The Evolution of the Major
Meeting Industry Web Sites -- Where
Are We After the Dot.com Bubble Burst?
©2002 Corbin Ball Associates
Internet has brought unprecedented change to the meetings industry. During the
past seven years, new ideas, tools, and radically different business processes
have bubbled up from hundreds of online technology providers selling everything
from “abstract management tools” to “zero based budgeting.”
frenzied hyperactivity of the late 90’s has leveled off, however. After the
Dot.com “bomb” in 2000, many companies have unplugged and the ones that have
survived concentrate on core business.
are seeing a refining of existing systems with many of the pioneer meeting
industry portals are alive and well, but considerably evolved and matured from
the early days of the Web. This is an excellent time to take a breath and look
back at this amazing transformation.
article will cover several of the significant pioneering meeting industry sites,
their evolution, and where they are headed.
Selection – RFP sites
PlanSoft and Mpoint
(www.plansoft.com and www.mpoint.com)
has many superlatives. Launched in 1997, it was the first industry web site to
feature a comprehensive database of hotels and suppliers coupled with an online
RFP, and a "hot dates" section of distressed inventory.. They led the
way in digitizing the process of how meeting professional research venues.
September 2000, PlanSoft renamed its planner web site to www.mpoint.com,
to differentiate from the 30-plus other industry Web sites (hotel companies,
CVBs, etc.) using PlanSoft's site search engine.
the most comprehensive database of meeting facility information available on the
web (40,000+ hotels worldwide and more than 30,000 industry suppliers), activity
on mpoint.com and the PlanSoft Network continues to grow reporting over 1.2
million user sessions in for the site selection database in 2001. They also
offer an extensive array of articles, checklists, news features, meetings
consolidation systems, a job board, and other tools
started in early 1996 offering online RFP tools and a strong meeting facility
database. Innovations include the first online auction for meeting space in 1999
– a completely novel way to buy and sell hotel space for meetings. Also, about
the same time, they offered Compass, a basic tool set to track hotel spend.
has brought a name change to ProcurePoint Travel Solutions, a complete site
redesign, and a redirection of focus. As the name suggests, they now provide a
series of tools for corporations to procure hotel space for both group and
transient travel. It offers an
updated version of auctions (now called open bidding).
Bids, responses, and meeting spend can now be tracked and a database of
12,500 meeting facilities is included. In
addition to the full-featured meetings and transient travel products, they still
offer what is called Meeting LT for part-time planners with an occasional
meeting, similar to the product they first offered at the beginning.
AllMeetings - GetThere (www.getthere.com)
in 1997, AllMeetings started out as an online site information and RFP tool.
Unique features included the ability to estimate the total cost of holding a
meeting including hotel, F&B, airfare, and other travel costs. Other
innovations included a series of free online meeting planning checklists.
2000, AllMeetings shifted focus toward the corporate marketplace and merged with
GetThere changing from a public Internet site to corporate intranets, and
renaming their product GetThere DirectMeetings. Later that year, Sabre Holdings
purchased the company and merged it with its own subsidiary, Sabre BTS, which
had already brought the
serving over half of the Fortune
200, its attendee management solution, is an end-to-end meetings procurement
tool, covering site selection, invitations, registration, and travel booking. A
unique offering to their corporate clients is the ability to fully book meeting
space, catering and sleeping rooms online, rather than through a RFP process.
genesis of StarCite started with the McGettigan, a large meeting planning firm
that essentially invented the concept of meetings consolidation – tracking
meeting spend by vender to increase negotiation clout.
early 1999, they provided a range of online meeting procurement tools (a site
selection and supplier database boasting more than 53,000 listings, RFP
management and system to track meeting spend) they have made a number of unique
contributions to cyberspace including the concept of using the web to resell
cancelled meeting space.
can send and analyze requests for proposal; and manage budgets and meeting
logistics, while suppliers receive, manage and respond to RFPs and market their
offerings in enhanced listings - all online.
versions provide policy compliance; procurement and reporting tools to manage
spend in this space.
Funded by a consortium
of 10 convention/visitor bureaus, primarily in Massachusetts, MeetingPath is the
principle lead distribution system for those organizations. It has the typical
searchable database found in many sites. What
makes this site unique is the StarDates section where short-term (up to 36
weeks) day-by-day hotel sleeping room inventory is posted – one of the most
direct ways of distributing short term availability.
MPINet and MPIWeb (www.mpiweb.org)
was the first online forum for meeting professionals. Starting in January of
1994, by Meeting Professionals International (MPI) on CompuServe, it grew to
over 2,200 subscribers in two years. It was for many participants the first
introduction to the Internet and email and is still regarded as the one of the
strongest online communities for meeting professionals that has ever existed.
the explosion of the Web in 1996, MPI finally migrated to a web-based offering (MPIWeb)
which is now one of the largest meeting association portals on the Web. This
sprawling and content-rich site has gone through a number of iterations, most
recently last July, but still has navigation challenges. The near future will
bring enhanced online member and chapter management services.
