Siggraph '98, a computer graphics show, is the largest test yet for Passkey, a new Internet-based housing management system. SIGGRAPH will be held this July in Orlando, with more than 30 participating hotels. The June annual meeting of the American Physical Therapy Association (APTA), with eight hotels, also in Orlando, was the first citywide trial.

Quincy, Mass.-based Passkey Systems Inc. has invested $3 million in software development alone to create the product it hopes to become the housing management standard. Passkey provides a central online database accessible via password to the event organizer, participating hotels, and the contracted housing-services agency. (Passkey is available only through a convention bureau housing department or a housing services company.) Using the Internet, each can obtain real-time, 24-hour status reports on the group's housing blocks. Attendees register via fax, phone, or by Internet, where they can view detailed hotel information (including a picture of the property), book at the negotiated rate, and receive instant confirmation.

The system gives planners unprecedented access to and control over their hotel inventories. Planners not only get real-time reporting on room pickup, they can make instantaneous changes in allotments, moving rooms from the attendee block to the exhibitor block or vice versa, for example. In the event setup phase, they can customize hotel descriptions to include information on amenities and services that attendees frequently ask about, as well as define unlimited subblocks and spell out rules for deposits and cancellations.

After the cutoff date, the Passkey system allows hotels the option of removing all or just some of their rooms from the meeting's database-- and to change the rate for rooms left in the block. Hotels gain by not having to process calls by attendees after the cutoff date; planners win by getting credit for reservations coming in after the cutoff date.

Passkey's quest to become the industry's housing utility has been picking up steam. The company has built an important alliance with Sheraton Hotels and is talking with Hilton and Marriott. The Orlando Convention and Visitors Bureau used the Passkey system for the APTA event, while the registration arm of Smith Bucklin and Associates is using Passkey for SIGGRAPH. Housing OnLine, a housing services vendor under the PGI umbrella, has agreed to test the system.

And at the Boston Convention and Visitors Bureau, Passkey will be handling the annual meetings this fall of the American Academy of Periodontology, the National Funeral Directors Association, the Yankee Dental Congress, and the American Society of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgeons.