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The Association of Corporate Travel Executives and National Business Travel Association have emerged from this summer's contentious merger discussions with a result that seems to be exactly what many sponsors of the two groups do not want: more to sponsor.
According to current plans, both ACTE and NBTA will hold major conferences in Europe during the fall of 2010. ACTE has announced its dates and location--early October in Berlin--while NBTA has not. NBTA and its Paragon Partners held the Crossroads "pan-European" event in May 2008 and May 2009, but a spokesman this August said the new NBTA event does not replace Crossroads, which was discontinued.
But if an executive-level housecleaning is something the two groups needed in order to get back to discussing a combination, they're certainly on the right track. Interim ACTE president Richard Crum this week said ACTE's door is open to overtures from NBTA or others.
After its president and several board members resigned this summer, ACTE here this week introduced Crum's successor, BCD Travel's Chris Crowley, who is employed by an organization that publicly stated its support for a merger. Crowley is slated to take over in May 2010 after serving from January as president-elect.
Closing out its conference here Tuesday, ACTE also announced the resignation of executive director Susan Gurley, effective 1 December. Gurley said she decided this summer to take an opportunity to serve in government. She will aid the transition to interim executive director Megan Costello through year-end. ACTE soon will form a search committee and hopes to appoint a new executive director early next year, Crum said.
NBTA also has new leadership, including president and CEO Craig Banikowski of Hilton Hotels Worldwide executive directorand Mike McCormick, previously co-founder of the Hudson Crossing consulting firm. Both are committed to international expansion.
Mike's Axe … A 'Realignment'
McCormick took one step last week by restructuring the headquarters staff and cutting several positions, including the entire membership department and NBTA's top researcher. This could make room for non-U.S. personnel.
NBTA declined to confirm how many staffers it trimmed. In addition to the cuts, the group named Shane Downey director of public policy; Zane Kerby senior vice president for events, sponsorship and advertising; Heather Townsend Poff director of the government travel group; and Hank Roeder vice president of chapter relations.
"In the few months I've been on board, I've been working closely with NBTA staff and the new board of directors to determine the association's direction and set long-range goals for growth, enrichment and globalization," according to a statement attributed to McCormick. "To reach these goals, NBTA has taken the first steps forward, which included a staffing realignment. The new organization is now structured to not only continue to advance our leadership position here in the U.S., but to also grow and more diligently focus on international business travel communities. We will invest additional resources into local chapter relations, government travel and strategic meetings management, as well as increase our efforts to affect positive change in business travel policy in political arenas around the world."
Inasmuch as head-butting may have been part of the failed merger talks--and media statements by the principals seem to indicate it played a big role--the departure of so many key players could allow for a reopening of talks. Still, some will retain roles, including past presidents, board members and Dav El's Scott Solombrino. NBTA in September said it would retain for two more years Solombrino's "powerful voice" as NBTA Allied Leadership Council president.
Last ACTE … A 'Rumor'
Appearing fatigued by questions about the association's future, ACTE's Crum during a press conference insisted the group is financially positioned for survival.
"We didn't reduce programming. We're planning a great curriculum for next year," he said. "The commitment from sponsors to ACTE is as strong as it ever was. People have talked about some rumors, and we should have shut down a couple times by now if any of those were true. What counters a rumor best is to disprove it, and here we are: We didn't shut down."
ACTE did not hold the customary closing reception in Prague. It also suffered a roughly 20 percent percent drop in attendance, although officials claimed a record in the 38 percent of attendees who were corporate buyers. According to Crum, "2009 was a year of having to get the scalpel out and go through budgets."
In addition to the 3-5 October Berlin event, ACTE last week announced plans for a global conference in Chicago, 16-18 May.
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