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The Association of Corporate Travel Executives last month launched a new Global Centre for Research and Education, which will invest upwards of $50,000 to $250,000 each in long-engagement industry research projects that are academically oriented and peer-reviewed.
Chaired by TRX executive vice president Susan Hopley, who runs the ACTE Global Centre executive committee with ACTE executive director Susan Gurley and HRG group industry affairs director Mike Platt, the new group's board also includes officials from the supplier sides of Boeing, British Airways, Citigroup and Tata Group, plus the University of Sheffield.
To be conducted by the university, the Centre's first research project is designed to examine the "science of climate change" and help businesses "get a handle on the environmental impact of their travel profiles." Officials said the group would have an "arm's length" relationship with ACTE itself.
One of the key goals of the Centre's creators was to make sure it was not U.S.-centric. Asked whether the board is too multinational given that half the members of ACTE itself are Americans, Hopley said the board already had "agreed to consider expansion and we expect this to happen in due course."
This may also allow the addition of a buyer representative--absent despite the Centre's stated buyer orientation. "We are going to pick topics brought to us by the corporations, and they may not necessarily be ACTE members," said Hopley. "Typically in any industry, a lot of research is sponsored and it's really valuable. They do need that opportunity to communicate their perspectives and get their brand recognition out to the audience, so that's very important. This research Centre is different. We're issue-driven so that we're focused on the needs of the corporations to have independent, high-level research that they can direct and be involved in."
Hopley said corporations, "particularly IBM," sponsored the first project.
Hopley and Gurley emphasized the new group's independence from the agendas of suppliers or ACTE--and especially the funding of suppliers.
ACTE cannot "drive the agenda," said Gurley, and the Centre may produce research that "is contrary to what ACTE might be saying ... and that's okay. That's what research is all about. I'm personally excited because there can be a debate and one can disagree. There is not enough debate on issues in our industry." According to the ACTE Centre bylaws, ACTE executive director Gurley reports to ACTE Centre chair Hopley in the context of the Centre, and Gurley has no vote on the Centre's board.
According to Hopley, "Everyone in the industry is feeling how hard it is to keep looking to the suppliers to provide all the answers. There are just not line items in the budgets anymore for that."
A year in the making, the new Centre's closest equivalent is the National Business Travel Association Foundation, whose 10th annual gala dinner took place in New York last week. At the event, NBTA Foundation board of trustees chair and outgoing Travelocity Business president Ellen Keszler said the Foundation would soon release "phase three" of its Managed Travel Index and Benchmarking Tool, which she said has been used by 170 firms including a number of travel management companies. Keszler also said the Foundation would produce research about which U.S. cities are most "travel friendly or unfriendly" based on the presence of hotel and car rental taxes and fees.
Unlike the new ACTE Centre, the NBTA Foundation allows NBTA's president and executive director to vote in its board of trustee decisions. The Foundation also differs in that it requires at least four of its board members to be buyers. An NBTA spokesperson cited "more than $1 million in scholarships for corporate travel professionals to advance their careers through professional development (including $90,000 in 2006)," largely through NBTA-owned certification programs.
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