The National Business Travel Association late last month formed a new committee dedicated to corporate group and meeting travel, charged with creating products and tools designed to educate corporate travel managers about meeting management.
The committee will be chaired by Tracey Wilt, travel and meeting services purchasing consultant for Stamford, Conn.-based Xerox Corp., and Madlyn Caliri, global group travel and events manager for Bedminster, N.J.-based AT&T Corp. (Meetings Today, March 24).
Wilt and Caliri are the only two current members of the committee, which is seeking volunteers.
"We frequently poll our members as to what they would like NBTA to do, because we want to remain a relevant association for our members," said NBTA president Kevin Iwamoto. "During my tenure, those surveys always talk about groups and meetings. It's been on our action list for a long time. There was a significant enough response to warrant this to satisfy the need for specialized content from NBTA."
The groups and meetings committee joins 10 other NBTA committees, taskforces and councils dedicated to various aspects of corporate travel management, including committees comprised of buyers, suppliers and consultants focusing on airlines and aviation, hotels and ground transportation. Those committees are influential in their respective realms and often release products to the industry, including white papers and model requests for proposals. In theory, the meetings and groups committee will do the same, Iwamoto said, but the specific actions and products of the committee will be the responsibility of Caliri and Wilt. "We're open to any ideas they have," Iwamoto said, suggesting the committee might look at developing a glossary of standard definitions of meetings management terms.
By creating this committee, NBTA boards a crowded train: There are several associations already dedicated to at least an aspect of corporate meetings management, including the Society of Corporate Meeting Professionals, the Insurance Conference Planners Association and, most notably, Meeting Professionals International.
"In no way are we doing this to compete with MPI," Iwamoto said. "This is based on the feedback from our members. There are terrific associations like MPI and some others already out there. However, our corporate members are being asked to manage group and meetings and don't have any experience doing so. They've expressed reluctance to join another association and attend another set of meetings. They don't want to start the process all over again."
Iwamoto said he notified MPI of NBTA's plans to create the committee to offer assurance this move was not competitive, and expressed an interest in possibly partnering with MPI in the creation of educational content, possibly including educational sessions at association events.
"We understand that the group and meetings market is very different than the transient market," Iwamoto said. "We don't want to lump them together. We understand it takes experience and knowledge to handle it, and we respect that dynamic."
"MPI is delighted to see NBTA's recognition of the strategic importance of meetings and group business to their corporate members," said Meeting Professionals International chairman George Aguel in a statement to Meetings Today. "We support their plans to provide resources that will assist corporate travel professionals implement effective meetings procedures in their corporations."
The move comes at a changeable time for corporate meetings management, with many corporations looking at any and all measures to control spending.
"It's frustrating," said Iwamoto, who also serves as global air and car supplier manager at Hewlett-Packard Co. in Palo Alto, Calif. Iwamoto pointed to the difficulties many companies have in determining the actual amount of meetings volume booked. "There are certain ways to get close to an actual number, but the opportunity and ability to do that is pretty slim. If there was a way to come up with a standard formula to determine that, one that travel managers could use to offer senior management a number, it would be worth its weight in gold."
The creation of the group and meetings committee followed an internal review of the performance of all NBTA committees, Iwamoto said, after which the association decided to dissolve its committee dedicated to travel management at colleges and universities.