York - The Association of Corporate Travel Executives in 2013 reversed two
years of financial losses and will report positive net income of "a few
hundred thousand" dollars, according to executive director Greeley Koch. "To
us that's very good, because we have always run lean and mean and never had
that large rainy-day fund." BTN editors last month spoke here with Koch
about the association's turnaround. Excerpts follow.
It sounds like what amounts to about a $1 million turnaround in three years. How?
Of course you look at your revenue line. About 40 percent of our revenue is registrations [for events], another 40 percent is sponsorship and 20-ish or so comes from membership dues. We focused on registration and had some really good numbers throughout 2013. And we did that by making sure we had the right content. What are the new models of travel management? How can we help people prepare? We focused on what we do best: putting on events that really give travel managers insight. We also scaled back in certain areas the types of events we did, and scaled up others.
We also focused on our cost side. We realized that we don't have to have a Las Vegas-type production. We don't need the fanciest lights and the highest-def cameras. People are not coming to an ACTE conference for the fancy lights. They are coming because we have the right speakers and the right content for them to learn. So we took a lot of costs out from the events side. And, quite frankly, we had too many staff in too many places. It was kind of Business 101, and we looked at everything from a cost perspective.
How many members do you currently have?
It fluctuates, but we have around 2,500 members in any given year. We focus more on how many people come to our events. We have more non-members come to our events than members. It's one thing we are going to look at this year: What is the value of membership in a trade association? The trade association marketplace is changing. How people get access to information, communicate and interact with peers ... it's completely changing. So to us, it's about how many people are we touching with our events, programs and database of information.
Once we understand the topics [that resonate with members], we want to cover them differently. How many "data" sessions have you gone to in the past couple of years? How many sessions have we done where just keep talking about the same thing? So now, if we're going to have a data session, what is it that we can give you as a buyer that you can take back to your company and actually do something with? For our spring conference in Miami, we are looking at mixing up how we do the sessions and which speakers we have.
What is ACTE's role in industry advocacy?
You probably won't find us talking about a car rental tax. Other people do that extremely well; we'll let them cover that. Instead, the advocacy we have taken has been more focused on industry developments. Several years ago we took on the issue of new passports that would identify U.S. citizens; we effected change and that's why they all have that strong cover on them. We took on the laptop-seizure issue at the borders. We took on cellphones on airplanes a few years ago.
In terms of our own corporate social responsibility, we have a good speaker's platform to bring awareness to certain issues. That's why in 2013 we joined the voice on the code on human trafficking [The Code of Conduct for the Protection of Children from Sexual Exploitation in Travel and Tourism], because of the way the travel industry is involved with that issue. In Hong Kong last [month] we had a group of buyers get together with a university that is focused on the hospitality industry with students who are mentally challenged but are interested in the travel industry. At our Canadian conference we raised money for some African relief support. You'll see us do different things and use our pulpit to create awareness.
We're not going to tackle everything that comes up in this industry. We are going to be very selective.
We have our European partners, travel associations, and we banded together to sign a joint letter to the European Commission on passenger rights legislation—how you get compensated for delayed or canceled flights. We banded together with our friends to increase our voice.
Is there room for friends here in the United States to create such a unified voice?
I don't think there ever will be one.
But you have done it in Europe.
I think that trying to say we will speak with one voice around the world, or in certain areas, will be more challenging to accomplish. We had a great relationship with our friends in Georgia [the Georgia Business Travel Association] in the past year. So we'll work with other associations. We are always open to that. We don't have any exclusivity where we say, "You deal with us, but you can't deal with anyone else."
This report originally appeared in the Feb. 3, 2014, edition of Business Travel News.