Online travel reservation companies are very interested in partnering with associations, said Travelocity founder Terry Jones at the Professional Convention Management Association's annual meeting in January in Indianapolis. Jones, who retired as Travelocity's CEO in 2002 to start his own consulting firm, appeared with co-panelist Michael Reichartz, vice president of sales and marketing at Expedia, in a general session on travel and technology trends. Both speakers said that online travel companies can provide solutions to housing problems within the meeting industry.

Citing a recent study by Forrester Research, Cambridge, Mass., Jones said that 48 percent of business travelers attending a conference or convention last year booked their trip through an online travel reservation company. That indicates that the current model for managing convention housing is “broken,” he said. The “dynamic” packaging that Expedia offers consumers — in which airfare, hotel, ground transportation, attractions, and other travel options are bundled into one package deal — can be a useful new model for meeting groups, he added. Meeting planners may be able to reduce attrition and — by selling more add-on attractions and services, such as dinner options, tours, etc. — generate additional revenues, he said.

Reichartz said a packaging tool for a group's meetings could be accessed through the association's Web site. A few planners raised concerns at the session about the potential negative impact of partnering with online travel sites. Jones replied that partnerships with online companies could give planners more time for more strategic tasks. Reichartz added that his firm does not plan to introduce products and services unless they make sense for customers and suppliers. “It's not that we don't want to get into that business, we want to make it work,” he said.

Already in the Corporate Market

Expedia and Orbitz — another online travel reservation company — have already made in-roads into the corporate meetings market. Each, along with Travelocity, have in the past year and a half branched from the consumer market into the corporate arena with new travel management tools: Expedia Corporate Travel, Orbitz for Business, and Travelocity Business.

Then, last summer, Orbitz for Business partnered with David Green Interactive, a division of Chicago-based hotel lead-generation company David Green Organization, to launch Orbitz Meeting Services. In late November, Expedia Corporate Travel (ECT) announced a partnership with seeUthere Technologies, a Santa Clara, Calif.-based provider of online registration and meeting management tools. And Travelocity Business also has something in the works.

According to Ellen Keszler, president of the Fort Worth, Texas-based company, a Travelocity business meeting solution will be announced in the near future. “We've taken a different approach where you won't need to link over to a separate service. We believe that companies that use our meetings solutions can benefit from a true end-to-end meetings and travel solution.”

“We think it [meeting services] is an area of growth for our company,” says ECT corporate marketing manager Mitch Robinson. Under the terms of the recent deal, the ECT Web site will offer seeUthere's MeetingView tool to corporate clients, and ECT will itself use the seeUthere technology — attendee registration and management, hotel sourcing, budgeting, and so on — to plan clients' meetings. Expedia has not made a financial investment in seeUthere, and, says Robinson, the two companies' technologies are not integrated beyond basic data transfer capabilities.