How to consolidate travel with meetings?

Consolidating meetings and travel. That is the goal and the conundrum that hinders Asia. In a session at ACTE Global Summit 2018 & Corporate Lodging Forum held from July 17 to 18, corporate travel managers are no closer to answering the call of readiness.

Panellists Kari Wendel, vice president - global SMM strategy and solutions, CWT Meetings and Events, and Oscar Cerezales, COO, Asia Pacific, MCI Group shared their insights on this long-standing topic that has vacillated in uncertainty over the years. 

On paper, the benefits of consolidation seem clear - increased efficiencies as well as time and cost savings, but in practice, the diverse cultural and economic differences of Asian countries have hampered its progress. Moderator Geert Behets, head, global travel, meetings and fleet management, UCB Pharma shared his perspective on global behaviour, "In the US, there is generally not a problem in following procedures; in Europe, people don't… and in China, there is generally a seven-step authorisation procedure… it is quite complicated when you have regions with different procedures…"

 Cerezales emphasised that Asia is seeing intense fragmentation in the meetings sector, with changing business models and strategies, which complicate the task of having a consolidation programme such as strategic meetings management (SMM). He added that over 95 percent of companies will fail to have a proper and comprehensive programme in place. 

Among the travel managers present during the session, only a few hands went up when asked if they have some form of SMM in place. A manager from Accenture shared that the industry is not geared up for consolidation of travel and meetings as there is no single tool or platform that takes care of both functions. Moreover, the existing technology platforms that are doubling up are not utilised in a consistent manner across all regions as each region has its nuances. This lack of consistency makes it harder to have a standardised programme.

Wendel shared more on the influence of culture on SMM adoption. "Take the example of one of our clients, a major phone manufacturer; they streamline everything so they don't worry about in-country servicing. They have hubs… so for their meetings programme, they have a 98% adoption rate across the globe. Their culture is one of compliance and simplification. It's interesting to learn about the different nuances of Asia markets. But it doesn't mean you can't apply a consistent programme that works. You have to understand these cultures and ask yourself how you can add value before you go out to a client and just hit them with a programme."

The takeaway from this session was clear: a state of readiness has to be present before even attempting to consolidate travel and meetings with a programme. The reason for failure stems from this lack of readiness. "Figure out if your company has the characteristics of readiness, and if you think they are ready, start collaborating with team members and engaging your stakeholders," said Wendel.

The tip? If you're starting with a survey, don't start by asking meeting planners "how much do you spend on your meetings?" Instead, engage by asking: "what do you like about your job"; "what is going well?"; "what makes it hard for you to execute a meeting in your company?" and "anything else you would like to share with me?". With these four simple questions, you can take the aggregate from the feedback and 100 percent of the time, the  solution will pop up, said Wendel.

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