16 October, etc.venues Monument
30 October, JW Marriott Grosvenor House
1st November 2023, etc.venues County Hall
When Paul Tilstone joined the then UK and Ireland Institute of Travel Management (ITM) in August 2005, his main aims were to raise the organisation’s profile and increase membership. As he departs just over six years later, to take up two posts with the Global Business Travel Association (GBTA), he can feel satisfied that both objectives were achieved.
But it would be doing Tilstone a major injustice if the tribute were left just there. ITM is a vastly different organisation from what it was in 2005. Not only has it changed its name to the Institute of Travel and Meetings which more accurately reflects it position, but it also now occupies an eminent position in the world of business travel where its views are both sought and valued. This is how it should be for an organisation representing the pivotal people in the industry – the buyers.
Tilstone has achieved this through hard work and high energy. By his own admission he has a passion for the industry. Backed by four good quality chairs (Tom Stone, Mark Avery, Caroline Strachan and Jamie Hindhaugh), he laid out an agenda for ITM and largely stuck to it.
In his last interview as CEO of ITM, Tilstone told ABTN (which also did his first) he had arrived from P&O Travel (later bought by Portman Travel) in the aftermath of the organisation’s failed attempt to merge with ACTE.
“I wanted to create three pillars. Membership benefits – there were all sorts of things we could do here, research and education. I also wanted to be a more visible character on behalf of ITM. In my early days the first thing was the creation of ITM Research and that gave us a more obvious profile because all of a sudden, ITM had a strong mouthpiece,” he said.
“We had a presentation to make rather than just talking. Now we had lots of lovely research. This has been a constant over the last six year. It has given us stuff we would not otherwise have had.
“It also enabled us to drive more interest in ITM and attract higher quality speakers at our events, more members and better sponsorship.”
During his time at ITM, membership has increased to 1,500 but a “sizeable” number are connect members who pay no fee. The fee paying members have stayed about the same as has the balance between buyers and others of around 50/50.
Perhaps one of the projects Tilstone will be remembered for is the award-winning Icarus programme, which sought to encourage corporates and individuals to adopt a greener approach to both business and travel.
Tilstone believes that it was one of those things which caught the tide at the right time, but it did fire many imaginations and help some companies at least to take a greener view. Sadly it stalled about two years ago when the global downturn shifted priorities. But it has now been adopted by GBTA to give it a global presence rather than just in the UK.
Tilstone’s tenure at ITM has also made the organisation more open, ready to put forward its views and if necessary fight its case. “When I started here, it was not in the best of shape. It was not financially stable and it had a mixed reputation. I hope now ITM is considered to be an independent force to be reckoned with.
“I hope people see that it is something prepared to stand up for what it believes is right,” he said. Relationships with other industry bodies like the Guild of Travel management Companies have also improved. “But with that comes not only partnerships but also sometimes disagreements. There are going to be public disagreements in the industry. There is nothing wrong with that. But ITM should have its own position which will sometimes be different from others,” he said.
But if Tilstone’s stay at ITM has largely been a success story, there is one area which has left him disappointed. This is the difficult area of lobbying its cause with the UK government. “I was disappointed about the way the government works. You would think the government would be keen to seek the industry’s opinions. But it does not work that way.
“You have to advocate your cause strongly and that will cost money which we do not have. We had some face time with them but it could have been a lot more,” he recalls.
With the European Commission it is a happier picture. “You could say I have been pleasantly surprised in the short time that I have been engaged with them through GBTA. This was with the CRS regulations. It worked relatively well,” he said.
“You need a campaign approach and you need to find the right person to speak to. When you get access, they are more open than the UK government.”
This is knowledge that will help when he takes up his new post of European managing director of GBTA and his other role as chief global development officer, which will involve a great deal of travelling.
Tilstone moves on feeling he is leaving ITM in the best possible hands of Simone Buckley who was appointed to succeed him last month.
“I always said I would do five or six years. So it is about the right time to go. But I think I have left ITM in better shape,” he said.