Having cut costs substantially through the use of online travel services, in 2004 Xerox began to explore the idea of doing the same for its many meetings and events. The company was ahead of its time, because as recently as last year analysts were still pointing to employee and client meetings and conferences as "the next big opportunity" for companies interested in cutting travel costs and related expenses.
A new class of online service providers has emerged to address this need. Their pitches stress greater visibility: companies will spend $175 billion on company meetings, client events, and similar gatherings this year, but responsibility for such undertakings is often spread among a plethora of event planners, marketing staff, and administrative assistants. "It's the Wild West of expenditures," says Michael Boult, president and CEO of StarCite, the leader in the SMMP (strategic meetings management programs) market.
Companies like StarCite, Lenos Software, and Arcaneo provide Websites that facilitate meeting registration and assist attendees with travel arrangements, while helping event staff manage logistics. The services also help companies aggregate spending and negotiate better rates. But the benefits go beyond just reducing travel costs. Pamela Ferranti, manager of meeting management solutions at Xerox, says that with all details pertaining to more than 400 meetings a year now centralized, she and her staff can identify the cities with lower costs and drive business toward them. "StarCite also lets us list all Xerox meeting rooms that hold 25 or more people," she says. "That helps us hold many meetings at company facilities that we once booked at hotels or other venues." Xerox even discovered that it sometimes paid as much as $1,600 a day to rent LCD projectors. "So we bought some and now we ship them out to meeting sites," says Ferranti.