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Addressing Association Challenges With Internet-based Solutions.

Associations today are faced with a number of critical challenges. Increasing membership rolls, staying ahead of the technology curve, generating new revenue streams, reducing costs, investing in new programs, managing event logistics, and co-existing with vertical community sites on the Internet are formidable tasks. Associations depend on meetings, conventions, and exhibitions to generate income, and the success of these events can mean the difference between dominating an industry or becoming an obscure "splinter" group.

A recent JD Power survey yielded two important findings: Virtually 100 percent of meeting planners are online, and the single most important issue for event managers is the simplification of the housing, registration, and travel processes. It is no coincidence, then, that association event managers look to the Internet for solutions. Therein lies the potential for them to add value to their events while reducing costs and simplifying the participation process.

B-there.com provides the association industry with a comprehensive Internet-based solution for housing, registration, and travel. Its Attendee Relationship Management (ARM) engine is a suite of Internet-based tools that, in its simplest form, enables participants to register for an event, book housing, and make travel arrangements through an association or event Web site. It also gives participants an opportunity to customize and optimize their visit by having access to personalized calendars (for participation in seminars and other on-site events), incentive programs, and destination information. Participants can make restaurant reservations, purchase tickets to local events, book leisure travel, and have unlimited access to a host of other online services.

Adding Value to Membership

Simply put, most associations exist to educate and provide business and social opportunities to their members. Meetings, conventions, conferences, and exhibitions are the primary means that associations use to achieve these objectives. It is imperative that associations continue to cultivate and grow their events, and critical to this growth is the continued interest and participation by participants. B-there.com's engine helps to drive attendance while adding value to the event. Whether from the convenience of timely, up-to-date information about the event or from the lure of a destination enticingly promoted on the event's b-there site, associations are experiencing increased pre-registration and more committed attendance.

Karen Hoffman, director of public affairs for New York based Africa Travel Association, recently used b-there's system for the association's world congress in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. "ATA's pre-registration was up significantly for the one third of ATAs participants who arrive from destinations outside of the United States. Members were pleasantly surprised with the access they had to register and book travel arrangements themselves. Using b-there's system helped put ATA, a small association, on the cutting edge of technology."

Staying Ahead of the Technology Curve

Doug Fox, publisher/editor of the Event Web newsletter, the event industry's leading technology publication, was recently quoted as saying, "The single biggest theme [today] is the growth of the "application universe"-the introduction of applications allowing you to use a Web browser to build your own applications." B-there.com's Attendee Relationship Management engine is part of this application universe. Event managers can build their own interface [link] from the association's event Web site to bthere.com's engine or incorporate all of their event content on their self-configurable b-there Web site. B-there's Internet ARM engine is the only system currently available that is cost-effective, scaleable, yet robust enough to handle everything from small meetings to large citywide events.

With b-there.com's ARM engine, there is no software to download or install, no large up-front fees. There are no issues surrounding platforms, networks, servers, or hardware configurations with which planners have to deal. If the association has Internet access and a recent browser, such as Microsoft Internet Explorer 5.0 or Netscape Navigator 4.7, it can get started using the system. The ASP (Application Service Provider) business model utilized by b-there.com opens the door to a universe of possibilities for the meeting planner. Without the need to master complicated software or to know any technical languages such as HTML, an association meeting planner can easily establish an event's online presence. B-there.com provides unlimited technical support and has a client services department specifically dedicated to helping planners move quickly through the installation and deployment process.

Generating New Revenue Streams

What could be more attractive to an association than reducing core operational costs while generating revenue from a process that used to generate only costs? Although modest transaction fees for registration, housing, and travel apply the association earns a share of the revenue generated from the many auxiliary services b-there makes available for planners to include on their event Web sites.

For example, tour sales, restaurant reservations, pre-or post-event leisure activities, event-related merchandise, or sponsorship banner ads can all earn revenue for the association. While getting a better perspective on the total value of participants' spending at the destination, associations gain returns from the money participants would be spending in any case. That increased knowledge clearly benefits the association in future negotiations.

Reducing Costs

The Internet has transformed the housing, registration, and travel process from an expensive, labor-intensive manual process involving faxed and mailed forms to an automated one that allows participants to register for events and make housing and travel arrangements online. Clients have estimate operational savings of up to 500 percent over the traditional way these tasks were managed prior to adopting b-there's real-time online system.

Automating the housing and registration process has the net effect of reducing costs for vendors as well as associations. For example, by giving hotels real-time access to participant reservation information in the identical format that the participant and the event manager access the information, overall costs and costs per transaction are reduced for the hotel and attrition charges are greatly reduced or eliminated for the association. B-there.com's ability to lower costs for suppliers creates a culture of overall price reduction by vendors that participate in b-there.com's program, which should lead to pricing advantages for participants.

New Program Development

It is imperative that associations continue to evolve by developing new services and implementing innovative programs that add value for their members. These programs are often difficult for organizations to research, develop, and implement because of budget and staff limitations. Innovation tends to be an arduous process involving committees, boards, and volunteer task forces. B-there's engine allows associations to have cutting-edge functionality in their online housing and registration systems without the inherent investment of time and money.

Before b-there.com, many associations were unable to exploit the full potential of one of their most valuable resources--information. Every piece of information gleaned from participants, including demographics, behavior, purchasing habits, and so forth can be exploited through b-there.com's e-commerce, data mining, and e-marketing capabilities to develop new programs and revenue sources. They are on the path to one-to-one relationship building and marketing that will add increasing value to the association's purpose and bottom line.

Managing Event Logistics When Resources are Limited

One of the most daunting tasks for smaller associations is the transformation of staff from administrative assistants and program directors to event managers during a few weeks per year. In other words, associations grapple with staff limitations that often compel them to outsource some aspects of event logistics when their preference would be to keep these operations in-house in an attempt to maintain control and hold down costs.

B-there.com's engine features the ability for associations, hotels, exhibitor groups, and others to access and/or manage their own registration and housing blocks. This enables the association to take the process in-house or add value to existing vendor relationships by removing some of the burden for transferring information from group to group, a traditionally arduous process.

Competing With the Internet

Associations are in competition with the Internet. They compete for members, participants, and exhibitors on a daily basis. If, however, these organizations take the posture that the best way to compete with the Internet is to fully harness its power through solutions from companies like b-there.com, they will be in a better position to survive and grow their ranks. The benefits, functionality and revenue potential available to associations with b-there.com's Attendee Relationship Management engine is one way that association event planners can thrive and profit while meeting today's unique challenges.
COPYRIGHT 2000 American Society of Association Executives
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Publication:Association Management
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Sep 1, 2000
Words:1374
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