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Completing a significant market expansion across Europe, BCD Meetings & Incentives acquired U.K.-based Talking Point, a 20-year-old meetings, events and live production firm that produces about 75 major events a year for clients ranging from Sony and Sanofi Pasteur to Bosch Power Tools and Johnson & Johnson Vision Care.
BCD M&I now has wholly owned offices in a dozen European countries with 350 employees and $250 million in annual sales. The company gained the other European offices last summer when it acquired TQ3 Events, a subdivision of TQ3 Travel Solutions Management Holdings GmbH. While strong in Continental Europe, TQ3 lacked the stronghold needed in the British Isles. The company now has offices in Belgium, Luxembourg, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Spain, Sweden and the United Kingdom.
While small--fielding just 46 employees--Talking Point has a reputation across Europe that "is an immediate credibility builder for us in that market and for all of Continental Europe," said BCD M&I president Scott Graf. BCD is hoping to leverage that credibility as it exports its strategic meetings management technology--powered by StarCite--and expertise across the pond. None of its European offices, ranging from 15- to 60-person operations, "played in that arena," he added.
This latest meeting consolidation movement drifted across the United States in recent years and is just beginning in Europe, Graf said. Large corporations are using new technology and management approaches to control and manage their meeting sourcing, contracting and spending as effectively as they manage travel. Primarily for U.S.-headquartered multinationals, BCD M&I has deployed its meetings technology in a half dozen European countries and expects to continue that expansion as the wave builds, he added.
The European meetings market is estimated at $120 billion, slightly smaller than the $123 billion U.S. estimate, according to Meeting Professionals International, which sizes the global meetings market at $325 billion. Meeting travel and entertainment expenses are estimated at 25 percent to 40 percent of a corporation's total T&E budget, or as much as 1 percent of revenues, Carlson Wagonlit Travel vice president of events Todd Kramer told an Association of Corporate Travel Executives forum in November. As in the U.S., more than 70 percent of corporations in Europe cannot identify their meeting spend, Kramer said.
Positioning themselves for this trend, several travel and meeting companies in Europe have been consolidating and rebranding. In November, Germany-based TUI announced plans to merge meeting and event operations in 29 countries under a single brand: TUI Event Management. The Grass Roots Group PLC also announced a majority ownership of Swiss-based Spectrum Events AG. Earlier in the year, Grass Roots acquired the European meetings and incentive business of Maritz Travel, which then took a minority stake in Grass Roots.
For BCD M&I, "ownership of this key U.K." office was important for its own credibility, Graf said. "We could say we're 'working in collaboration with,' (Talking Point) but part of the reason that BCD came togetherin the first place was to say we have single ownership. Now we can say it's not collaboration, but we're in an ownership position."
Graf also intends to import Talking Point's unique live event production capabilities to BCD's U.S. offices. Talking Point founder and managing director Robin Smith, now BCD Meetings & Incentives managing director, U.K. and Ireland, will direct the hiring and training of production staff in BCD Meeting & Incentives' Chicago headquarters, Graf said.
For BCD, the acquisition represents the final stage of an evolving relationship that began last year when its parent company, BCD Holdings N.V. purchased U.K.-based The Travel Company, which owned half of Talking Point. BCD acquired a larger stake in mid-2006, bought out one founder and finally acquired all of Smith's outstanding shares in December, Graf said. The companies declined to reveal specifics of the all-cash transaction.
As for further expansion, Graf said the company would clearly look at any opportunities to expand products and services and evaluate any target companies of BCD Travel that might offer meetings and events. BCD M&I now operates in more than 25 countries, while parent BCD Travel operates in 96 countries with annual sales of $12 billion.
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