Online Meeting Auction a First It was only a matter of time until business-to-business auctions made it to the meeting industry.

On October 20, EventSource.com held the first-ever Internet meeting auction, where meeting organizers became the "sellers," with blocks of room nights they needed to book, and hotels became the "buyers," the bidders interested in the business.

Here's how an event like this works: A meeting to be "auctioned off" must be fewer than 180 days out, involve only one city, and have a minimum of 50 rooms on its peak night. When the organizer gives the go-ahead, EventSource distributes the specs to properties whose location, facilities, and general rate structure meet the request--in other words, it creates a request-for-proposal for the business.

Built into the preliminary process is a 10- to 14-day period between the initial invitation to hotels and the auction date to allow the organizer time to make site visits. The planner can choose the low bidder or select the winning hotel based on factors other than price alone.

When pre-auction steps are complete, EventSource assigns the participating hotels a paddle number, just as the auction houses do--but the hotels don't know whose paddles belongs to whom. Even after the auction ends, the room rates bid by each hotel remain confidential. The action unfolds in an online chat room, which is accessed by passwords and identifications EventSource assigns.

Pam Taylor, who plans meetings and training for Colorspot Nursery in Pleasant Hills, Calif., was one participant in a trial auction the company held before the October event. An EventSource client unfamiliar with the online auction concept, she decided to jump in with a training meeting she was planning in California. She says she'll do it again.

"It was a little hectic," Taylor says, "but the [EventSource] staff was very helpful. The whole thing was done in

15 minutes, and I didn't have to get in contact with all the different hotels."

At press time, there was already word of another player in the online auction game: StarCite.com, a spinoff company of Philadelphia-based McGettigan Partners. More to come, we're sure.