The Preferred Hotel Group, a sales and marketing organization for more than 830 independent hotels and resorts, is the first major company to use Elite Meetings International’s online tools to create a Web portal for its global sales organization and for meeting planners. Elite Meetings International is the company behind elitemeetings.com, an online meeting hotel database, and SpeedRFP, an electronic request for proposal system for the meetings industry.

Smaller hotel groups, including Dolce Hotels and Resorts (24 properties) and Destination Hotels & Resorts (37 properties), are using Elite’s technology, but Preferred “is the first milestone big brand for us,” says Elite CEO Kelly Foy. Some Preferred clients, he says, will already be familiar with the SpeedRFP system, which allows users to submit and store RFPs. That’s because the interface and user passwords are the same whether you’re using a SpeedRFP form through elitemeetings.com, PHGmeetings.com, a Dolce hotel Web site, or any other hotel site that licenses Elite’s RFP system. Approximately 100 individual hotel or chain Web sites offer SpeedRFP, and with the addition of the Preferred site, about 3,000 hotels can be reached through the SpeedRFP system.

At PHGMeetings.com, users search for properties by location, hotel name, number of guest rooms, meeting space, or amenities, with the system returning a narrowing number of meeting properties with each added criteria. The Web site’s functionality is similar to elitemeetings.com; however, the Preferred database has its own look and feel and includes only member properties, which are located in 70 countries around the world. Elitemeetings.com has listings for close to 2,000 meeting properties (selected by an advisory board) in North America and Europe.

Drilling down to a property page in either PHGmeetings.com or elitemeetings.com, users find photos, contact information, maps, meeting space configurations, and many other hotel specifics. They also find a link to Elite’s SpeedRFP system.

Once the hotel receives the RFP, the system can be used to send messages. “This has been one of the killer apps behind SpeedRFP technology,” Foy says. “The hotels and planners are treating the system as a kind of intranet to communicate back and forth regarding an RFP, and they’re actually negotiating deals using this messaging system.” And for Preferred, he says, the system is set up so that if a client wants to take a more hands-off approach, a Preferred sales rep can send in the RFP on behalf of a meeting planner but have the hotels’ responses sent directly to the planner.

“At the same time,” Foy says, “one of the biggest problems we’ve heard in the industry is that hotels are not acting on RFPs fast enough, so we’ve given the Preferred global sales team the power to respond to the RFP as well.” The salesperson can work with the hotel to get all the answers needed for the RFP response and then use the system to respond to the client. “It’s a customer service issue,” says Foy.

“We had a system that we built ourselves,” but it wasn’t adequate, says Preferred’s Craig Jacobs, senior vice president of sales, group. “We decided we could really benefit from [Elite’s] technology.”

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