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Meetings may be the final management frontier for corporations around the globe, but two recent surveys indicated that few in Europe have made much progress in attempts to conquer it. While survey results showed little advancement on savings, policy or management initiatives, suppliers pointed to increased interest in strategic initiatives and technology to support them. The battle may have not yet begun.
In a survey of 120 large business travel buyers in the United Kingdom, the Institute of Travel Management found that while "65 percent of travel buyers also manage meetings, 67 percent manage conference and 60 percent manage event expenditure, few have made real headway in terms of savings, policy or compliance," said ITM executive director Paul Tilstone.
"It is clear that there is limited control on MICE [meetings, incentives, congresses and expositions] expenditure through policy, authorization processes and compliance measures," he added. "Perhaps it is this first step of putting controls in place and measuring activity and spend which needs to happen before consolidation to a single booking methodology can occur."
A separate survey of more than 1,000 travel buyers in nine European markets and the United States conducted by AirPlus International indicated that fewer buyers in Europe (ranging by country from 14 percent to 37 percent) negotiate with meeting service providers. In contrast, 56 percent of respondents in the United States said they negotiate with meeting service providers and reap an average 15 percent savings. With reported savings from corporate discounts averaging 16 percent across all respondents--but ranging from 11 percent in France to 25 percent in the United Kingdom--"this is clearly an area with considerable scope for cost reduction through improved negotiation," the report stated.
The ITM study also noted a need for greater transparency in financials as 23 percent of those surveyed were "not sure" how they paid meeting service providers. Ten percent said they paid such providers a transaction fee, 8 percent a management fee, 33 percent a combination of commissions and fees, 12 percent a hidden commission and mark-ups and 14 percent a transparent commission.
"As procurement takes over meetings management of MICE, transparency will be vital to quantify return on investment," Tilstone said.
While the survey results are "generally a true" reflection of European market conditions, StarCite founder John Pino said he can think of many "examples where companies are changing that thinking." Just in the last three months, his company gained at least half a dozen new corporate customers in Europe, bringing the number of enterprise deployments of its meeting management technology in the region to more than 20, said Pino, now president of the StarCite International division. But he has noticed that corporations on each side of the pond view meeting management from different perspectives. "In the U.S., they look at returns and the power of programs as it relates to spend management," he explained. "In Europe, they're going after the efficiencies and knowledge, but not yet connecting all the dots ... only those exposed to global program are beginning to start the process."
BCD Travel Meetings & Incentives president Scott Graf also acknowledged that the consolidation movement in Europe had just begun. BCD in January announced the completion of its market expansion with the acquisition of U.K.-based Talking Point.
To support growing interests from its existing and potential customers, GetThere DirectMeetings this month released a number of enhancements, including the ability to deploy its meeting registration tools in seven different languages, said director of meetings management Jeremy Stubbs. GetThere DirectMeetings provides corporate planners with tools to create custom attendee registration sites for each meeting, and to manage all travel bookings and meeting registrations. Planners can now access those tools in formats designed for the Spanish, Portuguese, Italian, German, French, U.K. and U.S. markets, Stubbs said. As part of the enhancements, GetThere simplified the process to create such sites, but granted corporations more power to control the branding. The company also added an airfare estimation tool that allows planners to quickly calculate average airfares for multiple destinations and to compare cost variances of one destination versus another, based on the number of delegates from each originating destination.
ITM's Tilstone noted that "lack of online meetings technology, especially amongst TMCs" is one reason that respondents ranked meeting services provided by TMCs lower than that of specialist venue and event management agencies. About 60 percent of respondents to the ITM survey said they use a combination of agencies, but 41 percent rated their specialist meeting agency as "excellent or good, compared to 25 percent for the equivalent service provided by a TMC."
Companies have begun to recognize the scope of their spend on meetings--30 percent or more of total travel--and develop strategic plans to manage it. Increasingly, procurement departments are suggesting policies, technology and purchasing processes to control the increased spending.
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