“IN THE MIDST of an uncertain year, business has been amazing. All I can say is, life is great,” said Roger Helms, president and CEO of HelmsBriscoe, the Scottsdale, Ariz.-based site selection company. He made his remarks during the 11th Annual HelmsBriscoe Business Conference, held in December at Mohegan Sun in Uncasville, Conn. And he has reason to crow: In his annual speech to many of his 447 associates (40 of whom are located outside the United States), and an equal number of hoteliers and other travel industry suppliers, he said HB sent $70 million more meeting business to its hotel partners in 2002 than it did in 2001.

The vision Helms articulated at the conference was as ambitious as his firm's results so far: to be the No. 1 group-room procurement company in the world. And they're off to a good start. “We believe that international will be the big growth area,” Helms said. “For example, in just the six months we've had an associate in Malaysia, we've booked a tremendous amount of business.”

Helms and partner Bill Briscoe created their model for third-party site selection companies more than 10 years ago to help meeting planners find dates, rates, and space for hotel-based meetings. HB associates, many of them former hotel salespeople, set up their own offices, find and cater to meeting planning clients, book and negotiate contracts at hotels, and collect a 10 percent commission from the hotel. Meeting management and logistics are fee-based to the client. Those clients, mostly corporate but also from associations, nonprofits, and the government, are repeat bookers. One HB associate at the meeting mentioned that his medical-device-company clients were actually increasing their number of meetings, though they are cutting back on lavishness. “At first they weren't going to deal with the new PhRMA code,” he said. “But they decided to scale back some to avoid any potential issues.”

All of the major hotel chains have created partnerships with HB. Said David Scypinski, senior vice president, Starwood Hotels & Resorts, “HelmsBriscoe's business for Starwood has definitely increased in 2002. It's not just a matter of companies outsourcing more of their site selection, but of hotels, like us, being more accepting.”

Michael Uhl, senior vice president of sales and marketing for ParkPlace Entertainment, which manages five hotels in Las Vegas, says HelmsBriscoe nearly doubled its business at his hotels in 2002. “In a bad economy, outsourcing site selection is a viable option for many organizations. And as long as HelmsBriscoe brings us new business, we're happy.”

Helms said his company is as much a lifestyle as anything else, because associates, who work for themselves, can decide how much time they want to put into their jobs. “We're all about choices,” he says. Because the company was started by salesmen, “we understand the important of relationships. When good days return, and they will, our relationships will be of even more value.”

Mohegan Sun, an upscale, 1,200-room hotel/casino with 100,000 square feet of meeting space an hour's drive from Hartford or Providence, thinks of HelmsBriscoe as an extension of its sales force. “Two of our three largest meetings in 2002 were booked by HB,” says Jon Arneson, senior vice president at Mohegan Sun.