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The Association of Corporate Travel Executives this afternoon will announce a partnership with the Professional Convention Management Association for "an innovative approach to doing business that will offer immediate benefits for the convention management and business travel management professions."
ACTE's president and executive director told The TransnationalThursday morning that the PCMA relationship was not prompted by the National Business Travel Association's proposal to combine with ACTE--which ACTE's board rejected early this month, causing board members including the association's president to resign.
ACTE on Monday announced that former president Richard Crum, an AirPlus International executive, would reassume the president's role until the group finds a new president. Crum confirmed that Deloitte buyer Michele Bryant this week resigned from her "at large" board position, marking the fourth board member to leave after the failed NBTA proposal. All four--including former treasurer-elect Mary Ellen George, former president Doug Weeks and former treasurer Brad Seitz--are based in the United States, meaning most of the board members who rejected the NBTA proposal were based outside the United States.
Any merger proposal would require two-thirds support from the ACTE board before consideration by members, 51 percent of whom would have to approve a deal. Non-U.S. ACTE board members include United Kingdom-based FCm Travel Solutions regional director Brian Donnelly, Johannesburg-based Travel with Flair managing director Johanna Mukoki, Ericsson South Africa buyer Sally Rademaker, Canada-based consultant Annemarie Reininger and Singapore-based Merck travel manager Meredith Smith. Unrelated to the ACTE-NBTA merger issue, Latin America director Ricardo Ferreira of Alatur, resigned his board seat this spring too, Crum confirmed.
In what the ACTE officials suggested is part of a "campaign" orchestrated by NBTA, BCD Travel is attempting to pressure the two groups to reconsider a combination. BCD Travel global president and COO John Snyder sent a letter this week to the boards of both groups in which he "strongly" encouraged them to reconsider a merger, according to The Beat. BCD Travel "is no longer in a position to support both organizations," the letter stated. [BCD later said its letter was not penned at the behest of NBTA.]
Sources also said other suppliers have intensified their advocacy for a tie-up and/or threatened to reduce association spending, but officials with two of those firms--Concur and Starwood--denied that was the case. According to a Concur spokeswoman, "We have participated in and will continue to participate in many industry association events that help promote the services Concur provides--including ACTE and NBTA events."
In an apparent acknowledgment of the forthcoming ACTE-PCMA announcement, Snyder wrote that "while discussions with other organizations may take place" BCD Travel encourages ACTE and NBTA "to do your best to combine the best aspects of these two great organizations."
ACTE's officials said the PCMA announcement stems from prior cooperation between the two groups and has been in the works for most of two years. ACTE in August 2008 announced with PCMA "plans to collaborate for ... educational initiatives and future research programs. PCMA will join ACTE's Education Steering Committee and serve as an important meetings industry education partner."
The ACTE officials said the PCMA plan does not contradict ACTE's earlier statement that its board voted to remain a "stand-alone organization." They also said they had not heard from travel suppliers seeking to reopen NBTA talks--other than BCD Travel. "Our members are not clamoring for a big change," said ACTE executive director Susan Gurley. "For us, the issue in a bad economy is that you want to provide people the chance to innovate. Our idea is to enhance that, not go meet with the same people you already know."
She argued that NBTA's roughly $8 million financial "surplus" as reflected in its most recently available Internal Revenue Service filing shows that the organization does not take sponsor and member spending constraints into account. "No wonder suppliers are calling them," she said. "No wonder they're getting pushback." Gurley added that NBTA's pursuit of a merger with ACTE--reaffirmed by a unanimous NBTA board vote announced a week ago--is a "hostile takeover" attempt to "eliminate the competition," "drive us out of business" and "increase their pricing." Gurley said, "Going with NBTA would be a step backwards."
An NBTA spokesman declined to respond to Gurley's comments, referring instead to NBTA's previous statements that the industry "sees great potential in a merger of ACTE and NBTA, particularly in today's tough economic environment. There are hundreds of companies that currently invest in both organizations. The NBTA board wants to give those companies a chance to lower their investments while maximizing the value delivered. We believe one way that can be done is to combine the best aspects of two great organizations."
Gurley said ACTE is fully funded for this year although reserves "are definitely lower. The economic situation has impacted us--no one has disputed that. But we're a not-for-profit organization. We believe in doing our mission and we'll squeeze as we always do. ACTE's finances have always been much less robust than NBTA's. Everyone knows that, and one reason for that is because we spend money on the actual mission of the organization." ACTE's most recent Internal Revenue Service Form 990 filing (for tax-exempt organizations) showed a net balance of $141,426 as of year-end 2007. NBTA reported a year-end 2007 net balance of $8,769,471. At PCMA, the figure was $782,614.
Gurley said ACTE had recently reduced its administrative staff by one.
ACTE's board held a conference call Thursday to discuss both the PCMA announcement and plans for 2010 conferences, officials said. The board also confirmed Greeley Koch as interim treasurer. A past president, Koch was appointed to the board and chair of the ACTE Centre for Research & Education when Crum resumed his role as ACTE president.
~ With reporting by Mary Ann McNulty
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