MPI has been unsuccessful so far in bringing the MPINet online community with
it, a magical time for many in the early Net days.
Association of Conference Centers site started in 1996 as a simple directory of
member conference centers but has grown to be one of the best examples of an
online association management systems to be found for our industry. Members can
update profiles, pay dues, register for meetings, communicate with other
members, subscribe to a ListServ, update their online listing with exquisite
detail, submit news articles/press releases, post jobs and find job seekers.
There is a “University Relations” section for hospitality instructors and
students with a means for student to sign up as interns.
From the meeting
planners perspective, it is an excellent directory for the IACC approved
conference centers around the world.
One of the significant
contributions is that IACC was a
pioneer in meeting industry association sites to digitize the very complex and
usually paper-intensive process of association management.
– Housing sites
Communications and its spin-off sites (RebWeb, the Meeting Industry Mall,
SmartRFP) have been truly pioneering. They were the first company to build an
online RFP for a hotel; they developed the first online mall for the meetings
industry; they were among the first to build template-driven web sites in the
meeting industry; the first to provide template-driven association management
web sites to MPI Chapters and other associations; and one of the first to build
an active job board.
keeps developing and refining their products. RegWeb is one of the top
full-featured online registration products available.
Note: RegWeb has just been purchased by StarCite. The corporate web sites
for major hotels and associations have been models of business process
integration. I expect to see
continued innovation and leadership from the creative team from Cardinal. Other
strong products that have emerged in the registration area have been: b-there,
seeUthere, and Event411.
significant contribution to the meeting industry is digitizing the housing
process. Formerly the task of managing housing blocks for city-wide meetings was
a very paper-based and tedious task.
Launched in 1996, it is
now is the online housing solution for more than
50 CVBs, including 70% of the top 40 major convention cities in the country.
They also provide housing solutions for hotels and meeting planning companies.
Passkey led the way in
allowing all parties to use the web to monitor and manage
group sleeping room inventory in real-time - a quantum leap in the efficiency of
the process. Several online registrations companies have developed housing
modules, but Passkey was the first to do so and is the
leader for citywide meetings.
site was re-launched in February 2002 and offers best practices in group
housing, white papers on attrition, and other industry group management related
topics. Future enhancement
will include multilingual support to assist an international customer base and a
user community forum.
one of dozens of online registration firms on the web, was one of the first to
build out and market advanced audience profiling and one-to-one marketing concepts
to the meetings industry. Ultimately, these member enhancing and audience building tools will
prove to be a greater benefit than online registration itself. Other early
adopters were SeeUThere, and RegWeb offering similar products.
in 1996, MeetingsNet, the combined information portal for several Primedia
publications, was one of the first meetings industry press webs sites. A
significant contribution is that the site was the first to offer online article
archives, free of-charge, searchable by key word, for past issues. Currently
seven years of archived data can be searched.
This searchable database becomes wonderfully useful for research on
nearly any topic relating to our industry and vastly easier than flipping
through stacks of back issues.
contributions of MeetingsNet and most of the other industry press sites are the
breaking news sections and electronic newsletters. These are changing the way
the meeting professionals get and process news and information.
Finally, many are providing special report sections. For example, the
report on the impact of September 11 on MeetingsNet, still serves as valuable
archive of information on security and contingency planning.
Fox created one of the first zines (electronic magazines) for the meetings
industry. This weekly technology email publication started in November of 1996
and currently has 8,000 subscribers. The
web site is the archive of past issues and a subscribe/unsubscribe tool.
Plans are to develop audio and video components, for on-demand interviews
and other features.
newsletters are common place these days, but EventWeb was pioneering in the use
Established in January
1996, TSNN.com was the first portal focusing on the tradeshow industry. It is
now the web’s largest database for tradeshow events and an extensive yellow
page listing of suppliers. A very strong component is the online searchable
calendar of events that can be updated by show produces as is the most complete
and up to date source that is available.
In an industry that
has been dominated by direct mail, TSNN has led the way in generating business
online. Many tradeshow sites have come and gone – the virtual tradeshow sites
have dropped like flies, while TSNN has remained standing. Its market positing
was strengthened this past year with the acquisition of TSCentral, the second
largest tradeshow site at the time.
was first online job board dedicated to the meetings and special events
industry. The web is a perfect tool for posting and finding jobs allowing for
rapid change and a broad reach to those interested. As the largest search firm
serving the meetings and hospitality industry, a wide range of services are
2000, the site expanded and allied with a mirror site on Mpoint.com. A new array
of options became available including interactive email boxes to connect job
posters and seekers. Since then, several job tools have been added to the
resource center including articles, relocation indicators, a career store and
assessment tests. Expansion plans include services for independent contractors
and temporary staff.
Humbly submitted as the
Web’s most comprehensive meetings technology site with thousands of up-to-date
categorized links, 80+ articles, 14 free Excel meeting planning software tools,
and a free email newsletter distributed to more than 5,000 subscribers.