Techno-tourism

Ottawa Business Journal - Meeting in the Capital - - Techno-tourism - By Jeff Esau

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.

MITC

MITC

NIS­BETT

THE TOPIC

: Ottawa Tourism’s on­line meet­ing plan­ner, Meet­ingsEasy

THE PLAY­ERS:

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?

McCLEOD

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.

MITC

And who Meet­ingsEasy?

McCLEOD

ac­tu­ally de­vel­oped

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.

NIS­BETT

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.

MITC

So this was con­cieved and de­signed without prece­dent in the in­dus­try?

NIS­BETT

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.

MITC

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?

NIS­BETT

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.

MITC

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?

McCLEOD

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.

NIS­BETT

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.

MITC

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?

NIS­BETT

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.

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