*GOING, GOING, GONE Online Meeting Auction a First Online auctions--they're fast, easy, and fun. But can the concept work for meeting industry commodities? Event-Source.com says the answer is yes and proved it with the first-ever meetings auction service on the Internet, in which hotels are the buyers and planners are the sellers.

Ed Sarraille, EventSource.com president and CEO, calls it a "reverse auction" and describes the practice as a "real-time bidding war driven by dynamic pricing that lets market forces take their course." In this case, the commodity is a block of room nights a meeting planner needs to book, and the bidders are hotels interested in the business--basically it's a virtual RFP process.

Certain criteria qualify an auction candidate: the meeting must be fewer than 180 days out; it must involve only one city; and the meeting must have a minimum of 50 room nights on its peak night. When the meeting planner gives the go-ahead for the auction, EventSource distributes the specs to properties whose location, facilities, and general rate structure meet the request for proposal.

After evaluating the specs for the meeting from the planner, hotels can then "RSVP to us," Sarraille says, characterizing his firm as the go-between for meeting planners and properties. The EventSource database lists more than 11,000 properties, which pay a one-time fee to become members.

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 meeting planner time to make site visits. Also before the auction, the planner makes the choice of designating the low bidder as the winner or selecting the winning hotel based on factors other than price alone.

When pre-auction steps are complete, the fun begins. EventSource assigns participating hotels paddle numbers, just as the big auction houses do for their bidders. In the EventSource version, however, the hotels don't know whose paddle belongs to whom, although the hotels know up-front who is participating. Sarraille says that even after the auction ends, the room rates bid by each hotel are never divulged.

"Everything is on the table before and during the auction," Sarraille says, "except the prices--that's the dynamic part of it."

The action unfolds in an online chat room, which is accessed only by passwords and identifications assigned by EventSource. The auction held on October 20 was actually the first EventSource had opened to the press. (Two trial auctions were held prior to that.) Observers, through assigned passwords, were able to watch the four rounds of bidding action online. On the block was a Washington, D.C., meeting in March 2000 for 100 room nights, and the bidders were the Omni Shoreham, Madison, Renaissance, and Wyndham Washington hotels. The event lasted about 20 minutes, the time limit set by EventSource, and the speed of the transaction might be the big attraction to both page 10 meeting planners and hoteliers.

Pam Taylor, meeting and training director for Colorspot Nursery, based in Pleasant Hills, Calif., had a training event to set up in California recently. Taylor is an EventSource client and although she was unfamiliar with the online auction concept, she decided to jump in when EventSource presented her with the opportunity to do so. She participated in one of the trial auctions and says she'll be doing it again.

"It was a little hectic," Taylor says, "but the [EventSource] staff was very helpful. The whole thing was over and done with in 15 minutes and I didn't have to get in contact with all those different hotels for my meeting."

Money Making? For now, EventSource, which makes its money on the auction by charging a standard 10 percent commission to the winning hotels, will hold future online auctions when the situation is right, but Sarraille says the auction service will eventually become one of his company's core products.

Speaking of products, EventSource launched another last month, a service called Event Tracker, which allows association and corporate meeting planners to track the status of their meeting and open RFPs on the Web.

According to Sarraille, the secure service works like an online package delivery tracker: Planners can access it 24 hours a day/seven days a week to monitor the course of their events. One feature of the new service, which Sarraille says was born from frequent customer requests, is an e-mail alert to planners when a new hotel bid response has been added to their personalized and secure summary page.

At press time, we received word of another player in the online auction game: StarCite.com, which is a spin-off company of Philadelphia-based McGettigan Partners, a leading meeting and incentive travel management firm. StarCite.com unveiled its online auction feature at a bash at the Waldorf-Astoria in New York City on November 30. StarCite's entry into the market could signal the beginning of a trend. Going once, going twice . . . -- Anna Chinappi

* technology update IACVB Debuts Online RFP Service The International Association of Convention & Visitor Bureaus, Washington, D.C., has joined the e-bandwagon with the launch of an online meetings RFP program that's easy to use--and free.

"If you can send e-mail, you can use it," according to IACVB Chairman Bill Peeper.

There is no extra cost for IACVB members to use the online RFP service, Peeper says, and all of the association's 460 members worldwide have linked on to it. The RFP essentially works as a distribution conduit for member CVBs who in turn distribute the information to their own member hotels and facilities.

IACVB's RFP service generates no income for the association and is simply an added value for members, Peeper says. While e-commerce has increased sales for hotels and convention facilities, Peeper says that from his point of view, the Internet is not a huge moneymaking venture. "We're seeing an increase in sales, but there are huge costs in these programs, like maintenance," he says. The point, Peeper says, is keeping the playing field competitive, and IACVB's reach is its advantage.

