High-tech meetings: Hot tools for planning corporate events

Many organizations are rethinking how technology can help them plan a more budget-friendly and productive business meeting.
Written by Mark Phillips, Landry & K , Contributor
Commentary - Corporate meetings and events are on the rebound after the recession, but many organizations are also rethinking how technology can help them plan a more budget-friendly and productive business meeting. For instance, companies may cut travel costs by hosting a hybrid meeting with some individuals participating via video conference as opposed to in person, or they may consider cost effective alternatives to a land-based event venue such as an all-inclusive cruise.

Whether it’s video conferencing, online booking or eProcurement, companies are increasingly turning to innovative technology for a smarter meeting solution. In fact, a recent report by PhoCusWright on Groups & Meetings cites that the online share of gross travel bookings for corporate meetings is anticipated to hit the 50 percent mark this year. Here are some of the top tools and online resources organizations can utilize to help reduce expenses, find unique venues and manage logistics for their next meeting or event.

Sourcing tools
More companies are utilizing procurement and sourcing tools to help them find the right venue.

Cvent - The Cvent database currently contains detailed information on more than 125,000 hotel and resort venues worldwide. With Cvent, planners can send Requests for Proposals (RFPs) to multiple venues, ensuring a wide array of pricing and accommodation options.

• Worktopia - Its automated online system makes it easy to for companies to plan and book smaller meetings. Corporations of all sizes can peruse a pre-approved menu of meeting venues, enabling administrators and planners to procure rooms and meeting facilities all in one application.

Starcite - Provides a complete solution to Strategic Meetings Management programs. Its sourcing tool offers an in-depth global database enabling planners to find the most appropriate hotel. Approximately, 50 percent of Business Travel 100 Corporations currently use this tool for hotel venue sourcing.

Seasite - Cruise ships are an excellent, cost-effective venue for meetings and events. With Seasite, planners who prefer the DIY approach (Do it Yourself) can search and compare multiple ships then submit an RFP directly to five cruise lines at once and negotiate directly with each line to secure best group pricing. (author Mark Phillips is COO of Seasite.)

Attendee registration tools
Technology eases the event registration process, from room allocation to booking guests and handling online payments.

RegOnline - The leading provider in the attendee registration online space. RegOnline provides a comprehensive interface for booking event participants. It can also handle online payments, room allocation, inventory and policies.

SignUp4 - While informal in name, this service is corporate in form and function. SignUp4 tools include travel management, cost tracking, and built-in workflow tools for approval processes.

Video/Web conferencing tools
Companies can save money and increase attendance with virtual meetings. It’s also possible to include participants who might have otherwise not been able to attend a meeting due to budgetary concerns or travel conflicts.

WebEx - The dominant web conferencing tool in the marketplace. WebEx now includes the option for multiple-attendee video conferencing as well.

Skype - A free tool for videoconferencing over the Internet.

Room diagramming tools
There are even tools to help companies ensure that all details such as attendee seating and room arrangements are handled before the event begins.

MeetingsMatrix - A popular room diagramming tool that is used by venues worldwide. Features rooms by numerous suppliers, enabling meeting planners to easily create their event ahead of time.

Creately - An easy-to-use Web-based tool that includes everything a planner could need for basic room diagramming. Creatively enables planners to create seating charts and other room arrangements before they even reach the venue.

These are just some of the most useful tools and resources available today to help companies of all sizes plan and book events, meetings and trips. As more companies continue to engage in eProcurement and online booking activities, planners will find that these tools take the guesswork out of creating a memorable event.

Mark Phillips is chief operating officer of Landry & Kling, cruise meetings and event specialists - and sister company, Seasite.com.

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