The newest of the dot-com companies to enter the meetings arena did so with great fanfare recently at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York City. StarCite plans to distinguish itself in the meetings e-commerce arena with a site that becomes an integral part of a meeting manager's daily operations, according to Chairman and CEO John Pino, who helped spin off StarCite from McGettigan Partners, the Philadelphia-based meeting management company.

StarCite (www.starcite.com) offers functions that the other major meeting planning Web sites do, including a large, searchable supplier database, online RFPs, news, hot dates, and the ability to put a meeting up for bid by hotels. What's new:

* a private, customized site for each company, tailored to its specific needs, travel policies, and vendors.

* access to a management application (the evolution of McGettigan's CORE Discovery software), which allows every planner in a company to consolidate meeting data. Companies can view budgets, access negotiated rates for all hotel meetings; and publish an event calendar.

* capability for hotels or meeting managers to "re-sell" canceled space to other StarCite users.

* consultations with an expert (40 of whom are on staff), including experts who could facilitate site selection.

Sold! . . . to the Best Bidder StarCite is the second site to host live, online auctions where planners can put meetings up for bid by hotels. (Event- Source jumped on the idea first; see news item, page 12.) But StarCite's user-friendly graphical interface takes the process to a higher level.

During the live auction, participants see on their computers a graphically rich representation of the process, including the meeting details and current bids from each supplier. (The planner sees who each supplier is, but the hotels do not know which rates and offerings are being presented by which bidder.)

Rather than a chat-room setting, StarCite uses proprietary software that allows simultaneous interaction. For example, the planner can ask a question of the entire field ("Can you offer a complimentary reception?") or of a specific supplier ("How much pre-function space is near your Grand Ballroom?") and see the answer instantly.

During the auction, a red arrow moves around the screen, tracking the lowest bid; meanwhile, the planner can put another arrow next to the bidder that is "winning" in his or her mind at the time.

Planners pay a fee to StarCite, equal to 10 percent of the difference between the "winning" hotel's opening bid and its final bid, times the number of room nights. For example, if Winning Resort's opening bid is $150 and the planner ultimately agrees on a $130 rate for 200 rooms for three nights, StarCite's fee is 10 percent of $20, or $2, times 600 room nights, for a total of $1,200. StarCite also is paid $3.90 per room night by the winning hotel. So, Winning Resort would pay StarCite $3.90 times 600 room nights, or $2,340. ("Losing" hotels pay nothing for their participation in the auction.) Hotels that sign up for annual marketing packages with StarCite pay a reduced fee of $2.90 per room.

EXECUTIVE MEMO It's Not What You Know, It's How You Use It In the brave new world of the Internet, where everyone has access to the same information, what does it take to beat your competitors? The answer, says Michael Weber, is knowing how to use that information. Next time your executive committee holds a strategic brainstorming session, advises Weber, a Southern California-based speaker and consultant, "use artificial ways to shift perspectives and you'll find elegant and unusual solutions." His suggestions:

1. Use 180-degree thinking. Take a proposed solution and consider its opposite.

2. Do the unthinkable. Ask the group, "What would we never do?"

3. Use a bad idea as a springboard for a good idea. Examples: The Post-it note came from an adhesives technician's failed attempt to invent a special glue. Donuts were created by a sea captain's wife, who cut the mushy middles out of fried cakes.

4. Ask how a problem would have been solved 10, 50, 100, or even 1,000 years ago. Everything has been done before; you just have to think of it again.

For information on Michael Weber as a meeting emcee or featured speaker, contact Ken Kirsh, Kirsh Productions at (212) 262-4388.

How does the number of meetings you will handle in 2000 compare with the number you managed in 1999?

* My department will handle more meetings: 56 percent

* My department will handle the same number of meetings: 39 percent

* My department will handle fewer meetings: 6 percent

Source: Nearly two dozen insurance conference planners participating in a benchmarking session at the Inaugural Marriott Insurance & Financial Services Customer Forum. Look for a complete writeup of the session and the meeting in the March/April 2000 issue of ICP.

Noted * Starwood Wins Boston Bid At the end of a seven-month search for the best team to develop and operate a flagship hotel at the planned Boston Convention Center, Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide Inc., emerged the victor. The choice of Starwood, in partnership with Carpenter & Co., was approved unanimously by the Massachusetts Convention Center Authority.

Starwood beat out two other competing teams, Marriott International Inc. paired with Boston Properties and Hilton Hotels teamed with New England Development.

The 1,120-room Sheraton will cost $264 million. Among its other promises, Starwood agreed to open the hotel at the same time as the convention center (October 2003) and to reserve a block of discounted rooms for meeting attendees.