Catering-only events can be critical for pharma companies, but have often been low-priority for hotels. Now, hotel chains have apparently started to recognize that day meetings can add up to some lucrative business. In January, Starwood introduced a pilot launch of an online booking tool called Meetings in a Moment. By late July it was operating in 61 hotels, says Starwood's Duncan Kennedy, senior manager, meetings product development. And 16 percent of clients are pharma/medical planners — making the healthcare industry “probably the largest group of users,” says Scott Reynolds, Starwood's senior manager, meetings product development. Medical planners use the tool for internal and client meetings, and training.

Meetings in a Moment allows planners to secure meeting space, food and beverage, and audiovisual for groups of up to 25 people, up to 30 days in advance, with instant online confirmation and a follow-up call from the hotel within 24 hours. The 61 properties, spread among Westin, Sheraton, Four Points, Luxury Collection, and W brands, are located across the country; in urban, airport, suburban, and a few resort locations. More hotels are expected to offer the program as they upgrade their software, Reynolds says.

The system is straightforward. Planners select a property, pick a date, and enter a time for the meeting. They then choose a room setup and indicate the number of attendees. The system is tied to the hotel's inventory, so available meeting rooms that fit the group are then listed with their dimensions and price. A screen with F&B and AV choices is next, as well as a place to write in requests. After that, it's a matter of securing the meeting with a credit card. If a small number of guest rooms are needed, planners can book up to nine through a link back to the hotel's Web site. Companies that book a significant number of day-meetings may be able to pre-negotiate contracts with discounted rates, says Reynolds. For more information, visit www.meetingsinamoment.com.