Travel 25th September 2018 - 5 min read

What happens when Travel Managers get asked to manage meetings?

By Joni Lindes

15% of an organisation’s collective time is spent in meetings while 3% of their annual revenue is spent on hosting meetings and events. This might seem like a small number, but in companies where revenue stretches up to $60 billion per annum and there are up to 80,000 employees – meetings and events spend can be up to $1,800 million and 15% of employee time can stretch into months of labour.

If people are spending time and money on meetings and events, why do we not introduce a strategy making the most of it? An effective Strategic Meetings Management (SMM) programme promises up to 15% in savings across a company. That is why, as of 2017, 27% of companies had already launched an SMM programme.

What is SMM and why do we need it?

Strategic Meetings Management (SMM) looks at meetings and events from a strategic perspective to ensure that any meetings and events activity falls in line with company goals. It is a plan that is committed to seeing the bigger picture throughout a company and not only meant to achieve incremental goals within each department.

Think of it as an outfit you want to assemble. Each department may pick an item of clothing, yet if the items, even if they are a great choice individually, do not work together we end up with an outfit not creating the desired effect. It is the same with SMM programmes. Company-wide transformation requires a systematic strategy to be carried out on all levels.

Companies are realising the value of SMM every day.

An increased number of companies are instituting an SMM programme to generate cost savings. This requires the cooperation of every department. Carlson Wagonlit Travel and the BTN Group’s 2016 survey of 246 global travel professionals and SMM experts analysed existing attitudes to SMM.

An effective SMM programme gets all departments involved. With the exception of marketing, travel is the most connected to meetings and events simply because so many meetings are surrounded by transient activity.

If we want to leverage meetings spend to get the best business value than the travel spend around it needs to be examined as well.

Meetings Management vs Travel Management

40% of global business travellers are travelling for the purpose of attending a meeting. As companies spend money on meals and transport when attending meetings it is not just the concern of the Travel Manager to strategically leverage that activity in favour of business goals, it is also the responsibility of meetings functions. Similarly, measuring outcomes from meetings is not just limited to meetings software as a significant part of that data is attached to the associated travel booking rather than the venue reservation..

This is why many large programme Travel Managers are getting asked to integrate meetings and events into their reporting and management process. Meetings management and travel management, while separate entities, may not be so different after all

Both meetings and travel examine policy creation and administration, programme design, technology selection and deployment, supplier management, compliance management and payment mechanisms in a very similar way. They also both heavily rely on data management and reporting.

Here we run into one of the most important components and, what has been described as the “silver bullet” to an effective SMM programme – the technology dilemma.

Technology in SMM

Technology is the “central nervous system” of SMM, however it is informed by the policies and goals the programme wishes to achieve – acting as the missing link between policy goals and policy action. The first process organisations embark on when creating an SMM programme is defining programme goals and policies that are clear, measurable and accessible. These goals need to be top of mind when selecting the right technology system, and throughout the entire meetings management process.

Meetings registration forms and approval software monitors adherence to meetings policy. Savings need to be tracked and measured using a spend analysis tool. Compliance with travel programmes can be measured with booking tools.

“Relying solely on technology to power your entire programme was a common issue in the early days of SMM. Fortunately, we have evolved to understand technology as one of the most important components to all SMM clients, regardless of their programme’s maturity,” says Cvent Senior Product Manager Jeannie Griffin.

SMM technology then and now

SMM has only been an emerging methodology for the past ten years, As meetings consolidation and centralisation evolved into what we now call SMM, technology platforms were developed to facilitate the process.

Today, while the data available has increased dramatically, the data is still not integrated into a single system. Many meetings are “rogue” and are not managed through formalised management procedures written into policy. The spend activity happens through credit cards or direct invoices not seen and managed through a centralised booking system. This leaves the spend data scattered and therefore often incomplete. We cannot measure growth if we have no idea how much we are spending and what we are spending it on.

In the Carlson Wagonlit Travel survey, getting data to estimate spend was voted as the most difficult process when setting up an SMM programme, with 21% of companies voting data management as “very difficult.”

Moving forward

Communication needs to take place across all levels. Avoid the silo effect where data on meetings and events sit in meetings and events systems and do not reach the eyes of the stakeholders it concerns. Travel programmes, for example, need to examine spend from meetings systems and include data in its review of total spend and savings. They need to choose suppliers using metrics based on traveller needs and spend while monitoring real-time contract performance and meetings success.

Meetings and events data must also examine all data sources, including the often missed and much-abused corporate credit card.

Luckily, there is technology available to assess all areas of spend in each department. PredictX uses machine learning and advanced API integration to both avoid the silo effect while also analysing all data sources and spend.

We also assess all data sources and bring them together to form a total cost figure. These data sources include TMC, Credit Card and Expense tools.

PredictX has tools simplifying the user interaction. Our data suite now provides a Digital Assistant that can respond to questions from any department through chat. Anyone can ask a question involving meetings spend, regardless of their data experience. Company-wide meetings communication has never been easier.

Just as each department involved in SMM needs to work together to create an “outfit.” the data needs to work together as well. Tools like this can help to integrate each separate department into one strategic initiative. Companies can style their meetings management initiatives just like a well-styled outfit – with each separate item or department existing as great pieces, yet pieces that fit well together – like a giant puzzle.


Joni Lindes
By Joni Lindes
5 min read

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