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July/August 2017
For Business, Corporate Travel & Meeting Buyers & Arrangers

Mystery buyer: meeting the challenge

Meeting the challenge… Whether they like it or not, travel managers have the right skills to tackle meetings spend

JUST BEFORE CHRISTMAS LAST YEAR, the Institute of Travel & Meetings filed a “Notice of Change of Name by Resolution” with Companies House, reverting to its old name – the Institute of Travel Management. To the outside world, there are two ways to see this. First, the institute has decided that meetings management is so far removed from travel management that it’s not part of the ITM membership’s usual remit.

After all, most of the big travel management companies have separate divisions within their organisations to handle meetings and events. The second interpretation is that meetings management is such an integral part of the travel management function that there is no need to make the distinction – after all, we don’t have an Institute of Air Travel Management or an Institute of Hotel Travel Management, even though the two sub-disciplines require many different skill-sets. To a degree, both points of view are correct.

In many ways, managing meetings is different from managing transient travel, but some travel managers cover the meetings side of the business, in addition to their day job. That creates problems.

In one sense, the ITM was ahead of the game when it added “meetings” to its title. While most corporates understand travel management, so far, only a few recognise the benefits of meetings management.

All too often, meetings are just something that happen; sales meetings are held on a monthly basis, regardless of if there’s anything to discuss; training sessions are scheduled with little or no reference to specific training needs.

Facts and figures are thin on the ground, but it is generally accepted that around 40 per cent of corporate meetings are internal. There is a cost attached, not least because meetings take participants away from their desks.

Travel managers are good at asking whether a business trip is necessary and working out the most cost-effective arrangements. In most cases, compliance has increased recently as travellers and employers recognise that travel management has a value, both financially and in terms of traveller wellbeing.

TOUGH NUTS Meetings management is often a tougher nut to crack. If employers don’t know the return on investment (ROI) generated by a sales meeting, for example, they can’t know whether there are better or more cost-effective ways of achieving the objectives.

In many cases, meetings are held simply because that’s the way it has always been done, and there is a resistance to change – just as there once was in the travel management sector. It’s not long ago that travel policies were seen as rules waiting to be circumvented, if not broken. Travel managers the world over had the uphill task of persuading travellers that economy class wasn’t that bad and there are plenty of good three-star hotels.

Today, the emphasis has shifted from ‘cost’ to ‘value’, because travel buyers (and TMCs) have become more adept at working out the ROI of a trip. The travel management function today bears little resemblance to a decade ago. Technology has helped, but mostly the changes have been wrought by travel managers themselves. Similar skills can and should apply to meetings management.

Unfortunately, the sector has long been lumped under the MICE banner, and managing a meeting is a completely different proposition to managing an incentive,  conference or major event. Forward-thinking corporates are recognising that all meetings need to be managed. They see that there is a cost attached (although they are often not sure what that cost is) and, therefore, there are potential savings to be made.

They need someone with the ability to establish, as far as possible, what that cost is and where savings can be made, and then communicate the changes to the end-users and educate them about the benefits of adoption to overcome resistance to change. Does that process ring any bells?

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