The Blurred Line Between Corporate Travel Manager and Planner
A shift towards bottom-line-oriented, frills-free events, or a natural evolution of the industry?
By Anicka Quin
Linda Warner’s job isn’t what it was two years ago. Warner, who manages Travel Services for the University of Alberta in Edmonton, isn’t just handling hotel contracts and developing relationships with preferred suppliers—she’s reaching out to travel and meeting planners across campus to convince them to work with her department first. “We try to give our planners access to the tools that are out there to plan their next meeting or event,” she says. “I do a professional development day every October for them, and this year the education session was, ‘what tourism offices can do for you.’ Our whole premise is to show affordable options and cost-saving opportunities.”
Warner’s shift in responsibilities reflects an ongoing trend identified in a joint report from the Association of Corporate Travel Executives (ACTE) and the Conference Board of Canada. For the third year in a row, corporate travel managers (CTM) are exerting more influence over meetings and events. Does this growing trend mean a shift towards bottom-line-oriented, frills-free events, or is it the natural evolution of the industry?
The answer is somewhere between the two. While Warner notes that her meeting planners aren’t mandated to book with locations her department pre-approves, everyone has seen their budgets shrink. “We’ve had a lot of economy issues,” she explains, “and I think the focus is more on cost saving than we have seen in the last two to five years.”
Angie Pfeifer, CMM, assistant vice-president, corporate meetings, incentives and travel for the Investors Group in Winnipeg, notes that a healthy relationship can exist between CTMs and meeting organizers. “I think there’s a partnership that has to happen between corporate travel and meetings, and there are opportunities and synergies with supplier relationships and cost avoidance,” says Pfeifer. “But there’s a bigger piece of the puzzle—the business value of meetings—which has nothing to do with corporate travel.”
It’s important to deliver a conference on or under budget, she notes, but there’s more to it than that. “If meetings and events professionals are doing things properly from a business value perspective—measuring productivity, increasing market share, tracking the effectiveness of a new product launch—that’s not a corporate travel function at all. If you manage to increase market share or sales on a new product, or change behavior that helps an organization financially—that’s worth more than saving $5,000.”
When in Doubt, Outsource
If meetings and events have fallen under your area of responsibility as a CTM, there’s an alternate, time-saving option: outsource the task. Third-party meeting planners will work with you to keep your meeting on task and on budget, says Michelle Grant, CTE, travel administration manager with Ritchie Bros. Auctioneers in Burnaby, B.C. “I met with several third-party planners before I chose one,” adds Grant, who has seen meetings and events fall under her portfolio, too.
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