Having cut travel costs drastically through the use of online travel services, in 2004 Xerox began to explore the idea of doing the same for its hundreds of annual meetings and events. In doing so the company joined a trend that had been gathering strength since the late 1990s, though there are many holdouts — even today, analysts often point to meetings as “the next big opportunity” for companies interested in cutting travel costs and related expenses.
And so it has proved for Xerox, which estimates that it has saved 40 percent on costs through its aggressive meetings-management program.
Xerox’s ally in this mission is StarCite, which is among a new class of online service providers that has emerged to help organizations address this need. Their pitches stress greater visibility for meetings: U.S. companies will spend an estimated $175 billion this year on internal meetings, client events, product launches, trade shows, and other gatherings, but the responsibility for executing them is often spread among a plethora of event planners, marketing and sales staff, and administrative assistants. When that’s the case, it’s a bewildering task to keep track of all the meetings activity in a way that maximizes cost containment.
“It’s the Wild West of expenditures,” says Michael Boult, president and CEO of StarCite, the leader in the market for SMM (strategic meetings management) programs.
Companies like StarCite, Lenos Software, and Arcaneo provide websites that facilitate meeting registration and travel arrangements for attendees, while helping event staff track a wide range of logistical considerations. At Xerox, employees managing meetings of 15 or more attendees, of which 10 require airline or hotel bookings, must register the events through the StarCite-operated Xerox Meetings Online website. As with other forms of e-procurement, this allows a company to aggregate spending and negotiate for better rates. But the benefits go far beyond just reducing travel costs.
Pamela Ferranti, manager of meetings management solutions for Xerox, says that with all details pertaining to about 400 annual meetings now centralized in a sophisticated database, she and her staff have identified a host of cost-savings measures, such as analyzing which cities have the lowest cost structures and driving meetings activity 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 our facilities that we may have booked at hotels or other venues in the past.” The company 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,” Ferranti says. Another major form of savings: reselling rooms you’ve booked for a cancelled meeting. StarCite says it typically recoups 70 cents on the dollar for its clients.
Ferranti’s quest for savings has even led her to include language in contracts requiring hotels to provide meeting coordinators with such items as Post-It notes, scissors and tape, to avoid duplicative spending, according to a report in Business Travel News.