled with pina colada mousse. The center's catering department also offers theme events ranging from Italian to Tex-Mex to Oriental.

* "We'll teach them something about planning a meeting," J.W. "Bill" Marriott, Jr., Marriott International chairman, joked with the audience during a recent fund-raising dinner for the Marriott Center for Association Leadership. At the event, hosted by the Greater Washington Society of Association Executives, Marriott pledged $1 million toward the $3 million project. The Washington, D.C., think tank, slated for a 2001 or 2002 opening, will bring association executives and their business partners together to exchange ideas, develop management skills, and analyze trends.

* Even planners of the most high-profile events have trouble with the disclosure issue. At Meeting Professionals International's conference in January, Michael Gamble, vice president of sales and marketing, Philadelphia CVB, discussed booking the Republican National Convention for 2000. "We had a 15 percent commission in [the contract] to help defray housing and transportation costs," he said. "[I told] the convention manager: You have to disclose this to the delegates. He got a puzzled look on his face as to why, and we had a 20-minute debate as to why."

Not only were attendees at the 27th annual Religious Conference Management Association Conference, held in Columbus, Ohio, in February, entertained by Ch'in Dynasty dragons, but they also learned just how much clout they have in the meeting industry. The record-breaking crowd of 1,310 attendees represents a group that books 55 million hotel room nights per year for 12,702 meetings involving more than 13 million delegates.

"Hotels, CVBs, and other suppliers have come to realize that RCMA members represent a real power and economic resource in the meetings industry," RCMA Executive Director DeWayne S. Woodring, CMP, CEM, said during the annual business meeting. "There are two and one-half times more religious meetings held annually than there are corporate meetings." --Sue Pelletier