The theme of the latest BBT Forum – ‘Complete the current, embrace the future’ – was fully realised yesterday as delegates gathered to discuss current challenges and future opportunities.

The event at One Whitehall Place, London, began with a keynote session delivered by the procurement team from Accenture, during which they spoke about how emerging technologies such as blockchain, predictive analytics and artificial intelligence will affect the role.

The team put forward the idea of ‘procurement masters’, which they defined as the top ten per cent of procurement organisations in terms of performance. These masters, they said, embrace advancements in technology to transform into an intelligent enterprise. They leverage tools to master their data and improve processes, and require the skills of other departments – data scientists, IT professionals, business experts and design professionals – to adapt to changes in the role.

Virtual future
BBT editor Matt Parsons then took the floor to lead a panel discussion on corporate payments and control, which focused on the growing popularity if virtual cards.

A representative of Amadeus said studies showed virtual cards will overtake physical payments within the next five to eight years, which was evidenced by the fact that a large number of attendees agreed they currently use some form of virtual payments in their programme.

Parsons asked about the emergence of invisible payments such as Uber users already experience, with the panel agreeing that the technology will likely spread to other areas of the travel industry, such as restaurants.

Speaking of the future, the panel’s blockchain specialist explained how cryptocurrency such as Bitcoin fundamentally worked in a similar way to virtual payments. He noted that the opportunity presented by open banking will drive change in the industry, while blockchain will address the data challenges of the technology.

Addressing a deadline
With less than two weeks to go, the BBT Forum also took the opportunity to provide last-minute tips from experts for meeting the requirements of the incoming General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) during a panel discussion moderated by Oliver Moore, head of travel agency at Enterprise.

The main piece of advice for travel buyers was to audit their TMCs and suppliers to ensure they had plans in place to be GDPR compliant. One buyer in the audience said their organisation has already conducted third-party reviews and will require all potential suppliers to go through the process in the future.

It was also pointed out that both TMCs and their clients needed to be honest in the event of a data breach, as businesses will only have 72 hours to inform the Information Commissioner’s Office if their data is compromised. Any organisation found to be non-compliant with the regulation could face fines of 4 per cent of their annual global turnover or €20 million.

Lastly, attendees were encouraged to document every step their business has taken to prepare for GDPR and ensure all employees are aware of their data policy.

However, it wasn’t all doom and gloom as GDPR discussions usually are, with one audience member saying: “GDPR is a comma rather than a full stop.”

The power of influence
The penultimate session, moderated by Douglas Green, Douglas Green, HRS UK and Ireland mnaging director, covered the much talked-about topic of influencing traveller behaviour.

One buyer said the challenge that travel managers faced was getting travellers to book smarter to drive down costs, which can be particularly difficult when dealing with a range of personality types and company cultures.

A representative from Cytric commented that it was important to choose tools that balance policy management with an interface that replicates a leisure booking experience, which travellers claim they want.

The panellist from BCD Travel said policy adoption will only happen over time and not immediately, using the analogy of going to the gym. “When you first start working out, you won’t see results straight away. It’s only if you keep going that you’ll start to see improvements.”

Question time
The day ended with an open discussion, during which one buyer asked the room where they see NDC and GDSs going in the next five years.

A supplier in the room commented that NDC was simply another communication tool in the airlines’ arsenal and that the GDSs will continue to play a pivotal role in the travel industry.

However, one buyer disagreed, saying that because the GDSs had not moved on much since their invention 50 or 60 years ago, they could face the challenge of having to change or miss out on potential business – a “Kodak moment”.

The audience then turned to the topic of the RFP process, with buyers saying they wanted TMCs to focus on their own strengths rather than pointing out the weaknesses of their competitors.

The TMCs volleyed back that they want buyers to understand how much time goes into responding to RFPs, saying they’ve often faced deadlines that are difficult to meet and make it hard for them to provide as much information as they can.

The next BBT Forum will take place on 8 November, with the venue and agenda to be announced in due course. For more information, visit

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