Wagonlit Travel's meetings management organization, CWT Meetings & Events,
in June reorganized its global structure, consolidating regional divisions
under new global senior vice president Floyd Widener, formerly CWT's senior
vice president of sales and global program management in Europe, Middle East,
and Africa. Also a former executive with Sabre and Amadeus, Widener is based in
Paris and reports to Cathy Voss, executive vice president of CWT Global Program
Solutions and Meetings & Events. This week he spoke with BTN's Chris Davis
about the impact of the new structure on the travel management company's
approach to meetings, the globalization of strategic meetings management and
the outlook for 2013. An edited transcript follows.
How does the new CWT structure work with regards to meetings?
This role and the entire thought process around the organization is something that has been in gestation for quite some time. My organization and my activity is part of Cathy Voss' organization, what we call our Global Program Solutions organization. Cathy is a member of our executive team, and her organization is responsible for strategic accounts globally, from a sales and a program management or account management perspective. She also has in that activity the area around our CWT Solutions Group business. When they decided to create my role, the thought process was around that this role would become part of that organization because, one, I came from her organization—previously I was setting up sales and program management for Europe, the Middle East and Africa—and, two, it really made sense to take the various business units that were operating in each region, running best-in-market and best-in-region practices, and pull that together with a fantastic organization under her leadership globally, and then leverage that for customers and partners.
Right now, I have a vice president of meetings and events in each region–Thierry Duguet in Paris, Tony Wagner in Minneapolis and I have a new gentleman coming on board for Asia/Pacific Nov. 19. That will complete my leadership team, and it will parallel the way we're structured throughout the rest of the GPS organization. The various entities can work together in a coordinated fashion to deliver the best possible experiences to our customers and partners.
With the new common thread, how will that affect operations in terms of multinational accounts or in sharing best practices?
From a sharing best practices perspective, that was kind of already happening on an ad hoc basis across regions, just because our organization is so matrixed that we do share a lot. What we're going to do now is become more formal about it. From a leadership perspective, it's making sure that for the three different organizations—Americas, Asia/Pacific and EMEA—their strategic intent and the business plan we have for them is coherent, meaning that for the customers asking us to service them globally, its incumbent on us to make sure that all the regions are aligned. I think we're pretty damn good at being "glocal," but you need a leadership structure in place that ensures that we're making the hard decisions and making trade-offs where we need to to deliver on that promise to customers.
How does the meetings group relate to the other parts of CWT?
We intertwine ourselves very closely with sales and program management. When we own the relationship with a customer, whether national, regional or global, our organization at various levels mirrors the structure of the other parts of the business, so that anyone needing information about our value proposition or how they can share best practices or strategic information about meetings and events knows where they can come to in our organization. If you took a photo of the GPS sales and program management organization, we're mirroring that. We'll work with the transient side of the business the same way we work with customers who have a strategic meetings management or an events relationship. There's some huge potential for us to talk to our existing customer base about "been there, done that on the transient side, but what's this about SMM?" Well, now [transient customers] know who to go to to have a subject matter expert come in and deliver a compelling value proposition.
When you say that you own the relationship, is that like signing a new client and bringing in other aspects of organization as needed?
I would say it's even simpler than that. When I say own the relationship, I mean the GPS organization. We don't have a wall between the two organizations, and I think that is a distinctive competency of ours as an organization. It's not about, "No, we'll do an M&E meeting [with a prospective client] later." We'll walk in together as peers and colleagues.
Since you took this role, have you found CWT more active in SMM or in ad hoc events management?
It depends on the region and the maturity of the market and the client. Tony's organization in North America has fantastic penetration on the SMM side. Kari Wendel has done a fantastic job of setting up certifications and training people, and it's been rolled out across all of our regions. We have SMM-certified people in every region of the world now. The competency is growing internally. In the Americas, companies have been to a maturity level where that service has really penetrated the offering. It's a little bit less so in EMEA, but we are seeing more RFPs coming in there. The third region where it will hit will be Asia/Pac. When I say "hit," I mean there will be more proactive RFPs coming out, but we already are in some global RFPs interacting with those organizations in Asia/Pac.
An interesting position for us that we're kind of a bridge between guys in the transient and procurement sides and the people in the marketing area who are responsible for events budgets. Having one structure, we can coordinate the message and services we deliver to those buyers and companies and deliver a compelling message for their program.
What accounts for the difference in acceptance of SMM between America and Europe, and how will that change?
We're doing a couple of things that will change that. We're going to create a new marketplace there and pull customers with us to that marketplace. We need to continue to deploy the technology that makes the venue sourcing, which is an integral part of the SMM packaging, pull the venue sourcing a heck of a lot more efficiently today than it is in Europe. That comes around to the fragmented venue supply here. In America, everyone's part of a big chain, but in Europe, a lot of the venues you would want to use for sourcing are unique properties and spaces. Getting that in an overall database and into a technological solution is one of the key areas of focus for Thierry and his team going into 2013.
How do you go about doing that?
Well, you're not going to get them all—I know that from my days at GetThere in Europe—but you have to get the compelling content that helps you do your 80/20. There are suppliers out there with whom we're in discussion now that are looking at the volume we do in this region—and it is quite significant—and saying, "We're going to help you get that content and get the platform into place." I expect to have a robust solution in place in 2013. We're already doing some things in different countries with some suppliers, but I want a compelling value proposition of content around the technology in 2013.
CWT Solutions Group forecasts 2013 meetings prices to increase, but group size in some locations to decrease. How do you see the corporate market in general?
It is my profound belief that given the global economic conditions, the two sides that manage SMM and events management inside corporations—and this isn't true for all—the procurement department and the marketing department are going to come closer together, and they'll look for suppliers that speak both languages. We did 30,000 events last year, in addition to SMM. Companies are going to look for companies that can handle that globally, and deal with safety and security and compliance and legislation. I'm bullish on the fact that we're handling an area of the business that is very fragmented today. Through the consolidation of that, we are in a fantastic position to bridge the gap between procurement and marketing and help the existing customer base start digging into where that money's spent, how they're going to organize it and control it in the future. Although the markets aren't growing enormously, I think dealing with this part of the business is going to be a big part of our business going forward.
Given all of that, how concerned are you about the economy, especially in Europe?
The stats I saw on EMEA are plus-two, plus-three percent on this area of the business. If other markets are the same, I think the sheer factor of companies that want us to consolidate this and manage it more closely is going to create business for us anyway. They may not be upping their budget, but they will look for a key differentiator between how they look at their budget for transient and for meetings and events, and that [means] looking for a really good return on investment. It's not just about savings.
How does remote conferencing come into play in your meetings management services?
We work with various suppliers and consult end-to-end on that today. Depending on the region, we have various levels of expertise, because it's really kind of a budding business. We're playing around on an end-to-end offering, with everything we can do for a normal event, but have it done in a hybrid fashion. We work on the staging in the physical locations, the messaging, slogans and all the creative stuff for them, but we would also work with a third-party technology supplier that would help us link it all together so people can stay in their remote locations but interact with each other. We're dabbling with it now, and it will accelerate in 2013.
Is CWT developing any meetings-specific mobile technology?
We are in discussions right now with a couple of mobile suppliers to build into our offering a mobile service for delegates for meetings. We'll talk more about it in 2013.
We also have the Meetings Optimizer, which leverages the data behind more than 50 million transactions annually to empower people planning a meeting to plug in where attendees are coming from, locations and potential dates to instantly have an idea of the most cost-effective venue to go to. We have a couple of patents pending on the algorithms used to calculate that, and we have customers using it today.