The lack of interest in hot rates/hot dates promotions was painfully obvious at the Marriott Insurance Planners seminar in December 1999: Ninety percent of the 30 insurance planners in attendance said they did not find these mailings valuable.

Nearly 18 months later, in the midst of an economic slowdown that's hitting the financial services sector particularly hard, the majority of the insurance planners contacted for this article still agree. Either the inventory wasn't what they needed, or it was too hard to keep track of, or they just didn't have the flexibility to take advantage of hotel white sales.

On the other hand are planners like Steve Clark, CMP, assistant vice president/Conferences & Travel, CUNA Mutual Group, Madison, Wis. Clark, who handles many short-term meetings. He says, “For pop-up meetings, I often contact my national sales offices to have them check for hot dates. Sometimes I have been able to sell a destination and property [to management] because of hot dates.”

The reason these promotions haven't been tremendously popular in the past few years isn't subtle. According to Jim Stanton, vice president of marketing for HDHR.com, a Web site affiliated with Scottsdale, Ariz.-based site selection company HelmsBriscoe, hot dates haven't been all that hot lately. “Those dates really have not been much of a bargain for the past couple of years,” he says. “Now that the market's shifting, we're getting flooded by calls from planners saying, ‘We know there are bargains out there,’ and from hotels saying, ‘Do you take credit cards? Sign me up today!’” (Hotels pay a fee to be listed on HDHR, they manage their own inventory, and planners can access the site for free.)

In fact, the environment is looking so hospitable that another hot dates/hot rates Web site launched in May. Charlie Robinson, a Starwood/Sheraton veteran of 28 years who started HotMeetingDates.com, says that up to 65 percent of the bookings his office handled were less than $50,000 in rooms revenue, and the majority of them were looking to book within a 12-month window. One planner told him that, of the 400 meetings he planned last year, 80 percent were booked for the year in the year. “Hotels are looking to fill short-term holes, and planners have a tremendous demand for short-term meetings space. It's a natural,” Robinson says of his site, which also is supported financially by hotel fees and is free to planners.

While hopes are high at hotmeetingdates.com and business is booming at HDHR.com, most planners ICP contacted for this article still tend to go to a national sales rep to do the legwork, or rely on mailers and newsletters, both hard copy and electronic. But the hot dates are out there, and through Web sites and e-mail, they're easier to find than ever. Whether they'll catch on in the insurance meeting planning community, however, remains to be seen.