Technology helps meeting planners in all kinds of ways – from personal digital assistants to high-tech whiteboards, to highspeed webinars and big-screen televisionassisted teleconferences, planning a to-do isn’t the same exercise it used to be.
But a couple years back, Ottawa Tourism decided to take things to the next level by conceving MeetingsEasy, an online tool connected to OttawaTourism.com that helps planners in nearly every aspect imaginable. From booking hotels and conference space to hooking up killer floral arrangements and gastronomic delights, MeetingsEasy saves countless hours and literally hundreds of phone calls when planning a get-together.
Meeting In The Capital sat down with Ottawa Tourism’s Mark Nisbett and Marisa McLeod to discuss the benefits of their MeetingsEasy tool for meeting planners.
: Ottawa Tourism’s online meeting planner, MeetingsEasy
Mark Nisbett, director of sales, Ottawa Tourism, and Marisa McLeod, lead conventions sales coordinator, Ottawa Tourism
Does anything similar to this exist in other cities, that you’re aware of?
There’s nothing necessarily as verbose. MeetingsEasy was a landmark tool, especially coming from a destination itself, although there are a lot of tools out there – but nothing from an information perspective is as impactful as MeetingsEasy. It actually allows the planner to receive leads and information from all the suppliers that they request, all in one nice little package.
How did the idea for something like this come up?
The idea came from one of our directors here at Ottawa Tourism. He was watching an Expedia commerical one night, and the idea came to him that there’s a lot of ways to book individual travel but there’s not much to do group travel. And one of our issues here at Ottawa Tourism was trying to get information from our suppliers to the planners in a standardized way that was easy for them to get, and easy to read. And that’s how MeetingsEasy came about.
And who MeetingsEasy?
It was developed by Media Plus, an advertising company. They had a large role in programming it, and a lot of the input as to how it was going to look, feel and function came from Ottawa Tourism.
It was built completely from scratch – there were no models out there in the destination management world that had the information that this tool has when it was being built.
So this was concieved and designed without precedent in the industry?
Yes. I’ve been with Ottawa Tourism for (several) months now, and I come from the hotel world. Formerly, I was director of sales and marketing at the Westin Ottawa. And this tool was developed doing the trade-show circuit a couple of years ago (in May 2006), and there was a big “wow” factor when it came out. It made a big splash. There was nothing like it that existed.
And it’s something that’s allowed us to provide information to both the planner, and (use) information that our suppliers and partners have, like no other city.
And the splash you’re talking about in the meeting planners industry – was there a similar reaction amongst the general public? What kind of publicity has the tool been given?
The meeting planning industry is a huge industry, but it’s a pretty small group, really. One of the things we did was a really targeted marketing campaign surrounding MeetingsEasy. And it was specifically targeted at the meeting planning community. We did print ads, but we also used vehicles that the meeting planning community was familiar with. So at Meeting Professionals International and Canadian Society of Association Executives trade shows, we’d have a presence and we’d do MeetingsEasy presentations.
Many people who read this will be meeting planners. Still, a lot of companies who plan meetings don’t have a dedicated meeting planner – arranging something like this is often given to an office manager or the like. What kind of feedback have you received from people like that?
That’s interesting, because I’d say a great deal of our business comes from people who aren’t regular meeting planners. They’re given the task of planning a one-time event, or trying to arrange an event in Ottawa, and that’s why this tool is so great – it’s accessible to everyone at all different levels of experience. And part of our responsibility is to let people know what we as a bureau can provide, and MeetingsEasy helps with that. They can feel like they’re planning their own meeting, and have control over it.
The tool was met with so much success that it’s been licenced to other destinations as well, and there are other cities now using the technology that Ottawa has developed. Richmond B.C., Kelowna, Moncton and Edmonton are all using the same technology.
The meeting and convention sector is obviously a big part of the
economy. But on a more broad level, what is generally accomplished by an in-person “meeting?” What is the psychology behind end users wanting to spend money to book a meeting in Ottawa or elsewhere?
At the end of the day, there are different types of meetings. There are those that have to happen with respect to a corporation, bringing people together for team building or education. But then you also have the association-based meetings, which is a big part of the meeting industry, which can be about education or bringing everyone together once or twice a year. Meetings can also be a money-maker for a group as well – for example, there are associations out there in the world for almost everything. And meetings often provide a vehicle for members to be brought up to speed on new trends in the industry, through trade shows or product demos or things of that nature.
And if you get into the medical meetings side of things, (it’s about) bringing doctors in for the credits they have to do to keep up their practices, and also an easy way . . . if you know you’re going to have 500 doctors that specialize in one area, you can supplement that with a drug company that can do product demos of new drugs that are out.
And then you have the other side of meetings, which is incentive-based. Like when you hear that (big U.S. corporations) send their executives to a five-star spa to relax and rejuvenate after the financial meltdown.
Those are some of the key reasons as to where these meetings come from. Years ago, the industry was a little nervous regarding the advent of technology like videoconferencing. But the industry has continued to grow. It’s all about getting those 20 people together, face-to-face, so they can converse in person instead of through technology.
Because that of course happens all the time – the virtual meeting, and things of that nature. But it still doesn’t replace . . . if a company is getting ready to launch a new product, and it’s going to have a big marketing push behind it, it’s important they get all their sales reps together to get those juices flowing and go out and sell that product. And a lot of the time, that’s harder to accomplish through technology. And nowadays, the opportunity to network is extremely important.