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.
Multinational conglomerates get all the attention, but small
and midsize enterprises, with their nimble sizes and natures, are a breeding ground
for innovations, for finding the new and improved ways of tackling problems. BTN
editor-in-chief Elizabeth West spoke with MathWorks senior global travel coordinator
Jeff Berall and GameStop director of meetings and travel Judy Payne about what they're
up to—from chucking the industry's dominant booking tool to open booking to leveraging
supplier loyalty programs to gamification for event attendees.
BTN: Judy, you're
a few years into launching a meetings management effort, right? How's that coming
Judy Payne: We rolled out an SMM program for all of our
small meetings about three years ago. It's been very successful. We manage around
75 meetings and big conferences throughout the year, as well as Comic Cons. We manage
all the building logistics to all the space planning, as well as the travel. The
only thing we outsource is our registration platform. Now we're rolling out a Comic
Con in a box. Basically, any of our regions across the U.S. that want to participate
in a Comic Con can contact somebody on my team and we have a box available, which
is pretty much ship it and then pop it up and go.
BTN: What are
you measuring as far as engagement data or meetings performance metrics, and how
are you getting it?
Payne: We do a lot of engagement at our annual conferences,
as well as our external Comic Cons and consumer shows. We work with our analytics
team in marketing with pulling together all the social media. We do use specific
hashtags for each of our events. We also work with our merchandising team and we
create custom bounce-back fliers. So I can pass out fliers at an event with a specific
discount code on them to see if the attendees then take it back into a store. For
internal, we do a great app that has gamification on it, CrowdCompass by Cvent,
so we make sure to keep our event fun and the attendees moving around on the floor
and taking pictures and posting on the different topics, different elements.
BTN: The next
big thing on your plate is that you're switching your booking tool, right?
Payne: The [GameStop Expo 2017] annual conference is around
12,000 people for a week in Vegas. Right before we launch for our registration and
travel booking, we're about to change our preferred [booking tool]. The way we manage
our group [bookings] is: We put very tight parameters on the type of flights they
can book so it keeps our cost down. This saves us around $400,000 per year. Since
Concur is doing away with their group booking tool in 2018, we're doing away with
Concur and moving to Egencia.
BTN: That sounds
like a change in approach. Concur offers this monolithic travel expense system.
Switching means you've decided you're looking for something different.
Payne: It's all about budget control because we are a
publicly held company and everything hits my budget because it's a mandatory corporate
event. I have to be very aware of every penny we spend, so being able to put parameters
on event bookings, to me, is the best way to do that because my annual event budget
alone for my one annual is about $2.5 million for travel just for clients. Being
able to reduce that by $400,000 or $500,000 is a huge impact on the company. If
I'm not able to put parameters on when they can arrive and the cost of their flight
and things like that, then I start losing control of my budget, so I just have to
have a shift in focus and not care that it's going to take me being up all night
for three weeks straight trying to figure it out but doing what I need to do to
save the company money.
BTN: Egencia is
going to help you do that?
Payne: With Egencia, I can put all my parameters in where
I can say: All of my attendees can arrive anytime by 7, but they have to book within
$100 of the lowest available flight. Then, I can choose what that lowest available
flight is so it's not something with three layovers that leaves at 4 in the morning.
It's an average flight that leaves at 6 a.m. with a normal layover in it.
Since Concur is doing away with their group booking tool in 2018, we're doing away with Concur and moving to Egencia."
BTN: So how do
you guys feel about suppliers' loyalty programs. It seems like travel managers have
a love-hate relationship with them, but you have to leverage it when you can to
motivate your travelers to book in the preferred channel. That can help in a time
when content has become so fragmented.
Jeff Berall: I'd actually contradict that. I'm actually
working toward the exact opposite. I have an open hotel program. The focus on the
program is just balancing cost versus the traveler experience. We have a youthful
group that's self-sufficient and well traveled, so they know what they want, where
they're going and how to get there.
BTN: You've got
Airbnb and Uber and you're going to the individual supplier.
Berall: Fragment as much as you want. Open as many points
of sale/purchase channels as possible. It provides better choice for the individual.
What I'm finding, as I recently reviewed my entire 2016 program on hotel spend,
is I get better rates, better incentives, and I can still go back and negotiate.
I have about 25 hotels in my program. I don't need my TMC data. I don't even need
my direct channel bookings to represent with that hotel because I can go back to
the hotel and give them a list of 300 bookings that came through my expense.
BTN: Do you have
a dashboard like a Domo or a Tableau that you're feeding everything into?
Berall: Yes, I built something out myself for that purpose.
Fragment as much as you want. Open as many points of sale/purchase channels as possible. It provides better choice for the individual."
all that data. It seems like you have to have some kind of business intelligence
tool like that to know if it's OK to go with an open booking model like you describe.
Berall: Absolutely. It really just depends on the travelers
and what the expectations are. I have certain restrictions built into the booking
channel where it's going to cap a room over some amount, typically in the $400 range
just because I don't want to micromanage every city. But I'll take the balance and
actually benchmark it against the BTN [Corporate Travel Index] rates for the per
diems. Travelers want to do the right thing, but we find that same balance where
the incentive that they get from booking directly with the Marriott or booking directly
with the Starwood or whoever it may be for the free meals, the free Wi-Fi, the free
parking, those types of things—the offset of those savings is rather monumental,
10 percent, 15 percent off the cost.
BTN: How are you
servicing duty of care, Jeff, if you're looking at expense data? How do you know
where your travelers are?
Berall: My air program is fully mandated, a hard mandate.
I have a central bill, but I also have the individual cards so they can get their
membership rewards points. But all air has to be booked through the TMC, and I capture
over 99 percent of all my air spend through that TMC because of this. That is my
frontline duty of care response. Again, I built little a dashboard just so I can
run a quick report and see who's where and what exposure I have if I need to check
into something because I don't have iJet or iSOS in place currently. If I need to
dive down deeper, I'll rely on my card swipe [data], and then I'll look through
hotels that are booked or however I need to do it. It's not a perfect situation,
but it works.
BTN: So you mandate
bookings. It's always interesting to see what different company cultures are like.
Payne: We have
a very empowered culture. We have self-booking and close to 100 percent compliance.
When we roll out a new tool, they're required to use the new tool for all airfares,
and they all are required to use online booking tools. The only time that we have
those exceptions are with our executives and complex international trips. So, we
have a very tech-savvy group who prefers to book for themselves and do it online.
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