Bridging the gap: consolidating your travel & meetings management programs successfully
The business world has evolved significantly over the centuries as organizations increasingly focus on delivering incremental value to shareholders, employees, and customers.
Businesses and program managers are beginning to take a closer look at the effectiveness of their travel and meetings program, and while the meetings category has limited maturity and its business travel counterpart is much more established, there are notable synergies within both programs that can be leveraged to better optimize spend.
We are seeing this trend manifest itself in the single ownership of these two categories, with a greater focus on savings, efficiencies, compliance, and improved traveler/attendee experience, resulting in significant program success.
A growing trend means big business
A study conducted by Cvent and GBTA in December 2017 found that nearly two-thirds (64%) of meetings, events, and/or travel programs are either fully consolidated or in the process of consolidating.
For businesses still looking to consolidate their programs, this means they do not need to embark uncharted territory—learnings and success stories can be pulled from previously combined programs.
Together, the two categories present a significant opportunity for better spend management – business travel represents approximately $1.3 trillion USD globally, and meetings spend sits at approximately $400 billion – $1 trillion USD globally.
Getting transparency into both areas of spend is the top driver for consolidation and has the greatest reported success, according to Cvent/GBTA survey respondents (55%). Leveraging and maximizing spend was cited as the second most important factor, for better supplier negotiations and risk mitigation.
As a program manager, you can achieve further value with efficiency improvements via technology integrations, operational activities, resource utilization, and supplier consolidation.
Although the value of consolidating meetings and travel programs has been proven, the path to consolidation isn’t necessarily an easy one.
Challenges can vary by customer. However, some common obstacles we see are:
- Data aggregation gaps. The same Cvent/GBTA study indicates that 60% of programs have significant gaps in data aggregation across both categories. Additionally, when asked, most of these program managers don’t even know how they can begin to bridge these gaps.
- Lack of support. Organizational alignment, senior leadership support, stakeholder buy-in are critical. Without this support, consolidation efforts will be unsuccessful.
- Budgetary concerns. Lack of resources and investment towards technology and prioritization of strategy is often a stumbling block within organizations. As a result, stakeholder engagement and ability to articulate value are
Additionally, merging two very different types of programs together has challenges of its own.
While the meetings and events category is a significant area of spend (1%-3% of corporate revenue, 30% of total T&E, 43% of travel), its maturity is limited, and it is often overlooked and unmanaged. Program managers struggle with policy adherence and must juggle many spend categories: sourcing, logistics, AV, team building activities, printing, etc.
On the other hand, business travel is a large, well-established category with deep maturity, high compliance, well-established policies, and clear visibility across categories like card, expense, and suppliers.
However, all is not lost – we have found synergies in both programs that you can leverage when consolidating:
- Program design: workflow and focus on attendee and traveler experience
- Technology selection & deployment: particularly where integrations create additional value
- Change management: effective management tactics can support both categories
- Compliance, contract and policy alignment / corporate social responsibility: branding and communications, duty of care, and risk management
- Payment platforms that provide the right data and value
- Supplier management: hotel, airline usage, and service providers/vendors
These synergies come from improving deals with hotels/airlines/suppliers, improving the business traveler/meeting attendee experience (typically, the same end user), and delivering on procurement goals.
Steps to consolidation
So, how do you leverage the commonalities and address known challenges, when building a strategy to combine business travel and meetings program/spend?
- Start connecting within the organization immediately. Ask questions, engage, understand stakeholder needs and challenges and the state of the two programs. Analyze available data.
- Look for the synergies. What are common sets of hotel properties/chains, airlines, travelers, stakeholders, and goals? Once you find these common sets, identify the gaps that need to be closed.
- Assess the value of your opportunities and build a strategy. Prepare a plan of attack to clearly articulate that value to your internal stakeholders.
- Obtain stakeholder/leadership support. Take your plan to your stakeholders and leadership team and secure buy-in.
- Execute effectively. Create realistic timelines and effective change management for a workable, realistic plan.
Bottom line – is consolidation worth it?
You can achieve enormous success when you merge your programs thoughtfully. 97% of respondents in the Cvent/GBTA survey achieved success with a thorough, step-by-step, and vetted approach.
Director, Global Meetings & Events, Radius Travel
Heni has a wealth of experience in both M&E and transient travel, having spent more than 20 years in commercial travel management company roles covering both sectors. A native Australian, Heni has lived and worked in Europe, Asia Pacific, and North America, and currently resides in the U.S.