Unlike PlanSoft's RFP service, the IACVB RFP service comes with no guaranteed turnaround time. Each bureau is responsible for its own responses to the meeting planner, according to Peeper, but each bureau is monitoring its response times. PlanSoft guarantees a response time designated by the planner--typically around 48 hours.

When planners use the service on the IACVB Web site, the RFP can be sent one of two ways--via traditional e-mail, which will pop up when that icon is chosen, or by using IACVB's online form. Either way, planners can choose as many or as few bureaus as they desire. The RFP then follows the conventional route: the CVBs in the selected cities send the request along to properties in a format determined by each bureau; planners are then contacted by the bureaus through the traditional e-mail or telephone process.

The advantages are the function's simplicity and, Peeper says, IACVB's broad reach.To access IACVB's Request For Proposal service, meeting planners can go to www.iacvb.org, click on "Services for Meeting Professionals" and then "Send RFP/bid proposal to the cities of your choice."

* associations in the news NMA Heads for Opryland For the National Medical Association, timing was everything. NMA had been shopping for a new site for its 2001 annual convention after it pulled out of Seattle to protest Washington State's approval of an anti-affirmative-action initiative.

The Opryland Convention Center Hotel in Nashville was soliciting NMA for its 2003 annual convention when the Seattle boycott unfolded and Opryland made an offer that the association just couldn't refuse, according to NMA past president Gary C. Dennis, MD.

"Opryland in Nashville was selected," Dennis says, "because they gave us an offer to cover our debt to pull out of Seattle. We've always received very strong support from Tennessee."

Warren Breaux, Opryland's vice president of marketing, was careful to explain that "we never solicit anyone in this kind of situation," referring to NMA's predicament of having no site for its 2001 annual meeting. "It has to be perfectly clear that we don't go after this kind of business."

Breaux said that Opryland was in negotiations with the NMA for its August 2003 annual convention when NMA made its move out of Washington State. Opryland's bid to host the 2001 and 2003 NMA conventions includes covering part of NMA's debt for pulling out of Seattle, according to Breaux, but he declined to disclose any details of that aspect of the deal.

About NMA's boycott, Dennis says, "We knew it was going to be controversial, and we took it on the chin, but it's what we have to do to make a statement."

Meanwhile, the American Medical Association, at its annual meeting in June, adopted NMA's Resolution 316, which takes a stand on medical education for members in under-served minority groups.

"This puts the AMA in the middle of the fray, saying that it's right to support opportunities for under-represented minorities," Dennis says. "This puts them on record to support, among other things, biomedical research on a population in which there are disparities in health care." The resolution also commits the AMA to oppose the reduction of resources to increase minority medical and pre-medical students.

Most important, Dennis says, Resolution 316 paves the way for the AMA House to agree to hold a national conference with a focus on health care for minorities. page 28

* global meetings New Trade Show for Latin America The first-ever Meetings and Incentive Travel Market, Latin America, will take place in Guadalajara, Mexico, from January 14 to 17. The new event is a trade show for companies and organizations interested in bringing their meetings and incentive travel programs to Latin America.

The market will bring together more than 150 suppliers from around the region to meet with meeting and incentive buyers for individual 15-minute appointments.

It will also feature a full day of seminars on subjects such as how to put together a request for proposal for a Latin American program, and how to manage risk in Latin America.

Optional post-event tours will visit regional destinations, including Puerto Vallarta and Oaxaca. The show's $350 rate for qualified buyers includes transportation on American Airlines, hotel accommodations, and meals.

Meetings and Incentive Travel Market, Latin America is being sponsored by American Airlines, GSAR Marketing, World Incentive Nexus, Meeting Professionals International, and Adams Business Media (publisher of this magazine and five other meetings industry publications.) For more information, contact Jim Skiba, CMP, World Incentive Nexus, (415) 626-1784; fax: (415) 626-1445; e-mail: jim@worldincentivenexus.com. Or contact Carol Krugman, CMP, CMM, at (954) 796-0606; fax; (954) 796-4111; e-mail: krugman@ krugman.com. You can also get full details about the program by visiting www.worldincentivenexus.com.

The annual Beyond Borders Conference, which will be held next year from March 22 to 23 at the Hilton Hotel & Towers in New York City, has adopted an exciting new format.

The event will offer dual-track programming that allows participants to choose either beginner or advanced sessions and, for the first time, Beyond Borders will flow directly into the International Association of Convention and Visitor Bureaus' Destination Showcase.

Registration fee is $295 for corporate or association meeting planners and $395 for industry suppliers. (See registration form on page 139 of this issue.) The Beyond Borders Conference is sponsored in part by Adams Business Media, which publishes this magazine.

