12 December 2022, etc.venues Monument, London
Business Travel Show Europe, presented by The BTN
21 November, London Hilton Metropole
One of the themes of last week's successful National Business Travel Association international convention in San Diego was "Travel is Good." But Paul Tilstone, chief executive of the UK and Ireland Institute of Travel and Meetings (ITM), questions whether this is the right way forward
NBTA serves the largest group of travel and meeting representatives in the world and with thousands of delegates in one place, it represents a real chance to get into the guts of our business. But these are difficult times and so it was not surprising that one of the underlying themes of this year's convention has been a protective stance for the industry - there were regular messages around "Travel is Good" , "Face to face is the only true way to do business" and a general promotion of the benefits of maintaining the supply sector.
Whilst at ITM we fully understand both the reason for this type of messaging and the sentiment behind it, we believe now is actually the optimum time to be challenging the industry so that it might prosper through change. At times of adversity, innovation seeds are sewn. Perhaps an opportunity was missed?
As far as I can tell, just one of the breakout sessions at the NBTA convention touched on the real role travel will play in driving business goals. But every time I engaged in a discussion with delegates in more relaxed surroundings we kept coming back to this core issue time and time again.
By approaching the difficult decisions we must make, we believe that an association is ultimately being a critical and long-term friend to the sector. There is a much greater need for debate around the realities of where and when travel supports businesses and what other mechanisms businesses can use to create efficient and sustainable interaction with their stakeholders. Video Conferencing (VC) is just a part of this, but so, too, travel is just a part. Neither is the whole solution, but whilst the application of VC is on the rise, the challenge of face-to-face meetings is very real and very valid when you consider people, profit and planet - and these are the three combined drivers of change for the future.
Understanding where travel sits in future business practice is vital for the plans of suppliers and buyers. As a result of our experiences in the US, therefore, ITM is planning a trans-national forum in early 2010 by telepresence technology for a group of top global buyers to engage in exploring the true part travel will play in the changing business landscape. We hope to attract a number of high level US buyers to attend too as the input of the globe's currently largest market is vital.
More details will be released by ITM in the coming months and our latest research on the demand and supply of services in our sector will be released soon, but in the meantime I think it is important to keep this issue at the forefront of our minds in our own working lives. Consider what you get out of a trip when you do travel - what are the critical points of your face-to-face interaction. Assess how your own company's interaction behaviour is changing and where technology is being adopted.
I know that without having been in San Diego for this convention, I wouldn't be writing this comment or ITM creating a new event, so clearly I understand that travel can be a force for good. Face-to-face will undoubtedly continue - so travel does have a future - but in what capacity remains to be seen.