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Point: Virtual Site Selection: Is it enough?

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October 27, 2014
David Harold Moore

© 2001 Hospitality Upgrade. No reproduction or transmission without written permission.

Traveling on business sucks. And traditional site selection requires extensive traveling for the successful meeting planner. So what’s a realistic alternative – an alternative that makes the meeting planner more money through the ability to plan more meetings effectively and spend less money doing so?

With the advent of the World Wide Web, virtual site selection has now become possible through the use of ingenious technologies.

One must understand that the meetings industry is an instrumental force behind the success of the overall hospitality industry, with contributions exceeding $100 billion worldwide, and therefore has a direct effect on the success of hospitality technology. In other words, without meetings, the facilities wouldn’t be making money on catering and renting its space and therefore couldn’t afford all of this wonderful technology.

We all know that meeting space, like hotel rooms, is a perishable good with a shelf life measured in hours rather than days. Which means the relative effortlessness of virtual site selection vs. physical site selection will assuredly enable the facility to market and sell their space more effectively than they do now – much more in fact.
According to the Union of International Associations, there were 182 countries holding international meetings in 1999 with the United States, France and United Kingdom at the top. Of these 182 countries holding international meetings, which ones does the meeting planner have time to go to for a physical site visit? I am sure that if you ask any meeting planner they would tell you, “I don’t even have time to leave the office for lunch.”
By combining the vastness of the world marketplace with the increasing demands placed upon the meeting planner; one is in a quandary as to where his or her time and energy are more effectively spent.

So, the question remains: How has virtual site selection become a realistic alternative?
Although meeting planning is a tremendous undertaking that requires multi-talented individuals, the steps required for site selection are pretty straightforward, even if they do require a great amount of research.

Choosing a host city is more readily done through the multitude of virtual site-selection gateways – such as mpoint.com and BusinessMeetings.com. By reviewing the typical criteria, such as cost, convenience, transportation, room and space availability, the drawing power of the city itself, climate and overall image of the city – the meeting planner can now narrow the search to specific facilities.

This narrowing can be virtual only when the facility invests in the sales and marketing tools now available via the Web. These essential tools include: panoramic and digital photographs, streaming video, accurate and interactive room diagrams, 3-D modeling of the meeting space, and the software to speedily make it all come to life via the Web.
The software is the critical element and a concerted effort from vendors is instrumental in creating an integrated and seamless solution. It is interesting to note that the effort to create this marketplace solution is happening, but not with much concerted effort. However, with APEX and HITIS diligently developing standards by which to communicate, the opportunity is there for us all. It would be a shame to not capitalize on such a tremendously effortless future where we all can make more money.

In fact, I sit here writing this article at the Newmarket User’s Conference where Newmarket unveiled NetMarketPlace Solution, which utilizes integrated meeting planning sites and end-to-end site selection through the World Wide Web.

This combined with the yet unproven ASP business model, which according to the International Data Corporation (IDC) is estimated at $250 million in 1999, and expects it to reach $4.5 billion by 2003, induces improvement of the now sluggish Internet infrastructure. Speed is required for virtual site selection and I say ‘unproven’ only in regards to the hospitality industry.

It is imperative to understand that the credibility of whomever is providing these virtual site selection tools is impeccable. The accuracy of the data is what provides absolute accountability and accountability is only possible through accurate communication. The most accurate and effortless form of communication is picturesque in nature.

So, when selecting a site virtually the data should be from an independent source that serves both the meeting planner and the facility alike. This insures the most accurate representation at the time the data was collected.

It just so happens that nearly all of the products and services to maximize the aforementioned marketplace solution are available. In fact, with a simple click of the mouse, all of the tools can be e-mailed and utilized without the recipient purchasing anything.
The grandest of these tools, 3-D virtual reality software, can take any room setup and turn it into a 3-D, virtual reality representation. The accuracy of the virtual reality depiction is dependent upon the level of detail in modeling the space.

This technology has revolutionized the sale of meeting space throughout the world by enabling the venue and the meeting planner to use their actual room setup as a sales tool–enabling a virtual walk-through of the event. This virtual walk-through can be e-mailed to any customer in the world – and they don’t even need to buy the software to view it.

To give you an idea of how virtual event planning and site selection has already become an integral part of the industry, the specific page to download certified room diagrams, space rendered rooms, and various multimedia from MeetingMatrix.com, receives over 2,000 hits per day from thousands of meeting planners searching for accurate and interactive room diagrams.
However, with the release of new Web-based site selection tools, such as ActiveMatrix, meeting planners are now able to directly interact with the meeting space on the Internet, producing diagrams for any number of people and a variety of seating styles. This software is hosted by the facility itself and requires nothing of the meeting planner other than access to the Internet.

The question isn’t whether or not virtual site selection is the future, for it assuredly is, but rather which of the hundreds of thousands of facilities with meeting space throughout the world has the business savvy to purchase the tools to make it all happen?

I can tell you right now that Wyndham is planning to be a leader in the game. According to M. Rodd Herron, VP of sales development, they are planning to implement Internet-based site selection. Wyndham’s strategic direction is to host meeting room and guest room inventory online, operating under a yield management system. Meeting planners will be seamlessly clearing the space. It will be just like booking an airline seat over the Web. You will be able to choose what you want from the available inventory at a pre-yielded rate.
Simply, the time has come for us to accept that successful meetings can now be booked without the site visits needed in the past.


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