Success in every direction

A record-busting number of delegates turn out for GBTA's Convention in Boston

August 31, 2012
by Michael Power

The Global Business Travel Association (GBTA) chose one of the oldest cities in the US to host their 2012 convention July 22-25 and a record number of delegates—more than 6,000 from around the world—were there to take in New England’s unofficial capital. The annual event saw four days of education sessions, keynote speakers (including two former US presidents), networking opportunities, a trade show floor and more. The event, held at the Boston Convention & Exhibition Center, kicked off with a welcome session July 22.

Under a banner reading “success in every direction”, GBTA executive director and COO Mike McCormick kicked off the conference by introducing Andrew Pilkington, president, global commercial card & consumer card, Canada, J.P. Morgan Chase & Co. Pilkington stressed the importance of innovation in today’s business world, citing bottled water as an example of successful innovation. As a child, Pilkington told the audience, he drank water from the tap. Now, his children insist on “vitamin water”— water that’s coloured and flavoured, then sold at a premium.

“That’s an example of true innovation,” he said.

McCormick also interviewed recently appointed American Airlines CEO Thomas Horton, who said his appointment had been a “character-building” experience.

“There have only been a few CEOs of the company, and there have been some real giants among them,” he said. “It’s an honour and a privilege to be leading this company at this challenging time.”

Data headaches
During an session called Take Two Aspirins and Call Me in the Morning: Expense Data Management and Consolidation, GBTA Foundation senior research director Joe Bates and Gina Woodall, senior VP of Rockbridge Associates Inc, discussed a survey of how travel managers use data, their satisfaction level with that data and implications for suppliers and buyers.

The research looked at several data sources, Woodall said, including from TMCs, corporate card companies, expense management systems, expense reports and travel suppliers.

Saturday Night Live head writer Seth Myers entertained delegates during his keynote presentation July 23

Those surveyed said they use the information for negotiations with vendors, evaluating policy compliance, developing reports for upper management and monitoring traveller safety, Woodall said. As well, 63 percent noted they use data from card companies to identify fraudulent charges, while 60 percent evaluate compliance.

The research asked how successful managers used data to meet goals like controlling travel spend and increasing compliance, Woodall said. Strengths included getting the lowest price, managing risk and monitoring spend. But there’s room for improvement, she noted. Only 33 percent said they felt “very satisfied” with that data, while 63 percent said they were “moderately satisfied”. Four percent noted they were “very dissatisfied” while only 10 percent said their data is accurate.

Reasons for dissatisfaction included 23 percent saying it wasn’t always accurate, while 20 percent labelled reports tough to read and understand. As well, 19 percent said data takes too long to get, affecting compliance.

“This data is creating so many headaches,” Bates told the audience.

Bates said GBTA members spend 442,000 hours each year in staff time and $22.7 billion to manually reconcile and clean travel data. While it takes 22 days on average to collect data on an individual trip, they want it to take 15 days. “Successful travel managers are more efficient in managing their data,” he said. “Their data is 86 percent accurate and takes 16 days on average to get data from a trip.”

The research noted the trend of travel migrating to procurement. But the shift has challenges, Bates noted, since travel differs from other buying categories. Successful travel managers report to procurement less often, he said.

More choice
In a panel session entitled The Rise of Consumer Choice: Competing for Compliance, moderator Matt Beck, technology director, strategic accounts at Rearden Commerce, noted mobile use is increasing. The market is shifting towards consumers making our own decisions, Beck noted, rather than employers issuing Blackberries. Now, with iPhones gaining popularity, many travellers eschew corporate-issue devices.

“The upcoming workforce doesn’t remember a time before the internet,” he said. “They’re used to everything being given to them in an easy-to-use fashion.”

One of the panel members, Karoline Mayr, director of global travel procurement, Deltek Inc, noted her company tries to make its online booking tool easy to use and similar to commercial sites. Deltek also allows employees to use any device they wish.

“We’re hoping that will help them stay in the loop,” she said.

For Scott Stephens, business rental development manager at Enterprise Holdings, ease-of-use is key to compliance with designated online booking tools. “The easier it is to use, the more often people will use it,” he noted.

Not only ease-of-use, but beauty, helps keep corporate travellers in compliance, said Claudia Unger, director of research and intelligence at BCD Travel. Travellers are more likely to use compliant technology if it’s attractive. “If it’s all grey, they might not want to use it,” she said.

The technology theme continued during the next day of education sessions, with one panel discussion, Road Warrior Apps: What you need to know, focusing on mobile applications available to corporate travellers. Moderator Karoline Mayr noted the importance of communicating with travellers on the need to remain within policy when using apps. As well, ensure components of a managed travel program look similar to those found in the commercial world, Mayr said. That way, travellers will be less inclined to use apps outside policy.

McCormick chats with Thomas Horton (left), American Airlines president and CEO during the convention kick off.

Another session—hosted by Gina Woodall and Joe Taliuaga of Rockbridge Associates Inc—focused on the merits of lightly or heavily managed travel programs. The session broke down travel information by country among the US, India, Australia and Canada. While US and Indian travellers are most satisfied, Australian travellers remain the least satisfied, according to Rockbridge’s research, said Woodall. Overall, 74 percent of Canadian travellers reported satisfaction with achieving their business travel goals, while 68 percent said they’re able to follow travel policy.

Canadian travellers have trouble overcoming personal issues and making trips enjoyable, Woodall said. She recommended they find activities outside of the business in order to enjoy downtime. Still, Canadians excel at staying connected while travelling, as well as staying safe and within budget.

In Canada, 20 percent worked for organizations with managed travel programs, 27 percent had unmanaged programs and 52 worked only with guidelines. Australians and Canadian take slightly longer trips than their US counterparts, she said, with Indian corporate travellers taking the longest trips and spending the most money.

Overall, Woodall said, Canadian travellers are somewhat less satisfied and successful with their travel, and could use help finding activities outside of work, she said. She recommended that Canadian travellers plan their own trips, which would hopefully translate into higher satisfaction rates.

Overall, the future of the industry and the use of technology remained themes throughout the convention. Staying abreast of both areas will help ensure travel professionals have key success strategies in play int heir careers.