When asked to define the most important aspect of relating to business travel managers around the world, Greeley Koch, executive director for the Association of Corporate Travel Executives replied, “Know your membership.” This deceptively simple concept has been the foundation of Koch’s approach to making ACTE the most respected travel trade association in a fiercely competitive global market.

“Knowing your travel manager audience goes far beyond compiling statistics about salaries, travel spend, approach to management technique and technical fluency,” Koch says. “It means putting yourself in their shoes, facing their concerns, understanding their pressures and anticipating their objectives. It means traveling yourself to grasp the challenges of their travelers, and experimenting with apps and new modes of travel that will ultimately make travel easier.”

Business travel managers start every day by saying, “What do I have to react to today that I didn’t have to deal with yesterday?” Effective travel trade associations are compelled to ask this question for their members, and get the answers in advance of the problems.

Industry Interview

“Predicting the future is no longer enough,” says Koch. “This industry is leap-frogging through the future. Not long ago, we were told that virtual cards were the way of future payment. Suddenly, blockchain is the way of the future. Travel managers are caught between the old future and the new one.” They need, and are demanding, a better way to move forward, he adds.

“Savings has been a prime objective of legacy travel programs,” Koch explains. “Corporate growth and profitability are not determined by how much you’ve saved, but by how well seasoned corporate travelers are supported in the field,” he maintains.

Travel managers are discovering that recruitment and retention of seasoned travelers may depend on certain terms of the travel policy as a deal breaker. Getting the best people is now hinging on bringing traveler’s work lives more in line with their personal expectations. “This is evolution. This was an alien concept not long ago. Now it makes perfect sense.”

The Key is Engagement
“People want a more vibrant, relevant way to learn,” says Koch. “ACTE is committed to giving them one.” The new ACTE educational model (see page 14) identifies critical issues of the “now” future – all linked together with the travel manager at the hub. “There has never been a greater need for business travel managers, as advocates for the business traveler, as representatives of the corporate travel investment, and as resident experts on the importance of travel industry developments,” Koch says.

Koch contends that no travel trade association can follow the same tired format while business travel managers are tested in new ways on a near daily basis. ACTE has been studying – and responding to – business travel manager preferences for the past 29 years. “People want to learn differently now,” says Koch. “For years, industry conferences and forums followed a linear format of ‘This is what’s happening now, and this is what you have to do about it.’ That approach doesn’t work anymore.”

ACTE is changing the method and the style of its educational programming as well as its content. According to Koch, the model of entering a dark lecture hall to hear a guest speaker from the entertainment world is passé.

“The days of pontificating are over,” Koch maintains. “At ACTE events, you’ll sit in soft seats, in gentle lighting, with commons areas and community tables. The key word is ‘engagement,’ as problems, solutions and general observations are shared by experts and colleagues alike.” Koch states that ACTE is respectful of membership time and money. “No one has the time to waste while an entertainer or a weatherman discusses the challenging role of the casual travel observer,” he said. “They only have time to support their travelers and their companies.”

Naturally, the association is proud of the free registration for travel managers program, and of ACTEcelerate, the concept that boosts travel industry start-ups while guaranteeing the group’s input for new product developments in the industry. “These were ideas that were ahead of their time,” says Koch, “But time keeps moving and so do we.”

The Human Touch
Where will ACTE be in two years? This is Greeley Koch’s favorite question.

One of the association’s immediate goals is to make each business travel manager the “CEO” of their companies’ travel. “There is not a doubt in my mind that ACTE will still be around in two years and in twenty. What the world will be like is anyone’s guess though,” he says.

News reports indicate that the most repetitive jobs in the travel management field will, in the not too distant future, be handled by artificial intelligence, freeing travel managers for the more strategic and creative issues. Business travelers will check into their hotel rooms, turn on the air conditioning and order a heart-healthy breakfast via their mobile devices, while heading inbound from the airport in an autonomous limo or taxi. Airbus is planning to test the prototype of a flying car by the end of 2017. It too will probably be autonomous. “The human touch is going to become unique. ACTE has already established itself as the association that puts the human touch and people first,” Koch says.

Koch believes this will be a critical aspect for business travel managers, who will have a choice of ten conferences a month, conducted by the media, self-appointed experts, and those that have a particular political agenda to support.  ACTE will be the group building relationships while others choose the hit-and-run for profit approach.

“There will be a plethora of travel events to attend in the next few years,” says Koch. “But this industry is based on relationships. And that’s the one thing not easily copied. ACTE will always put member interests first.”  

A Turn of the Wheel
ACTE’s New York Conference at the
Marriott Marquis, April 23-25, promises
a new look and provocative stories

For its 2017 Global Conference in New York, the Association of Corporate Travel Executives is breaking with the traditional message from the dais, standard graphs and slides, and the “we are the experts and you’re not” approach to panel presentations. ACTE assumes those who are registered for the New York Conference must be experts at some level just to get in the room, and will be treated accordingly.

