17 experts advise on what’s to come this year. Spoiler: Data factors big.
The Innovate Conference for the Advancement of Business Travel offered business travel executives the opportunity to articulate priorities and recommendations.
SkyTeam expects "a major step forward" by next month when alliance co-founder Delta Air Lines begins participating in SkyTeam Global Meetings, providing travel agencies, which this year were enabled to offer the program, with the ability to proffer "a huge U.S. and Canadian network," said SkyTeam director of sales Jerome d'Anglejan.
Meanwhile, rival Star Alliance this month introduced a new program for meeting planners. The third primary global airline alliance, oneworld, discontinued its program for organizers of large-scale conferences and conventions after determining that "our individual member airlines were able to look after the vast majority of the needs of this market," according to a spokesman.
The extent to which alliance meetings programs are in demand by multinational organizations is unclear, given travel buyers' mixed perceptions of alliances as viable global suppliers. SkyTeam officials would not provide information on the number of events the meetings program managed, and Star Alliance did not respond to inquiries.
Yvonne Long, senior vice president of North America-based group air specialist Air Fulfillment Services, said corporations "definitely" should explore new air programs for meetings, incentives and group travel, including alliance offers, as they may provide additional savings beyond those realized from existing corporate travel discounts. "Very few people understand group air," corporate discounts and the opportunities that lie between the two programs, she said. Those who ignore the new options "are missing out big time" on savings related to airfares, free tickets earned through volume purchasing and cancellation and ticket change policies.
Looking At The Logistics
SkyTeam created Global Meetings in June 2006. By October 2006, Air France became the first member carrier to begin selling the program and the alliance established an online booking tool for meeting attendees to book discounted rates. Those discounts--5 percent for economy-class tickets and 10 percent for business-class tickets--are not negotiable, d'Anglejan said, noting that one free ticket is issued for every 50 booked. To apply for the program, an event must have at least 150 participants traveling from at least three countries (excluding the event destination). "The USA, Canada, Mexico and the Caribbean are considered part of a single entity: North America," according to SkyTeam information. Eligible events include "professional trade shows, trade exhibitions, conventions, congresses, meetings, incentive programs, training courses, in-house seminars and product launches; sport, political and religious meetings are not usually considered by SkyTeam Global Meetings."
Upon receiving an application, one SkyTeam partner carrier will provide to the event planner a single point of contact. Once an event is in the system, meeting attendees use a unique event code to register and book discounted tickets in the online booking tool. Registration sites can be tailored for each event and allow planners to handle logistics "through one central source," according to SkyTeam.
"Each airline in SkyTeam now has an objective to offer its customers this functionality," d'Anglejan explained, though not every partner is required to participate.
Delta's inclusion in SkyTeam Global Meetings will follow by two months a formal announcement of its own meetings program, Delta Meeting Network, resulting from the Delta-Northwest Airlines merger.
According to SkyTeam information, an event organizer contracting with the alliance will, where applicable, "display on its event Web site a SkyTeam logo with a dynamic link to the SkyTeam Global Meetings Web site" and "provide a free, full-page, full-color advertisement in the event's catalogue."
Targeting The Trade
The newest phase of the program, indirect selling via travel agencies began at the beginning of 2009. D'Anglejan said alliance members on each continent determine which travel agencies specialized in meetings, incentives, conferences and events will be offered access. He also said "some" of the largest global travel management companies can offer the program to clients.
Meanwhile, SkyTeam this year also began using a new tool to communicate with event organizers around the world, according to d'Anglejan.
SkyTeam currently does not offer integrated programs encompassing corporate transient travel contracts--which include airfare discounts based on volume--and meetings travel. "We take a different approach in the MICE industry," d'Anglejan said. "We may be thinking about that in the future, but so far SkyTeam corporate contracts are on one side and SkyTeam Global Meetings are on the other."
Star, Lufthansa Fly Into Meetings Sector
Though Star Alliance for eight years has offered a program specifically for convention organizers and travelers, it did not offer until this month a program for the wider meetings markets. Applicable for "most meetings of 50 people or more, with attendees originating in at least three different countries," the new program includes an online request for proposals, coordination through one member carrier, discounts between "10 percent and 20 percent," and bookings through the meeting planner's "appointed travel agency," according to Star Alliance.
Different conditions apply for meetings held in Australia, Japan, New Zealand and South Africa, and Star members ANA, LOT Polish Airlines, South African Airways and Thai Airways currently do not participate.
In addition to its participation in Star Alliance Meetings Plus, alliance co-founder Lufthansa last month introduced its own online booking tool for group and meetings travel. The tool displays "negotiated discounted fares as well as any applicable sale fares in the participants' local currency," according to Lufthansa, and also provides bookings for codeshare flights operated by Lufthansa partners.
"Event organizers who are hosting their participants' travel can use either the online tool or book through their preferred travel management company," according to the airline.
Lufthansa's meetings and events program also includes "an event-dedicated Web page" and is applicable for "groups large and small, from corporate meetings to association gatherings, trade fairs, sporting or cultural events."
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