CVB CONTROVERSY LATEGANO HEADS NYCVB There seemed to be no let-up of the criticism in the days following meetings industry newcomer Cristyne Lategano's confirmation as the president and CEO of the New York Convention & Visitors Bureau. No experience. Too young. Political patronage. These and other barbs flew, especially in the New York media, but at least one industry executive says, "Get over it." International Association of Convention & Visitor Bureaus (IACVB) President and CEO Ed Neilsen believes it's time to rally around Lategano. "I understand the frustration of having a totally inexperienced person in that position," Neilsen says, "but it's important to be fair and to get her up and running."

At 34, Lategano is the youngest person to head a major metropolitan convention and visitors bureau, but she shows no fear in facing her detractors. "There's always controversy in New York City, so it's something that we're used to," Lategano says. "Give me a chance to do the job. Criticize me on my record. Six months from now, they can criticize me, but now, four days on the job, there's no basis for it."

The New York Convention and Visitors Bureau announced Lategano's appointment at the end of September, and she officially began her duties on October 1. Before that, she worked in New York City Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani's administration, where in January 1993 she made her mark as the youngest person--at 28 years old--and only the second woman to serve as Giuliani's press secretary.Brooklyn-born Lategano says she saw the opportunity for her dream job when former NYCVB president and CEO Fran Reiter called her to let her know she was stepping down from that position to pursue a run for mayor of New York City. "The greatest job in the world had just opened up. . . . There's nothing more I'd rather be doing than promoting the city of New York," Lategano says.

It is true that Lategano's background is politics, but as IACVB's Neilsen points out, such an appointment is not without precedent. The Chicago Convention and Tourism Bureau split its top position last year and hired as CEO the politically connected Jim Reilly, former CEO of the Metropolitan Pier and Exposition Authority, which manages McCormick Place and Navy Pier. In making the move, the Chicago CTB hopes to expand its agenda to fundraising and legislative advocacy. Neilsen believes the industry may just need leaders with the same skills it takes to be a good politician. It's all about "the ability to deliver high-impact testimony, communicate with the media, and know about image development and management," he says.

"Cristyne Lategano's appointment is not adverse for New York," Neilsen believes. "It's a wake-up call, at least on the CVB side."

DENVER Voters Approve Convention Center Expansion Denver voters approved a $268 million Colorado Convention Center expansion project in their November 2 election, a move that will create the sixth-largest facility west of the Mississippi.

"It's taken us three years," says Denver Metro Convention & Visitors Bureau President Eugene Dilbeck, "but with the people's approval, it's a definite go."

Dilbeck says the design process for the project, which includes 292,000 square feet of new exhibit space and 60,000 square feet of meeting space, will begin immediately. The expansion is expected to break ground in early 2001 and will be the mirror image of the existing Colorado Convention Center. Because expansion was all in the grand plan when the CCC was built in 1987, Dilbeck says construction will have minimal effect on events during the construction period.

In separate, but related, developments: * Marriott International signed a letter of intent to build a 1,100-room convention headquarters hotel on a site across the street from the CCC. The $211 million hotel could break ground as early as spring 2000, with a 34-month build-out construction period. The twin tower hotel will feature 85,000 square feet of meeting space and two ballrooms, one at 30,000 square feet and the other 15,000 square feet.

* A block down the road from the CCC, Hilton Hotels will join the neighborhood. The Denver Executive Tower Hotel will close for a $108 million renovation project and reopen in late summer of 2001 as a new 659-room Hilton Hotel, with 30,000 square feet of meeting space.

Look Who's Talking PowerPoint's basic sophistication is no longer a novelty; you can't faze attendees with a fancy fade or colorful graphic. However, the developer world is busily building new tools to keep PowerPoint hot. One of the most unusual is Karta Technologies' KartaNarrator, an on-screen virtual presenter. The program uses text-to-speech synthesis, so that words typed into PowerPoint's speaker notes area are delivered by one of seven animated characters.

Could your executives or speakers use a little wizard as a co-presenter? How about a parrot, or just a guy named Bill? With a bit of advance practice, a presenter can seem to be interacting with the animation.

The basic program costs $99,but the more customized products cost more. For more information about KartaNarrator, contact Karta Technologies Inc. in San Antonio, Texas, at (800) 725-2782. Or download a demo of the program at the company's Web site, www.karta.com.

Inspiring Times RCMA 2000 in Dallas More than 1,200 meeting professionals will gather in Dallas , Texas, February 1 to 4 to celebrate the dawn of a new millennium of religious meeting planning at the 28th Annual Conference and Exposition of the Religious Conference Management Association (RCMA).

Keynote speaker Ed Foreman, a self-made millionaire and motivational speaker who even taught famous speaker Zig Zigler a few things, will kick off the conference in style. Also planned at the conference are more than 22 sessions on everything from registration to upcoming trends in the hospitality industry, an expo with more than 300 booths, and a Texas-style rodeo.

"Whether you're new to the industry or have been planning meetings for 20 years, there will be something for everyone," remarks RCMA executive director Dr. DeWayne Woodring, CMP, CEM.