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Gregory Dukat, CEO of
meetings management technology supplier StarCite, spoke recently with Business
Travel News senior associate editor
Michael B. Baker about blossoming corporate interest in strategic meetings
management and recent developments within the firm.
Business Travel News:
Is meetings demand close to returning to pre-recession levels?
Gregory Dukat: I
don't think we're all the way back to pre-recession levels, but we're at levels
where we were in the early stages of the recession. Things are certainly up
from where they were a year to a year-and-a-half ago. The transactions are
higher within our current set of customers. They have made the tough decisions
to say, we can no longer afford to let this spend category hang out there and
not be controlled for security reasons, compliance reasons and financial
BTN: Is the
economy still driving more buyers to examine strategic meetings management?
Dukat: As a
matter of fact, we are enjoying one of the best years in the company's history
relative to new customers requiring a solution. We continue to have an
extremely high renewal rate for our existing customers, and the deployment
within our existing customers is increasing dramatically. It's driving people
to the next phase. Last year, they were thinking about it. They're taking
action on it this year, and we've really been successful. It falls in line with
the requests we've had from suppliers. We've evaluated the partnerships we had
and made some tough choices to disengage with some that didn't fulfill that
promise. Then, we initiated partnerships with new partners that helped fulfill
that promise and strengthened existing partnerships. We had an announcement
with a strong alliance with Experient. We continue to have a strong partnership
with the major travel management companies. We'll be announcing at the National
Business Travel Association annual convention this month an Orbitz for Business
relationship, where they'll have access to our marketplace. Use of our tool for
spend management and requests for proposals is up by more than 80 percent year
over year, and that's a great thing for us, so we're excited about that. It
just validates the value of our platform.
BTN: To what do
you attribute that growth?
Dukat: Many of
our corporate clients have put mandates in place. Several large multinationals
said to their teams that any meeting over $10,000 needs to be sourced, no ifs,
ands or buts, through the StarCite solution. That tells us these folks for the
first time are serious about getting their hands around their spend. The other
thing is the new customer attraction we've had. This is arguably one of our
best years ever in new customer wins. We had two of the world's largest oil and
gas companies, and neither of these have an oil spill that they're cleaning up.
The use within our existing customers is going way up, which will lead to more
quality business for the suppliers. That's what brings the value to the
constituents, and that's why they're interested in the platform.
BTN: Did the
volcanic ash incident stir up further interest?
Dukat: We had a
customer advisory event in Boca Raton, and one key aspect the customers
mentioned was that one reason they wanted to deploy in a larger way was because
they had people in faraway places that had gone to meetings and might not have
used the technology. From a security standpoint, that's driving them to
facilitate the use of the platform, so for security reasons, they know where
people are, how to get them home safely and all kinds of things.
BTN: What new
developments are on the horizon for StarCite?
Dukat: What we've
heard from our corporate customers over and over was really three things: They
want visibility to all meetings, they wanted to deploy this solution in a
global fashion with best practices, and they really want to have a system that
will allow them to grow to best in class. We partnered with the National
Business Travel Association for a maturity model, which allows our clients to
start and have a path to being best in class. What's unique is that we're the
only folks that can take a customer from starting very small all the way up to
best practices with a global rollout and a very valid and robust supplier
network that responds to the demand. It will help the customers kind of
quantify where they are in the model and how they can move through it
successfully. Many of our customers started very low on the maturity model, and
we have all these case studies of customers that have been successful moving
this all the way to a global deployment. The other aspect is we have had many
customers in verticals that have regulations and requirements around them. Some
of our top verticals are pharmaceutical, life sciences if you will, and
financial, and also we've had tremendous success with oil and gas. We're also
announcing a quick-start. The idea is that we'll have preconfigured solutions
based on our years of experience to help these organizations in life sciences
or in financial better control the regulated side and aspects of their
business. The first templates will be for life sciences, rolled out at NBTA.
BTN: Have you
already been testing these with clients?
been developed directly with customers. It was fostered by the work we've
already done with customers. It's a real solution that has a real company using
them, and we've essentially taken what we've developed for these clients and
now we're productizing it and introducing it at the event.
BTN: How do you
see remote conferencing's role in the meetings industry developing?
is still a major requirement, and it's really become important as an offering
in a blended approach. We're not seeing live meetings go away in favor of
videoconferencing. What we're seeing is people who have some attendees who can
come via videoconference and some attendees who need to be live, so it allows
them to better analyze and better maximize the spend around a meeting and make
a decision. The need is up, and a lot of our hotel partners have a solution
that they're building as centers for this.
BTN: Have you
seen a growth in interest for meetings cards as a payment option?
Absolutely. It's a piece of controlling that visibility, and it does close the
loop relative to compliance and security. We're definitely seeing an uptick, so
much so that American Express wanted to renew for a long-term duration an
exclusive relationship. We're very pleased with that as well.
This story originally
appeared in the August 9, 2010, edition of Business Travel News.