We find a lot of valuable travel advice floating “across the pond”. Here’s a very informative report from the GBTA Europe Conference 2017 where members had the chance to hear a panel of experts discuss top tips for bringing a company’s travel and meetings management under one umbrella.
Lead by Betsy Bondurant of Bondurant Consulting, the panel included Benjamin Park, director of procurement and travel at Parexel; Bobbi Djordjevic, global category manager at Dentsply Sirona; and Tom Wells, global category lead for travel, meetings and events at Takeda Pharmaceuticals.
Bondurant opened the session by asking whether the panellists agreed that meetings and events are the ‘final frontier’ of unmanaged spend. All three experts agreed that they currently cannot put an exact figure to their companies’ spend, citing a variety of ‘extra’ costs that historically haven’t been included in budgets. However, Bondurant pointed out that research shows M&E spend is typically around 1 to 3 per cent of a company’s revenue.
Djordjevic went on to explain that she used to be an event planner for her company but was asked to help the procurement department with a project and then eventually recruited into the department altogether. She joked that when she expressed some concerns about her lack of procurement experience, her manager responded: “It’s easier to teach procurement than it is to teach meeting planning.”
Park, who took over Parexel’s meetings spend because it wasn’t being managed, said procurement and travel managers could play a big role in events management because the basic principle of adding value to achieve business goals is the same in both departments.
Bondurant added that this an area where Europe is ahead of the US. “US businesses are still very focused on cost rather than the value of face-to-face meetings, which is a big difference.”
Wells also commented that something he’s noticed is companies spend a lot of time paying attention to their external meeting spend, when in reality it’s their internal meetings that take up large parts of the budget and would be the correct target for cost savings.
Where to Start
But if businesses have never managed their meetings spend, where can they start? Wells said the first step is finding a way to collect data. “Find a programme or booking system that will collect information so you can figure out who is spending what and where, then you have to find out the reason for the meeting. Having this data will also help you show the value of what you’re trying to do to anyone who resists a change in policy.”
Djordjevic added: “It’s not easy to do if you’ve never had a system in place, but it’s worth finding a solution so you have solid evidence of how you can add value. After this step, we called meetings with each of our key stakeholders to listen to their wants and needs – this is an important step to finding ‘sponsors’ who believe in your project and will stand with you along the way.”
Park had a slightly different approach, saying a baseline policy should come first, as it helps managers form a response to resistance. Next, he recommends creating something within that policy that will make your stakeholders’ lives easier so they’re attracted to the concept. “Once you win their trust, you can roll out your agenda and start implementing a wider policy.”
Integrating Meetings and Travel
Bondurant then steered the conversation toward the integration of meetings and travel, which she said perfectly matched the overall theme of the conference – convergence. “If you pair meetings and events with travel, it gives you much more leverage when it comes to negotiating with your suppliers – especially because there is a lot of cross-over on the hotel side.”
Wells agreed, but warned that combining both aspects under one umbrella can take a lot of time. “It takes dedication to build a comprehensive policy, but it’s worth the effort. We combined our supplier for both meetings and travel, and by doing so we have more knowledge of the difference between our transient travel and meetings-related travel.”
Both Park and Djordjevic commented that they’ve implemented an automated system whereby employees are sent a prompt to book their travel as soon as they RSVP for a meeting in an attempt to make savings on advanced bookings.
An audience member asked what travel managers can do to encourage this behaviour before meetings are even planned.
Wells answered: “The sooner we can engage our travelers, the better we can influence their behavior. We need to ask why we have face-to-face meetings so we can make smarter decisions – can we save money on internal meetings by conducting them virtually? It’s also about encouraging staff to let us know about their meetings before they plan them in so we can influence their decisions on where to have them and when.”
Park pointed out a tool Parexel tried to use, where planners can input the details of the meetings they want to hold so they can analyse the total cost of it, including travel, before anything is finalised. “However, nobody used it because some executives knew exactly where they wanted to host their meetings and couldn’t see the value in choosing alternative venues.”
Bondurant closed the session by summarising the three key points that came out of the discussion. “So the call to action is this – identify the benefits of combining your travel and events programmes, prioritise three synergies within these departments that you want to prioritise, and make connections with contacts who can help.”