Let's Make a Deal

Who in their right mind would start up a meeting-industry Web site in today's economy? Charlie Robinson, for one. A 28-year hotel sales and marketing veteran, most recently with Starwood's Washington, D.C., national sales office, Robinson started HotMeetingDates.com in June to provide planners with a source of short-term meeting dates. The site was designed to follow the two cardinal rules of the Web: The user must accomplish a task within three mouse clicks; and the site must provide quality content.

Being skeptics, we had to test it out: In our tour of the beta version, it does, in fact, take just three clicks to get the job done. The first click: The “search our database” button brings you to a screen where you fill out some basic info.

The second click: The “search” button brings up a recap of your info and a place to check off dates you're interested in at the various hotels listed. You also can attach your own RFP or fill out the form provided. This screen also gives you a thumbnail sketch of the hotel, including amount of meeting space and number of rooms, and lets you choose which hotels' dates and rates meet your needs.

The third click: The “submit” button sends your request to hotels you've selected. An immediate e-mail confirmation includes contact information for sales reps at the properties you chose, in case you want to follow up before they do. Listings are noncommissionable. Hotels pay an annual fee as well as $19.95 for each request received.

And what about starting a new site at what most would consider an inopportune time? “What the heck,” says Robinson. “My experience is that hotels have holes to fill and planners have short-term meetings to book.”