Housing Alliances Boon for Planners Several years ago, industry experts predicted that technological advances would finally generate solutions to the long-standing issues involved in convention housing. Now, those forecasts appear to be coming true. Instead of scrambling to be all things to all people, the major players in the housing technology market have launched strategic alliances with each other. The goal is to finally offer planners a seamless, consistent, and cost-effective housing process.

* Passkey/Pegasus: Passkey.com, Inc. (www.passkey.com), creator of an Internet-based convention housing management product, has formed an alliance with Dallas-based Pegasus Systems, Inc. (www.pegsinc.com), which sells a product that translates and downloads reservations data from CVBs/housing providers to hotels' databases. Executives expect the system to be operational by year's end.

* WynTrac and WizCom: Nipping the heels of the Pegasus/Passkey partnership is the agreement between WynTrac (www.wyntrac.com), the Web-based housing/registration software produced by Jade Technologies, based in Dallas, and WizCom (www.wizcom.com). Wizcom is a system that, like Pegasus, electronically transmits reservations into hotel data systems. This technology partnership is slated for a rollout in the third quarter of 1999.

Both alliances create end-to-end systems. WynTrac and Passkey.com provide a central ized online database giving the meeting planner, the housing company and/or the CVB, and the hotels, 24-hour, real-time access to room-block information. Using WizCom or Pegasus, hotels can then download rooming lists directly into their databases.

The partnering of the electronic systems should save enormous amounts of time and money, and reduce errors, since reservation data would not have to be manually re-keyed by the hotel. That should reduce the time planners spend proofing rooming lists. The ability to download reservations directly into a hotel's reservations systems may eventually render the typical 30-day cut-off obsolete. "My vision is cut-off goes away," says Michael Foster, Jade Technologies president.

The call for industry standards, and planners' demand for one-stop-shop services is accelerating the alliance trend. Michael Foster touts the fact that with WynTrac, attendees can not only reserve hotel rooms, but can register for the conference, sign up for seminars and special functions, and book their air travel. Competitor Passkey does not have event registration capabilities, but Passkey execs say that service will be added in the near future.

"Certainly the planner has needs beyond just housing," says Roger Paradis, president and CEO, Passkey.com. "We want to partner with other players, whether it be to offer automated RFPs or other planner needs."

Clearly, the field is just heating up. Neither alliance is exclusive, say execs from the various companies, and they expect more team ventures in the near future. To further complicate things, Chuck Schwartz, managing director, Housing On-Line/PGI, a WynTrac client, says that despite WynTrac's partnership with WizCom, his company plans to develop its own interface for the electronic download of reservations.

Who's on Board? Of course, such end-to-end systems work only if all parties join in. The big four hotel chains--Hyatt, Hilton, Marriott, and Starwood--have all com mitted to Pegasus's new system. (This new system replaces UltraRes, Pegasus's first, abortive try at a system for electronically downloading group hotel reservations.) Pegasus's new partner, Passkey.com, which is based in Quincy, Mass., has recently received a non-exclusive endorsement from the International Association of CVBs, and currently has contracts with nine major bureaus, the latest of which is Nashville--news announced as this issue went to press. Bureaus in Boston, Orlando, Baltimore, Kansas City, and Atlanta are also working with Passkey. Moreover, Paradis says the company is setting records every month in room revenues generated, with a MayJune volume of nearly 48,000 reservations, generating $20 million in room revenues.

WynTrac's biggest and newest client is Housing On-Line/PGI. The housing provider for the New York City, San Diego, and Hawaii CVBs, Housing On-Line/PGI is also managing housing for several upcoming meeting industry conferences, including the July convention of Meeting Professionals International.

While WizCom, based in Parsippany, N.J., can't tout the Big Four as clients, it intends to market its partnership to 90 hotel chain customers, including Radisson and Adam's Mark.

Galaxy, I.T. S. merge In yet another alliance in the fast-changing convention management arena, International Travel Service, a housing company, and Galaxy Information Services, a trade show registration firm, have announced their merger.

The decision grew out of the relationship the companies formed in 1991, when I.T.S. turned its on-site registration over to Galaxy. Now, says Steve Martin, I.T.S. president, the formal partnership means clients can choose from a full range of services.

"We are a one-stop shop for all areas, including on-site registration, lead retrieval, housing, air travel," says Martin. Founded more than 50 years ago, I.T.S. currently manages housing for the Chicago, New Orleans, and San Francisco CVBs, and for major associations such as the American College of Cardiology and the Telecom Industry Association.

Galaxy handles the registration for more than 250 shows, 53 of which are part of the Tradeshow 200--the list of the largest shows in the U.S. and Canada.