Your work moved to 100% remote, which was a big change, but what has changed for you in the last 24 months?
With the acquisition of a new business, what had been my beautiful managed program went off the rails. The acquired business’ travel program was very fragmented, so we spent the pandemic consolidating over 70 travel agencies into one.
What is your biggest opportunity and how are you going to make the most of it?
I also have meetings, and after 10 years of figuring out where the property should be, I got a budget to set up meeting technology. So it also takes a lot of my time. We see a great opportunity to manage meetings, as they are very fragmented.
Where do you start with meeting management strategy and what are your goals?
We’re starting with a meeting approval form and not a meeting request, as the organization of the program will remain in the hands of the meeting owners. Our goal is to get visibility on the different levels of activity. Understanding this volume will give us more bargaining power. Currently, we know that large meetings are very well managed and have been for a long time. It’s the smaller, simpler meetings, which we estimate make up about 70% of our total meeting spend, that could really benefit from our help. We want to offer sourcing and budgeting support to help organizers spend their budgets efficiently, but we need to do so without creating too many limitations for meeting owners.
It can be a challenge. do you work with other colleagues dedicated to travel or meetings?
I’m part of Global Sourcing. We do not have a travel or meetings department. For the size of our program, there are two full-time people on the go. This makes it quite difficult. Even though I’m in Purchasing, I have Strategy and Operations, while many of my counterparts only have Strategy [while] stakeholders and the business own supplier relationships. I can do anything, but because of that, I’m not dealing with any other travel service that might see things a little differently. That said, I had a harder time in meetings trying to convince the right people that this was the right investment.
In what ways have you become a greater resource for your business?
Travelers are excited to use new technology platforms [that came with the travel program consolidation]. On the management side, we now have all that consolidated data that we couldn’t produce before and can extend our rebates to a number of people in our global markets who never had access to it. There are also tools that we want to deploy to our financial partner so that they can have access to the data. We want it to be more self-service and more detailed.
What is your biggest challenge ahead?
It’s about managing travellers’ expectations in relation to the reality of today’s world. It’s about digging deep and finding the patience to explain and remind people that a business travel program is no different than a leisure travel experience in the disruptions that are happening. …Then it goes up to management because they want to know why we have challenges in our program. And then my other biggest challenge is cost management.
How do you plan to work through these?
We continue to communicate and educate about the tools and resources available to [travelers]. It’s not always about picking up a phone and talking to an agent for 20 minutes.
Our CEO issued a communication at the end of May to raise awareness of the cost. He strongly suggested reducing non-essential internal travel. In May, we saw a 26% increase over 2019 in volume and an even bigger increase in costs. In June, we saw a 26% reduction in volume and about the same reduction in spend compared to 2019. It was all that pent-up demand [coming out of the pandemic], and I know there were a lot of meetings in the company. It has been reduced now.
Have you been recognized or compensated for all these changes? Or is that part of the job?
It’s part of the job.