Best Meeting Practitioners 2008: Novartis' Tomaszeski Scores Sky-High Compliance For Mtgs. Air - Business Travel News

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Best Meeting Practitioners 2008: Novartis' Tomaszeski Scores Sky-High Compliance For Mtgs. Air

July 21, 2008 - 12:00 AM ET

By Elissa Hunter

Pharmaceutical company Novartis this year linked its meetings registration to its online booking system, requiring attendees to concurrently register and book air travel for meetings, increasing overall online booking adoption. As a result, only six of about 7,000 applicable meeting attendees in June did not book their air through Novartis' online booking tool.

The company in late 2007 began talks to integrate an e-mail-based meetings registration process, managed by Maritz Travel, with Carlson Wagonlit Travel's Horizon online booking tool. Attendees began using the system in May 2008 for June meetings, said Paul Tomaszeski, Novartis executive director of business support services.

"We had been using Horizon for transient travel for many years, and in June ended up mandating it across the board for all meeting travel," he said. "CWT was able to automate the ticketing process and make the arrival and departure list availability to us for meetings."

Now, Maritz sends a registration e-mail to attendees containing the details of the meeting and a link to a prepopulated screen in Horizon. Novartis' Meetings Solutions group works with Maritz to set up a meetings calendar for Horizon with locations and dates for particular meetings.

"It's pre-filled out on the Horizon site—what the city is, what the arrival dates are—so that the meeting attendee can just go in and pick their flights," Tomaszeski said.

Before, meeting attendees would be asked which airport, flight and airline they wanted when registering. That information would be sent in an e-mail to Carlson Wagonlit and a travel agent would book the flight using Sabre.

"We have some nice transaction fee savings there, and at the same time we let the meeting attendee pick their flight and get their itinerary directly," he said. An onsite Carlson group travel agent makes sure the flights being booked are within policy.

The only user question Tomaszeski's department received in the initial stages was about setting up profiles.

"People are so used to booking travel online for personal use, that to use it for a meeting went extremely well," he said.

To communicate the changes to travelers, an e-mail was sent reminding them to update profiles, put in home airports and update cell phone numbers. Other than that, the new program required no training, Tomaszeski said.

Attendees booked through Horizon increased the company's overall domestic online booking adoption from 40 percent to 75 percent. The six noncompliant June attendees were told of the new practice.

Of the transactions for June meetings, 80 percent were touchless.

"My strategic direction was to increase online bookings for simple point-to-point travel, which most of the time is what a meeting is," Tomaszeski said. "We've been increasing our Horizon bookings for several years. What we needed was for Carlson to put in place the specific meeting needs and to link into arrival and departure lists so that you can specify for a particular group of travelers that they're attending this particular meeting."

Carlson Wagonlit worked for approximately three months to provide the technology to allow Horizon to book for meetings. "It's an improvement to the tool that I believe is now available to other customers. It was an enhancement that was put in place for Novartis' request," he said.

Novartis has about $70 million in annual meetings spending, and its consolidated sourcing group sources more than 90 percent of all corporate meetings.

The company last year also rolled out a preferred meetings hotel program, signing deals with one primary and three secondary chains. "We committed to a fairly dramatic increase in marketshare to all of those chains," Tomaszeski said.

Novartis also is looking to bundle similarly timed meetings. "The economics of the proposal becomes compelling," he said, "because when you bundle, you generally get even more than what you would get for your standard terms."
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