The accent is on engagement. Participants at the New York global business travel conference will not be mere bystanders to the event, but a key part of it. ACTE is betting that everybody knows something unique and will take advantage of the new presentation format.

Conference attendees should begin by familiarizing themselves with the association’s new education model for 2017. Shaped like a Ferris wheel, it shows the business travel manager at the center of seven linked categories of the travel management function – each a simultaneous priority. These categories correspond to sessions at the event, but also to various kinds of sessions, most notably the “ACTE Commons.”

The “ACTE Commons” concept is a roundtable discussion, only on steroids. The format of these discussions will be driven at the pace, expectation and needs of the participants. Different ACTE Commons sessions are designed to:

 • Introduce new and disruptive technology, apps, products, and services
• Put you in the conversation — allowing participants to join a preset dialogue with peers
• Let you ask for advice — encouraging participants to get solutions from leading experts in the field.
• Network — A casual setting to introduce yourself to colleagues, suppliers and event speakers
• Post it up — Allowing participants to start new dialogues and to build on what is shared.

On paper, the ACTE Commons are the most democratic means of giving a voice to everyone. Will it work in an industry where reticence and caution typically guide travel managers with tight budgetary constraints? ACTE answers an emphatic “Yes,” particularly as travel managers are now dealing with travelers’ work/life balance as an issue in executive recruitment and retention.

The ACTE conference agenda is built around the image of the wheel, with spokes that connect to your priorities as the travel manager. As you plan your time in New York, here’s an advance look at the sessions that are designed to put you in the center of your company’s travel.

All General Sessions
on Monday and Tuesday

The Future Of The Industry’s Essential Spokes: Part 1
Monday, April 24
9:00 AM – 10:00 AM
Speaker: David Baga, Chief Business Officer, LYFT
Why: Understanding the interdependent nature of the industry’s hub and spoke system of simultaneous priority is critical to meeting traveler needs and expectations — and the first step in meeting corporate objectives. This will be where be where the Ferris wheel becomes a thrill ride.

1:30 PM – 3:00 PM
The Future Of The Industry’s Essential Spokes: Part 2
Speakers: Ralph A. Kaiser, President, CEO and Chairman of the Board, UATP; and Yannis Karmis, SVP Product Planning and Development, BCD Travel.
Why: This session is a follow up to Part 1 with additional conclusions, revelations, and good advice. After all, what would be the purpose of wearing one shoe?

Tuesday, April 25
8:45 AM – 9:45 AM
Beyond Being A “Manager…” Be The CEO of Your Travel Program
Speaker: Steve Goldstein, Former Chairman and CEO of American Express Bank and author of Why Are There Snowblowers in Miami? Transform Your Business Using the Five Principles of Engagement
Why: This session examines what it takes to change the corporate perception that you are an “order taker,” and move toward making you the resident authority on travel.

2:30 PM to 3:00 PM
Industry Hot Topics
Why: ACTE states that this session will summarize the difference between a headline and a genuine game-changer. Because travel bans, electronic restrictions and questionable assessments expressed in anonymous statistics are often used to define the future, when the reality is so many other variables are equally important.

Educational Sessions
There are three sessions regarding payment, to address issues in an area of responsibility that’s growing for travel managers.
• The “Pay” Landscape of 2017: A 360 Degree perspective For Travel Managers
• The Future of Travel “Pay” — Don’t Hate the Pay-er, Hate the Game
Speaker: Simon Barker, CEO, Conferma
• Make Modern Payment Solutions Your Reality
Speaker: Kelly Christner, Senior Corporate Travel Manager, ACT
Why: Because payment heads the list for many travel managers now. It is the core of a nuts and bolts travel program and in the midst of a major evolution. And it will continue to be a major issue for business travelers during the next year.
Here’s one for upwardly-bound executives breaking the traditional grip of saving’s oriented travel managers.
• Becoming a Travel CEO: Skills of Effective Business Leaders
Speakers: Karen Hutchings,Global Travel, Meetings and Events Leader, ERNST & YOUNG; and Michelle (Mick) Lee, Industry Buyer and Founder, WINIT - Women Leadership
Why: Because the age of the business travel manager as the resident expert on all travel matters has arrived.
At least, we think it has.

With its mix of travel professionals, both buy ers and suppliers from countries around the world, the ACTE Global Conference in New York promises to stimulate fresh ideas, challenge old assumptions and promote provoca tive conversations. And moreover, it will shed new shed light on what travel managers will be doing in the future.
Got a story? We’d love to hear it.  ­­