There’s no shortage of business travel education and training opportunities – which are the right ones for you? Rob Gill looks at the options
For those joining the world of travel buying and management, it can seem like you are swimming in a sea of acronyms when looking at ways to improve your skills and knowledge: there’s ACTE, ITM, GBTA and on the agency side, the GTMC – not to mention BBT’s own portfolio of events and training.
Training and education are high on the agenda for all of these business travel associations – they all hold their own conferences around the world in addition to a packed calendar of seminars, workshops and an increasing number of online presentations and events.
We look at what they have got planned for 2015, alongside BBT’s own educational activities – all of which are designed to improve the knowledge and skills of travel buyers and help them to climb the career ladder.
Training has become an increasingly important part of Buying Business Travel’s portfolio in the last few years, particularly the BBT Forum. Theseone-day symposia for travel buyers, which are supported by ACTE, take place twice a year in London (scheduled for May 15 and October 2 in 2015) and are designed to give buyers the chance to talk about the most topical and important issues affecting their roles.
Unlike many events, the BBT Forum does not feature formal presentations from suppliers, with the day divided into a number of sessions focusing on the most crucial topics to buyers. A small panel of buyers, consultants and suppliers give their views on the subject to set the scene before opening the discussion to the floor for a wider debate.
The forums are also restricted to around 80 participants, with 50 per cent of delegates being buyers, to ensure a constructive debate. The day rounds off with an open Question Time-style session to tackle any issues of concern that haven’t been aired earlier in the day.
John Dickens is a senior travel buyer at the Discovery TV network, who has attended the BBT Forums as delegate and panelist. He says the forums are an “essential way for us to stay abreast of the ever-changing travel landscape. Whether it’s new suppliers, innovation, best practice or shared experiences, it’s a great way to stay informed and to network with peers across every size of business. Anything that allows us to develop a better service offering to our travel audience is a plus, and these forums are a perfect way toleverage off other corporate experiences.”
Mike Butcher, travel manager at global telecoms firm Alcatel-Lucent, is also a regular attendee and panelist. He says the forums have a very well-developed format comprising panel and open discussions on a range of topics. He adds: “There is a really good mix of suppliers and buyers, which makes for some interesting discussion and interaction. It doesn’t matter how long you’ve been in the industry, you can always learn something new.”
The success of the event in London led to the introduction of the first half-day forum in Dublin last year, and this Ireland forum will be repeated in 2015 with the first event scheduled for February 10 at The Westbury Hotel in the Irish capital.
Online training and education also form an important part of BBT’s educational services for agents, buyers and the wider industry. BBT works with training specialist OTT to offer a range of web-based courses – current courses include airlines such as ANA, Qatar Airways, United, Air Canada and Qantas, airline alliances Skyteam and Star Alliance, and other suppliers such as Avis and Lounge Pass. These free e-learning modules enhance knowledge of product and services – and some offer opportunities to win prizes such as free flights.
Business Travel Show
A key UK event for educational content is the Business Travel Show, which takes place at the Olympia Grand on February 25-26. Organisers say they expect to attract more than 900 travel buyers to this year’s show, including around 400 who will be fully hosted. The event will once again feature an exclusive half-day conference for hosted buyers on the eve of the show on February 24.The conference agenda includes more than 60 sessions and 100 speakers.
As well as working with BBT on its forums, the Association of Corporate Travel Executives has its own programme of regional and global training events, including two education conferences – one in the US and the other in Europe – which will take place in Atlanta (April 12-14) and Paris (October 2015 – dates TBC) this year.
ACTE also runs its own forums in London with the next one scheduled for March 26, as well as a regular schedule of online webinars throughout the year. Its second Virtual Corporate Travel Conference, which was launched in September 2014, is due to be held in the first three months of this year (date TBC).
The ‘virtual’ conference features online plenary and educational sessions as well as live chats for buyers, who can either take part at the time of the event or listen to recordings of the sessions online, at a later date.
ACTE says this year’s education programme will focus on issues such as creating and managing flexible travel policies, technical innovation, risk management, disruptive travel trends, communication and data. The association is also planning to launch a series of certified education programmes within the next few months.
Regional director Caroline Allen says: “All ACTE education content is developed by planning teams of respected industry leaders and local experts in each region around the world so each programme adapts to the nuances, knowledge levels and focus areas in each region.”
