Travel Depts. Grapple with Meetings Data

More companies are seeking to apply lessons learned in the consolidation of transient corporate travel to the meetings arena, even rolling responsibility for meetings management under the authority of travel departments. But managers involved in the creation of these programs say that difficulty in defining meetings data presents one of the the biggest challenges to consolidation.

SeeUthere Vice President of Sales Colin Knell says his research indicates that about half of companies are working to combine meetings and transient travel data for negotiations with suppliers. It's a trend that many large corporations have picked up on, Knell says, citing clients including Caterpillar, Nike, and Abbott Laboratories that are strengthening their meetings data-tracking programs. "Meetings are still one of the least talked about areas [of corporate spending]," he notes, "but there is a huge potential for savings there."

Early on in the consolidation craze, says Dick Zeller, vice president at Philadelphia-based meetings management firm Maritz McGettigan, "meetings management was seen as something that could be piggybacked onto corporate travel management." But this view failed to take into consideration the variety of items and services involved in meetings procurement. "Meetings tend to be a lot more complex than corporate transient travel, even though both have air and hotel elements. You can't just lump meetings into [deals with suppliers you've negotiated for] transient travel—meetings often take place at different properties than the ones used by business travelers." And many hoteliers and air suppliers are unlikely to go along with such a plan, because they see meetings and transient business travel as two distinct revenue streams.

Now, travel and procurement execs say that the first step in realizing potential savings in the area of meetings is getting a detailed picture of meetings activity within an organization. Margaret Moynihan, director of meetings and travel at Wilton, CT-based Deloitte & Touche, says that data is key. "You really need to assemble as much information as you can. Once you have data you can decide whether to hire meetings managers in house, or to outsource the job." Moynihan says it took three full years to collect data and consolidate Deloitte & Touche's global meetings program.

Maritz McGettigan's Zeller says, "You can start by talking to the sales and marketing departments, which hold most of the meetings in many organizations, to learn something of the character of your meetings—how big they are and where they are most often held." Internal surveys can be an effective way to begin getting data from these departments, he adds. "Ask how many meetings they're holding, who are the stakeholders in the meeting, and what level of service they need," he explains. "It takes some digging, but you can't find a solution until you know what is going on with your meetings."