Do you handle short-notice task force, committee, and board meetings — you know, those pesky little two- and three-day pop-ups that need less than 25 room nights and just one meeting room but can consume an inordinate amount of your time? While today's softening economy is causing many organizations to scale back on some of those meetings, it's bound to have a positive effect for religious planners, whose pop-up meetings are a good fit with hot dates/hot rates promotions.

Independent planner Edina Lessack, CMP, Meetings & Events USA, Chicago, says the economy is having a definite effect on the size of some of her clients' meetings. Bob Talley, president, Talley Management Group, Mount Royal, N.J., which provides planning services to a wide spectrum of association meetings, agrees that individual organization travel and corporate meetings are showing the largest cutbacks in meetings.

David Scypinski, senior vice president, industry relations, Starwood Hotels and Resorts, portrays a cautious optimism: “We are seeing slowdowns in selective locales,” he says. “Not necessarily cancellations, but individual business travel is being affected, particularly in first-tier, expensive cities.”

Marriott International Inc. Executive Vice President and CFO Arne M. Sorenson agrees. “Domestically, full-service hotels were hardest hit and saw a smaller than anticipated increase in revPAR: 1.6 percent. Residence Inns saw a fall-off in short-term training meetings.”

What does it mean for planners? “We have more rooms to fill, more hot dates/hot rates,” says Scypinski.

Many religious planners don't yet take advantage of hot dates/hot rates promotions. They're much more likely to be locked into a specific date for a national conference than are some other industry segments. Even so, there are still all those smaller meetings that may have more flexibility.

Jim Stanton, vice president of marketing for HDHR.com, a Web site affiliated with Scottsdale, Ariz.-based site selection company HelmsBriscoe, 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, another hot dates/hot rates Web site launched in May. Charlie Robinson, a Starwood/Sheraton veteran of 28 years who started HotMeetingDates.com, says up to 65 percent of the bookings his office handled were less than $50,000 in rooms revenue, and the majority were looking to book within a 12-month window.

“Hotels are looking to fill short-term holes, and planners have a tremendous demand for space for short-term meetings,” Robinson says of his site, which is free to planners.