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GSA's Hotel Solution Adds Cvent-Powered Meetings Portal

By Jay Boehmer

Carlson Wagonlit Travel's FedRooms, a U.S. General Services Administration-approved hotel booking site for federal agencies, last month launched a meetings portal powered by Cvent. The new tool for the first time offers a formal meetings request process across government agencies, which in some cases and depending on the agency, had little structure for planning meetings.

"Every agency really had their own process," FedRooms senior director Tracy Holtan Shook told MeetingNews. "Some just did it themselves, and others had different meetings tools. There was no streamlined effort. There was nothing out there that was approved, and everyone kind of did their own thing."

Shook described the initial unveiling of the program as a soft launch, noting that the first step was to introduce the tool and allow government planners to familiarize themselves with the process.

"We wanted to start off slow so we could get our arms around what this means for us and our staffing," Shook said. "We put it in our newsletter, and it went to all of our users that way. I also used social media."

Still, Shook expects usage of the tool to ramp up in the coming months, as Fed- Rooms is seeking a few agencies to more aggressively pilot the tool and push its adoption internally.

Shook said FedRooms at first would seek a few agencies with structured meetings and travel programs. "We're going to pick five agencies that have a designated travel manager to work with them and get their meeting planners throughout their agency to utilize the tool," Shook said.

Even without a concerted effort to gain adoption, Shook said dozens of agencies already used the tool to plan meetings in its first month after going live, which she called "a lot more than we expected."

No common meetings management process across the federal government exists, Shook said, and meeting planners take many forms depending on the agency.

"For every agency, it can be different people who plan their meetings: it could be the procurement officer, it could be the contracts officer, it could be the admin," she said. "We tried to make it as intuitive as possible so that any of those audiences could easily fill it out."

To use the tool, which is free to government agencies, planners first fill out an online questionnaire with their meetings requirements, preferably 30 days before the event. After that, FedRooms employees review the requirements and use the Cvent tool to source hotel venues. Within five business days, official hotel bids are presented back to the meeting planner. Shook said all hotels are at or below GSA per diem and are certified by the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency, meeting federal government requirements.

"We offer the meeting planner a side-by-side-by-side comparison of the bids, depending on how many they want to look at," Shook said. "Some hotels will decline, some will accept, and depending on how much information planners want, we'll show them who accepted and declined."