BTN's annual answer book for business travel managers.
Chris Crowley this month became the first European president of the Association of Corporate Travel Executivesin the organization's 20-year history. An ACTE board member from 2005 to 2007, Crowley last fall was named ACTE's president-electafter several board members, including then-president Doug Weeks, resigned. Crowley served a truncated five-month term that began in January, taking the reins from AirPlus International executive Richard Crum, who now serves as chairman of the ACTE Centre for Research and Education. Joining Crowley on the board as the new ACTE treasurer is Angela Naegele, Reed Elsevier global procurement vice president. In conjunction with his new volunteer role at ACTE, Crowley moved to a new position in his full-time job as BCD Travel's senior vice president of the global client team for Europe, Middle East, Africa and Asia-Pac, from the sales role for those regions. Responsible for 30 to 35 global account managers based in the U.K. market and based in London, Crowley expects to be in the United States "at least once a month, if not more." Crowley talked with The Transnationalabout the challenges facing the industry and his goals for the association. An excerpt follows.
What issues do you want to address as president?
While not continuous hot buttons, our inability to plan for uncertain security or environmental scenarios will become more of a problem. Environment challenges will grow over the next 10 to 20 years. Many will not be problems that have a beginning and an end; they will be issues that we have to deal with and adapt to and still continue to do business. We're going to be talking increasingly at conferences about volcanoes, earthquakes, tsunamis and oil spills. As a business, we have to come to grips with this to keep the oil of business--which is travel--to keep working.
What is ACTE learning from the ash cloud?
For the first time in history, a 3,000-year-old act of nature has introduced a component of variable uncertainty to the corporate travel business that we could never have foreseen. Now that we have it, we don't realistically know how to incorporate it into our policies and programs. The [volcano] managed to shut down 25 countries, more or less. No disaster planning, sustainability planning, secondary telephone networks or global distribution systems could help. The number of travelers stranded around the world, travelers who had booked via online booking systems, instantly were going back to service models from 25 years ago to fix their problems. We [BCD] had people stuck in conference centers, resorts, beaches, city-center properties. I was stuck in a five-star golf resort in Florida, which sounds terrific. But as days go on, you are kept away from families, with no real news about when you're coming home, travelers got more desperate to get home, airlines became more uncertain about their inventory and information about cloud disbursement became vague at best and unhelpful at worst; the situation became very difficult for travelers. I was involved in the procurement of one helicopter, the provisioning of 35 to 40 coaches and was in talks with private jet and car hire companies coming up with innovative solutions. One banker I spoke to bought no less than 14 different tickets on 14 different routings, hoping one way or another he would work his way through the ash clouds. We also discovered that people's proclivity to comply with travel programs vanishes the minute they start to become uncertain about their ability to get home. All the good corporate citizens and travel programs went to nothing as people took trains, cars, motorcycles and buses to get home. We're looking at some dramatic travel changes that could become permanent. We know the Web will continue to play an important role in this.
What is the objective of the white paper that ACTE plans to release in June?
We want to crystallize some lessons learned and try to drive best practices. By getting our members to speak to each other within white papers, we're able to get some best practices going effectively. Many of our corporations now are taking a more proactive approach to their role internationally. What a large, international company with 70,000 travelers to 50 to 70 countries around the world does and learns, in combination with 20 or 30 other companies can be a powerful voice in changing how the European Union works or responds to things. We have to find solutions, to know how to react more quickly to frozen airports or best judge when to reopen airspace. How should we be managing inventory? How should we manage as an industry? How should we be working on insurance? Do we need a different way of contracting? Do we need a different way of communicating with our travelers? If there simply are no flights across one-third of the planet, giving a backup plan or disaster recovery won't cut it. We have to engender a new conversation with our travelers that puts responsibility on them to behave in compliance with their companies' requirements, even when the situation involves extreme uncertainty. That doesn't mean booking 14 air tickets, buying a helicopter, hiring a private Mercedes, commissioning a yacht or any of the other things that occurred during this process. We also have to learn how to push communications in a more effective way to a large number of travelers. In an online world, where we put self-booking and self-reliance in the hands of our traveling population, it is no longer conceivable to expect us to produce massive numbers of people out of thin air to support [all travelers] when those systems are no longer available.
Do you think the airlines did everything they could in the first wave of the crises?
The airlines were forced to remove inventory from the marketplace. The minute they did that, it caused enormous problem in communications, dealing with that inventory and managing it. The business travel community was luckier than leisure, which didn't have corporate travel departments and management companies to support them. Where I feel enormous sympathy for airlines was in the communication to them from aviation authorities in Europe, who were less than clear or uncommunicative. We got more information as consumers from the BBC, Web sites and television.
How do you plan to encourage the openness and transparency that you hope to reinstitute at ACTE?
I'd like to look very closely at the way we deliver content at conferences. I was very encouraged by the response to the [emerging technology] panel discussion with [virtual] panelist Robert Scoble. I'd like to take that kind of thing forward, use more telepresence to bring speakers in from around the world and have more debate-oriented content so we really exchange different views. I'd like to take a look at the way we deliver industry perspectives to be more strategic in their engagement. I was very impressed by the way that [GetThere chief marketing officer] Suzanne Neufang presented her view of the marketplace. That kind of strategic engagement is very important. I would also like there to be more of a buzz pre- and post-conference around the program. We tend to focus very specifically on the event. I'm looking forward to a longer engagement with the issues before it starts and then follow up after the conference on some of the things that we've discussed, so there is an active and mental participation of common themes, issues and developments. That's important to people. They can say, "I got fantastic education, networked, talked about something important and ... this is what we're addressing."
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