Balancing act

Equilibrium top of mind as 6,500 attendees take over Denver for the GBTA Convention 2016

November 15, 2016
Michael Power

From the October 2016 print edition

Just as in life, business travel is about balance. Indeed, balance was the theme that the Global Business Travel Association (GBTA) chose for its annual Convention, held this past summer in the mile-high city of Denver, July 16-20. The theme arose in the Convention’s education sessions and discussions, which focused on how the travel manager’s role is changing to accommodate not only developing technology but also the traveller’s evolving preferences and behaviours.

Few business events put on an opening reception to rival the exuberance and spectacle of the GBTA Convention. For the opening evening of July 17, attendees took to Denver’s Mile High Stadium—the world’s only stadium that’s exactly one mile high—home of the Denver Broncos. The reception, called “Under The Stars And On The Field,” saw Convention-goers hit the field for food, music, a climbing wall and other games. Sporting their favourite tailgate attire, attendees danced to Denver’s top bands and enjoyed some tailgate party food in a stadium that has hosted sports teams but also the likes of Bruce Springsteen and U2.

During the Convention’s general assembly portion, a number of panel discussions touched on issues pressing to the business travel industry. For example, CNN’s Richard Quest moderated a discussion on the future of ground transportation. The general sessions also feature several keynote speeches from prominent people and celebrities. In a keynote address this year, NFL Quarterback Peyton Manning addressed leadership, noting that in order to be effective, leaders must lead by example. “It doesn’t matter if your title is quarterback, travel agent or CEO—leadership isn’t handed to people,” he said. “You have to earn that mantle of leadership.”

The traveller’s perspective
The Convention is home to plenty of educational content, and the event features several days of education seminars, either in single-speaker or panel format. During a seminar entitled The Digital Business Traveler, Kristine Peacock, director, product marketing at Sabre Traveler Experience, presented to the audience research that the organization conducted with the GBTA Foundation looking at how business travellers view changes in corporate travel. She touched on areas including technology, security and duty of care, along with how travellers are looking to interact with their travel managers. Overall, 1,700 travellers were surveyed across seven countries, including Canada.

Travellers’ personal behaviour is evolving, Peacock told the audience, and constant connectivity is changing behaviour. These changes put pressure on suppliers, Peacock noted, with 74 percent of consumers willing to wait only five seconds for a page to load before clicking elsewhere.

Travellers now use technology to arrange travel for themselves. Overall, 78 percent of survey respondents said they would rather use self-service technology to manage travel than their organization’s agency or internal department—definitely a shift from the trend 10 or 15 years ago.

Total cost of travel
In another session—called Why the Total Cost of Travel is our Future—tClara CEO Scott Gillespie and Evan Konwiser, VP digital traveler at Amex Global Business Travel, looked at not only the history of managed travel, but also why the field needs to change and how. Many of today’s best practices in managed travel come from procurement, Gillespie said. But the result of such a strong procurement influence has meant a squeeze on supplier pricing, he also noted. Not only is it impossible to achieve additional savings forever, but suppliers dislike being judged on price alone. “That’s a tough way to go and I think that’s really going to lead us to a low-value future,” he said.

Put travellers at the centre by accounting for an aging, shrinking workforce, Millennial attitudes, travel risks and the proliferation of consumer travel apps, Gillespie advised. Price remains important, but companies must balance that with the traveller’s experience. A better travel model would deliver quantifiable results, he said. “If it can’t be measured and shown to management, it doesn’t count,” he said. Such a program must also link to the business unit’s strategic goals to elevate the travel manager’s role, he added. Those criteria help a program fit a total cost of travel paradigm.

The Convention saw 6,587 attendees, and the expo floor featured over 400 exhibitors. Between panel discussions, education sessions, keynotes and networking, the convention offered attendees a “balanced” look at corporate travel. Next year’s Convention will be in Boston, July 15-19, 2017.