Take It Online

By Lain Ehmann

When you only plan one sales meeting every 12 months or so, using an online event-management program can be costly and, at first, a time-consuming proposition. Though the long-term benefits are great – ease of planning, online registration, room booking and so on – selecting a solution and getting the system up and running can take more time and expertise than the occasional meeting planner is willing to invest.

To minimize these barriers, MeetingsCentral.com now offers free online meeting planning resource for “professional people who don’t happen to be professional meeting planners,” says MeetingsCentral.com’s Julie Niehoff. Niehoff says meeting planners can create their own personal planning center where they can store contacts, build budgets, create agendas and to-do lists, and file documents. Users also have access to resources such as an event Website, online registration and payment, email marketing and invitations, a survey system and professional assistance from MeetingsCentral.com staff – all for free.

Aimed at planners producing smaller-scale meetings, MeetingsCentral.com makes the entire planning process easier by moving key tasks online, such as registration and room booking. In addition, the work done for one event is stored for future reference, making next year’s sales conference even easier to plan and execute.

The catch? While site registration and access to the tools are free, advanced e-tools such as the event Website, email invitations and forms will not unlock until you either purchase one hotel room or reserve a block of five or more rooms through the MeetingsCentral.com affiliate, Hotels.com. Even that isn’t too much of a burden since you don’t have to pay for reserved rooms you don’t use and you’re guaranteed a low price. Hotels.com is one of the largest online hotel reservation sites, representing 15,000 properties in 400 cities, and offers MeetingsCentral.com users an additional discount over its normal rates.

There are several other no-cost online planning resources that offer differing levels of functionality. Here’s a overview of three of them.

  • Starwood’s PlanItOnline.com. Free planning assistance for any of Starwood’s properties, including the St. Regis Luxury Collection, Sheraton Hotels and Resorts, Four Points Hotels and Westin Hotels and Resorts.
  • GetItPlanet.com. One-stop-shopping for event planners, including free Web-based software that allows you to manage bids, costs, proposals and more.
  • eVite.com. Long recognized as one of the easiest ways to plan informal events, the site might be just the ticket when all you want to do is create a cool invitation and manage RSVPs.

For more information, please click on www.meetingscentral.com, www.planitonline.com, www.getitplanet.com or evite.com.