Institute of Travel Management (ITM) executive director Paul Tilstone initially joined in December 2004 as a board director, after 16 years working for TMCs. He subsequently took up his current post in August 2005, with a brief to develop the organisation further in the areas of education, research and membership
Since starting, he has overseen an overhaul of the organisation's education programme, the creation of ITM Research and ITM's environmental "Project ICARUS".
Here he reveals his thoughts ahead of next week's ITM conference in Dublin, which is a 500 delegate sell-out for the first time.
What are the changes, if any, in approach to the ITM conference in Dublin from a schedule/themes/conferences point of view?
This conference has nearly three times as many break-out sessions as previous years with a total of 16 spanning sourcing, corporate issues, meetings management and the future. The theme is about evolution and will really try to test people"s perceptions of where we are and where we are headed as an industry.
Keynote speakers, Ian Pearson - a futurologist who worked at BT until recently in this role - and Alastair Campbell - previous Prime Minister Tony Blair's Communications chief - will feed in to this theme.
Have there been any major developments within ITM since Edinburgh?
Yes, lots. Project ICARUS was launched in Edinburgh and since then it has gone crazy, with UK and international governments, NGOs and corporations contacting us about our work. We hope to have some really exciting news about this soon in a number of areas.
The new website has gone live with more than 100 resources for members including footage of every event we held in 2007. This allows members to download information when they need it rather than us sending it out when they inevitably don't.
How confident are you that TMCs and the industry have understood the implications of the impending Corporate Manslaughter Act?
Well, our members in the most part have really got under the skin of this and I'm confident most have a good understanding and know what to do - but it has taken a year of events and paper writing to get this far.
There are those who are still burying their heads and may never have cause for concern if nothing happens but if it were me I wouldn't take that chance. We get approached to help non-member organisations to understand the issues and have to turn them away as it's not our remit.
Do you foresee a squeeze on business travel this year and next?
If the economists don't necessarily agree then who are we to say? If the economy dips I think it's inevitable. I also don't think people yet understand the mid-term impact of risk, work-life balance and environment on changing travel patterns but this will take longer than 2008 to come through.
How far will technology play a role in the near future? More? Less?
Definitely more - used well, it is an enabler and the speed it is developing at means it will be used by more people. Just look at how much we use it - and what it can do - compared to just five years ago!
To what extent has the Icarus project been able to shape travel policy?
I think it's early days to suggest that every UK company has taken on the ICARUS policy principles. Many companies still think they need to maintain business travel as it is to survive and grow " the majority think this, I'd say. But there are some pioneers in this issue which use ICARUS to change and in the future we"ll look back and realise just what they did.
What are the key travel issues (in general) - Open Skies, airline consolidation, ticketing technology, CSR for example?
I"d say in 2008 it will still be environment and Duty of Care. These aren"t going away and more and more are getting engaged.
But this doesn't mean other issues won't bite. There's lots of legislation coming through which could impact corporate travel and there are implications of other legislative reviews such as Open Skies and CSR De-Regulation, which will start to change the market subtly.
Should travel benefits - FFPs for hotels, airlines, reward schemes, air miles, be pooled and if so how?
I would say that these programmes used in line with policy work well. But where they sit against policy they are generally the bane of travel managers" lives.
Our German equivalent has 33% of members who pool their frequent flyer schemes for company use. This makes sense to me but I just can't see it happening in the UK unless something changes.
I think mileage points should be separated from lounge access, which is useful to a corporate travel programme, and the mileage points allocated to off-setting - but then I"m probably alone on that one!
Could TMCs use the ITM more and if so how?
Definitely. This year we hope to introduce a new tier of member, called the Industry Practitioner. This will incorporate outsourced travel managers, consultants and TMC account managers - i.e. those who represent the customer and need to know what's going on in the market and what the latest thinking is.
This is the TMCs' opportunity to get closer to buyer benchmarking and to teach staff about the latest issues at minimal cost. We hope to see a considerable increase in members in this area.
Is the travel industry criticised unfairly for its green footprint, or could it in fact, do more?
Everyone berates the airlines for their emissions, but my theory is actually it should be the end user who is berated if the choice to use an airline wasn't thought through.
If the demand wasn"t there in this industry then the suppliers wouldn"t cause such damage. However, I don't think many suppliers do themselves justice by engaging in this issue effectively - the defence barriers tend to go up with most and this causes more issues.
There is no question that both suppliers and buyers could do more, much more, but I think we'll see more of this in 2008.