During the past seven years, new ideas, tools, and radically different business processes have bubbled up from hundreds of meeting-focused dot-coms, selling everything from management tools to meeting space auctions to virtual trade shows.
But after the dot-bomb of 2000, many companies unplugged; surviving ones are concentrating on core business and refining existing systems. Many of the pioneering industry portals are alive and well, but considerably matured from the early days of the Web.
SITE SELECTION/RFP SITES
PlanSoft and Mpoint
PlanSoft (featured in the August 2002 issue of RCM) led the way in digitizing site searches. Launched in 1997, it was the first industry Web site to feature a comprehensive database of hotels and suppliers coupled with an online request for proposal, and a “hot dates” section of distressed inventory. In September 2000, the company changed its planner site to www.mpoint.com to differentiate it from the 30-plus industry Web sites using PlanSoft's site search engine. Still the most comprehensive database of meeting facility information on the Web (with more than 40,000 hotels and more than 30,000 suppliers), activity continues to grow. It also offers an array of articles, checklists, and news features as well as a meetings consolidation system, job board, and other tools.
EventSource started in early 1996, offering online RFP tools and a strong meeting facility database. Innovations include the first online meeting auction — to buy and sell group space — in 1999. About the same time, the company rolled out Compass, a basic tool set to track hotel spending. This year EventSource changed its name to ProcurePoint Travel Solutions, redesigned its site, and refocused its business plan. The company now provides tools to buy hotel space for group and transient travel. It offers an updated version of auctions (called “open bidding”). Bids, responses, and meeting spending can be tracked; a database of 12,500 meeting facilities is included. (www.procurepoint.com)
AllMeetings started in 1997 as an online site information and RFP tool. Among its features was the ability to estimate the cost of a meeting, including hotel, F&B, airfare, and other travel costs. In 2000, AllMeetings merged with GetThere (www.getthere.com). With the resulting GetThere DirectMeetings product, the company focus shifted from a public Internet site to a corporate intranet tool. Later that year, Sabre Holdings purchased the company and merged it with its subsidiary, Sabre BTS, which had already brought the Sabre booking engine to the corporate desktop. Today, the GetThere product is an end-to-end procurement tool, covering site selection, invitations, registration, and travel booking. A unique offering is the ability to fully book meeting space, catering, and sleeping rooms online, rather than through an RFP process.
In early 1999, StarCite (www.starcite.com) evolved out of McGettigan Partners, providing a range of online meeting procurement tools: a site selection and supplier database with more than 53,000 listings, RFP management, and a system to track spending. Among its contributions to cyberspace: using the Web to resell canceled meeting space. Today, planners can send and analyze RFPs and manage budgets and meeting logistics while suppliers receive, manage, and respond to RFPs and market their offerings in enhanced listings — all online. Partner companies facilitate online registration and travel booking. Custom versions allow companies to oversee travel policy compliance, procurement, and reporting.
Funded by a consortium of 10 convention and visitors bureaus, primarily in Massachusetts, MeetingPath (www.meetingpath.com) is the chief lead-distribution system for those organizations. While it has the kind of searchable database that is found in many sites, MeetingPath's StarDates section is unique, posting short-term (up to 36 weeks), day-by-day hotel sleeping room inventory.
Cardinal Communications (www.cardinalweb.com) and its spinoffs (RegWeb, which was recently sold to StarCite, the Meeting Industry Mall, Smart RFP) were the first to build an online hotel RFP and template-driven Web sites in the meeting industry, and to provide template-driven association management Web sites, as well as one of the first to build an active job board. RegWeb is among the top full-featured online registration products; B-there and SeeUThere Technologies are other leaders.
Launched in 1996, Passkey (www.passkey.com) led the way in allowing all parties — planners, bureaus, and hotels — to use the Web to monitor and manage group sleeping room inventory in real time. Many online registration companies have developed housing modules, but Passkey was the first, and is the leader for citywide meetings.
One of dozens of online registration firms on the Web, Cvent (www.cvent.com) was the first to build and market advanced audience profiling and one-to-one concepts. Cvent was followed by SeeUThere, RegWeb, and Event411 offering similar products. (Event411 went out of business in July.)
Established in 1996, MeetingsNet (www.meetingsnet.com), the information portal for several Primedia publications, was one of the first Web sites for the meeting industry press and the first with free searchable archives.
In 1996, Doug Fox created one of the first e-zines for the meeting industry (www.eventweb.com). This weekly e-mail publication has 8,000 subscribers.
MeetingJobs.com (www.meetingjobs.com) was the first online job board dedicated to the meeting and special event industry. In 2000, the site expanded and allied with a mirror site on Mpoint.com. A new array of options became available, including interactive e-mail boxes to connect job posters and seekers.
This site has thousands of categorized links, more than 80 articles, 14 free Excel meeting planning software tools, and a free e-mail newsletter distributed to 5,000-plus subscribers.
Corbin Ball, CMP, is a speaker, consultant, and writer focusing on events and meeting technology. Contact him through his Web site.