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ACTE/MS-UK autumn forum

More than 50 buyers debated topical issues with suppliers and agents at the ACTE/MS-UK Corporate Travel & Expense Management Forum in central London. Paul Revel reports

BCD MANAGING DIRECTOR Michele Lawley, who opened the forum at the Hesperia hotel in Victoria, described a “pragmatic” scenario of better public debt management by Barack Obama and Eurozone governments, leading to single-digit growth in business travel during 2012.

She said airline consolidation, tight seat capacities and ancillaries would contribute to rising air fares this year. Tips for buyers to minimise costs included booking further ahead, and she also said buyers should push for individual airline negotiations, and should warn their finance departments of coming "imposed costs" from distribution fees and emissions trading system premiums. Travel buyers called for greater clarity and trust when negotiating supplier deals.

Deborah Short, travel buyer for insurance brokers Willis, said global deals should be “more like McDonald’s” – a clear and consistent standard of offering anywhere in the world. She said airlines failed to offer good rates on lesser-used routes despite overall spend, while global hotel programmes were undermined by local deals.

Hotel management expert Paul Kavanagh said buyers sometimes undermined the request for proposal (RFP) process by failing to deliver on promised volumes of room nights. However, buyers responded by saying often the reason for not booking the projected volumes over a given period was hotels did not offer availability on the required nights.

Former Goldman Sachs travel boss Sally Shervington was one of several delegates who urged buyers to put pressure on airlines and the global distribution systems to make it easier for buyers to control and report ancillary costs, pointing out that in 2010, 12 per cent of corporate air spend was on ancillaries. Also debated were distribution channels, mobile technology and developments in UK and European rail travel. Jon Reeve, trade relations director at rail-booking technology firm Evolvi, said major public sector cuts in first class rail travel meant new incentives were being sought to attract corporates to the large amounts of empty first class seats available.

View video interviews with forum speakers at www.buyingbusinesstravel.com and visit www.ms-uk.com for more information.