The Institute of Travel and Meetings organises a range of events throughout the year including buyer-only groups, where issues can be discussed in a confidential environment, plus workshops, forums and symposia. Its annual conference will be held this year in St Andrews, Scotland, from April 20-22, under the tagline ‘The Journey to 2020’.
Chief executive Simone Buckley says: “The major topics at the conference will include how to use visualisation to interpret data and make it more useful; hyper-connectivity and what that will mean for mobile technology in the near future; and teaching buyers how to apply the science of consumer marketing to their travel programmes.”
A new initiative for 2015 is ITM Travel Talks: events where guest speakers will give a series of short talks to business travel professionals with the aim of “bringing thought leadership to life while facilitating innovation and motivation”.
ITM is also continuing its partnership with the Chartered Institute of Procurement and Supply (CIPS), which started in 2012. The two bodies have worked together to produce a range of ‘How To...’ toolkits and templates that aim to improve buyers’ professional development.
A more formal qualification for those new to the business travel industry is offered by the ITM through its partnership with the GBTA. ‘Fundamentals of Business Travel Management’ is a two-day structured course that covers key travel management topics such as safety, policy, trends and technology. The course includes an exam and an internationally-recognised certificate.
Dates for this year’s course in the UK have yet to be announced.
The Fundamentals of Business Travel Management forms part of the Global Business Travel Association Academy’s educational programme, which aims to give training support to buyers throughout their careers.
GBTA also offers the Global Leadership Professional Programme, a course run by the Wharton Business School, part of the University of Pennsylvania. This US-based course is supported through funding by the GBTA Foundation, which says it is the “only course for the travel management professional offered at the Master’s level”.
Candidates must complete one five-day session and three two-day sessions within 24 months to qualify, including at leastne session in three of the four main subject areas: management, marketing, leadership and finance.
The association also plans to expand its range of qualifications for travel buyers this year with the launch of a ‘manager level’ qualification as well as an Advanced Principles programme, which will be the next level up from the Fundamentals entry-level course.
GBTA regional director Catherine McGavock says: “GBTA also offers an industry certification – the Global Travel Professional, or GTP, which has been created so that individuals can demonstrate a core level of competence. To retain the certification, holders need to show continuing investment in their professional development.”
GBTA also has a regular programme of webinars that highlight the latest developments in the industry, including updates on the state of the business travel markets around the world and other topics such as technology. All webinars are archived and can be accessed through the GBTA Hub.
Most major business travel agencies offer a wide range of training to their staff but Giles Travel has gone further by setting up the UK’s first business travel academy. The travel management company (TMC) launched Giles Business Travel Academy in Amersham, Buckinghamshire, in late 2013.
The first seven graduates completed their course in June 2014, when they received a Diploma in Business Travel, a new qualification, which is recognised by the Confederation of Tourism and Hospitality.
Paul Wait, chief executive of the Guild of Travel Management Companies, has visited the academy and met the second intake of students in October. He says: “Many GTMC members have their own training programmes designed around their cultures, product and technology propositions. But the Giles Academy remains unique, as it attracts people from outside the industry to embark upon career-changing training skills before attempting to find full-time employment.”
Other TMC training initiatives include ATPI Group’s development of an apprenticeship programme with two colleges in East Anglia: City College Norwich and Lowestoft College in Suffolk.
ATPI has worked with these colleges to include business travel content as part of the Travel & Tourism Level 3 Diplomas for students aged 16 to 19, which also gives them the opportunity of work placements with the TMC during the academic year. Simon Bean, ATPI’s UK general manager, says: “We are confident that the new curriculum we’ve helped to develop, in addition to the dedicated work placements, strikes the right balance between theory and on-the-job training and is attractive to students considering a career in business travel.”
Some TMCs have also developed training courses based around industries they specialise in providing travel for. An example is Wings Energy Academy, which gives training to the TMC’s operations staff on the requirements of oil and gas companies, including topics such as how rigs and vessels operate, key factors for organising travel for energy firms, and the most common problems faced by travellers.
The programme lasts for one year and, when completed, Wings staff are certified as an Energy Champion. Wings said that 50 employees worldwide had now graduated following this training course.